February 26, 2012 by Paul Curtin
Yet another classic franchise that’s jumping genres and switching into the first person perspective is Syndicate, a futuristic cyber-punk FPS that’s being revived after almost two full decades since the original was released as a real-time tactical game. Now the same studio behind breakout hits like The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena and The Darkness, Starbreeze Studios, has taken over the series with a completely revamped approach.
So is Starbreeze’s reboot of Syndicate worthy of a comeback for a series that most gamers are probably too young to remember, or is Syndicate‘s new story and gameplay still obsolete despite all its upgrades?
After seeing numerous previews for Syndicate, I had dismissed it as a second-rate version of last year’s brilliant Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I truly was hoping that Starbreeze Studios would prove me wrong and make me eat my words by delivering an experience on par with or above Human Revolution; unfortunately, unlike Deus Ex, in Syndicate you’ll play as a forgettable main character, in a forgettable futuristic world, populated by forgettable characters, that will ultimately have you forgetting everything about the game after you’ve played it.
Syndicate‘s story brings gamers into the year 2069, when mega-corporations have more power than the government and select, elite people have been augmented with DART chips that give them special powers and the ability to hack into devices in order to reprogram and control them. Sound a lot like Human Revolution? That’s because it is, and while Syndicate might have done a similar story first back in 1993, it fails to come anywhere close to telling a story even half as good as the last Deus Ex.
Syndicate‘s story is almost non-existent until well over halfway through the game. You’ll spend the majority of the game not caring about who your character is, where he is, or what he’s doing because the game simply doesn’t make you care by giving almost zero background unless you want to read boring messages you’ll find throughout the game, each of which is longer than this review. There’s some good voice acting from recognizable movie stars Brian Cox, Rosario Dawson, and Michael Wincott, but they’re not given enough screen time to develop. You’ll play as Agent Miles Kilo, one of the big corporation’s best agents, and be thrown into mission after mission that’s made up of the same linear format as the last. Levels feature the occasional very minor puzzle to solve and the ability to go into vents like other tactical games, but every path you take is the only option you have. By the time the puzzles start getting a little more complex and the storytelling actually gets better, the game is already in its final chapters, and by then it’s too little too late.
To make up for the story, or lack thereof, Starbreeze has done a good job with the actual gameplay and has added some interesting innovations to the FPS. While the multitude of guns for the most part is what you’ll find in other popular shooters, Kilo, who has been equipped with the prototype DART 6 chip, is able to interact with electrical devices and others equipped with the chip in order to manipulate them how he pleases. The hacking system is very simple and allows players to hold down just one button in order to “breach” an enemy. Breaching allows Kilo to select from three options: “Suicide”, in which enemies will explode and kill themselves while damaging other nearby enemies; “Backfire”, which causes enemy weapons to jam or blow up in order to temporarily stun them; and the most enjoyable, “Persuade”, in which Kilo can turn enemies into allies who will fight alongside him and then kill themselves when there’s no enemies left.
Not only are common enemies able to be hacked, but some of the stronger, more armored enemies are required to be breached in order to destroy their various levels of armor and turn them vulnerable. Certain random foes and bosses will throw grenades and fire rockets at you, which adds a whole new dynamic to the shooter as you try to quickly breach and disarm or even redirect objects at foes in mid-air. Even turrets and certain areas used for cover can be hacked and strategically moved to Kilo’s or the enemy’s advantage, which creates a tug-of-war scenario as you fight back and forth over cover all while bullets are flying in the heat of battle.
The unique breaching system is awesome and what saves Syndicate from being another mindless shooter. What’s best is the hacking actually gets more advanced when you go online and play co-op with four friends and take on additional missions that you won’t find in the game’s singleplayer story. Players can level up and select from different weapons, upgrades, and abilities which give each player the option to play as a unique class such as a healer, tank, or damage-dealer. The class system is awesome and actually far more exciting and enjoyable than the singleplayer. Unfortunately, the co-op also suffers from a complete lack of story, and gameplay can quickly become stale as you replay the same lifeless missions over and over again.
Just like their last game, The Darkness, Starbreeze has once again found a way to expand upon the traditional first-person shooter format and innovate some awesome new features into the industry. Syndicate‘s story is one of the weakest and shortest I’ve played recently with the game only clocking in at around six hours. Co-op takes the game’s hacking system to the next level by introducing multiplayer with classes; however, fighting generic, emotionless enemies over and over again becomes just as boring as the story. Syndicate is a game that definitely would have benefited from a true competitive multiplayer mode with its innovative hacking system that would have opened up a whole new way to battle other players online. Syndicate is worth playing if you’re dying to play a futuristic shooter, but you’re better off just waiting two weeks for Mass Effect 3 and replaying the first two as you wait. Syndicate gets 3 out of 5 stars (Good).
- Unique enemy/object breaching system
- Solid shooter experience with plenty of guns
- Good looking visuals that bring the series up to date
- Good voice acting from recognizable movie stars
- Co-op can be a lot of fun with friends
- Poor storytelling and a generic plot make for a forgettable and short game
- Both singleplayer and co-op feel empty and meaningless
- Almost everything is something you’ve seen or done in another game