Note: This review was done using the Xbox 360 version of the game. It is also available on Playstation 3 and PC.
First person shooters are a dime a dozen. The market is overloaded with them and to stand out from the crowd, a new game needs to do something different. But how do you do something different in a generation where nearly everything has already been done with the genre? Well, if you are Electronic Arts, you enlist the developing talent of Starbreeze Studios (makers of The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay and The Darkness), asking them to revitalize a long dormant franchise based on a strategy game. Yes, this Syndicate is based on the world crafted by the early 90s strategy game of the same name, however make no mistake, this Syndicate is an action packed shooter, no more and no less.
Syndicate takes place in a near future where the world as we know it has collapsed. Massive corporations have taken over for national governments and allegiance to these corporations is enforced via specialized neurochips. At the center of Syndicate’s story are two of these corporations, EUROCORP and Cayman Global. Corporate espionage runs rampant as each strives to gain the upper hand on the other and dominate the world. The game puts players in the role of Miles Kilo, an agent working for EUROCORP.
Agents are equipped with the specialized adrenaline chips to hack into anything in the environment that has been chipped, including people. This affords Kilo the ability to manipulate his enemies or their weapons. While the base gameplay of Syndicate is comparable to other shooters, it is this special ability to interact with enemies that shapes the game into something unique.
The three primary breaching skills Kilo can utilize are Suicide, Backfire and Persuade. Suicide and Persuade are hacks performed on enemy chips, with suicide obviously forcing the targeted enemy to kill themselves and persuade convincing them to fight alongside Kilo. Backfire, on the other hand, breaches an enemy weapon forcing it to explode in their face, potentially killing them but more likely acting as a stunning blow allowing for a quick follow up attack. These skills cannot be used indiscriminately though as each skill draws energy from Kilo’s body which needs to be replenished before a skill can be reused, which is done by killing other enemies in mass quantities.
Sadly for a game based on a strategy franchise, there is very little strategy involved in the combat scenarios. Learning when and where to utilize Kilo’s breaching abilities is the closest the game comes to any sort of strategic tactics but even then most encounters can be successfully completed by staying in cover to take on groups of enemies, without the aid of breaching. Fortunately, the core gunplay is mechanically sound, if not particularly fun, and generally the scenarios are staged in interesting environments that really helped to draw me in, even if the actual encounter design leaves a bit to be desired.
Leaving even more to be desired are the “boss” encounters, which pit Kilo against rival agents. While the same general tactics work in these encounters, these battles are tediously long and take place against enemies that are way more powerful than Kilo. It is one thing to make encounters challenging, it is another completely to make them frustrating and Starbreeze sadly crosses that line. The last game that had boss battles that annoyed me as much as these did was in Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Luckily for players, the narrative and setting mostly make up for the mediocre to poor design and implementation. The story takes a while to get going, spending a good chunk of the early game laying the groundwork of Kilo and his role with EUROCORP, however, once it gets moving it is a roller coaster ride straight on through to the end. And the twist the game presents in the latter half delivers a real sense of feeling that made me begin to care about Kilo and his plight of indentured servitude to EUROCORP.
Syndicate’s campaign offers a solid six to eight hours of play time, which feels just right for this game, getting out just before its welcome expires. But unlike most shooters released now, Syndicate has absolutely no competitive multiplayer to keep people playing; instead they are banking on their robust cooperative multiplayer suite to retain their players. Surprisingly, it actually works quite well by delivering a better overall gameplay experience than the single player campaign.
The co-op experience is designed around a four-man team of agents performing unique and varied missions. Each of these missions is designed in such a way as to require teamwork and varying tactics, offering more strategic gameplay opportunities than anything seen in the campaign. I found great success following my team and working as a medic in a support class. All of this comes complete with a persistent leveling system.
Syndicate succeeds in offering a unique take on the first person shooter genre. Its setting and narrative is captivating and the cooperative multiplayer is a smart twist on the standard multiplayer mode. However, the lack of tactical combat in the single player, mediocre shooting throughout, and the uncertainty of the multiplayer sustaining itself for very long time make Syndicate somewhat difficult to recommend wholeheartedly.
- Captivating setting and narrative
- Smart cooperative take on multiplayer
- Shooting is mediocre at best
- Tactical combat is virtually non-existent in the single player campaign
- Boss fights are unfun and tediously long
3 / 5