Slick visuals, fluid action and wonderful four-player co-op combine to make Syndicate a worthy next-gen title, but is it more than just a pretty face?
Over the past decade, EA have consistently excelled in producing games that tick the boxes. From beloved sports simulators to genre-defining third person horrors – there’s always been a smooth, cohesive and stylish approach to each project they breathe life into. Despite being a reboot of a classic early 90’s real time tactical game, EA’s Syndicate is a bonafide sci-fi first-person shooter, and no matter how much this revamp of a beloved franchise rocks the boat, there is literally nothing remotely comparable between the two.
The game takes place in 2069; a hi-tech digital frontier in which the majority of the general public have “chipped” themselves in order to wreak benefits of being wired into a digital mainframe.
Whilst the “non-chipped” human beings are abandoned and refused the benefits of such a luxury, everyone else (including you, protagonist Agent Miles Kilo) can access data that renders technology as useless – have some of that, Apple. Yet all is not harmonious within this future world… Powerful syndicates rule over these chips and use enhanced models to genetically augment secret agents (such as yourselves/Miles Kilo). With superhero like abilities – you’re a tool for these behemoths, violently executing their every beck and call. Can this be right? Can it? Who knows!? Probably not! Think of it like an old-school modification of a PlayStation 2. You’ve got it “chipped” and now you can play free games imported from various, strange sounding countries. Is that right? Obviously not – but you, the consumer, wreak the benefits. It’s a vicious cycle of power and greed and thankfully a somewhat surprisingly useful metaphor.
Syndicate can be played online with three strangers or three friends without the need of one of those soul-crushing EA online passes (hurray!) Whilst the Co-Op mode is a perfect example of an “A grade” multiplayer experience (I’m genuinely placing it up there with the likes of Left 4 Dead), it essentially just manipulates the quality single-player campaign to facilitate three more users – and therefore this solo experience will be the primary focus of the review. The game is presented in chapters; a standard framing device which succeeds in enticing players due to its gradual learning curve and sleek presentation. Whilst at its core the game is a basic first-person shooter occasionally broken up by vent-crawling and environment-based puzzle-solving – you could safely argue that Syndicate’s unique selling point is that of Miles’ use of “apps”. These applications are what separate you from the rest of the A.I – and through holding LB/L1 (given enough charge) you possess the ability to turn enemies against each other, commit suicide or even make their weapons backfire. Within the fabric of the game, this is a core concept that is executed extremely well and as you’re running around, dodging and weaving as you annihilate the opposition, it feels only right that you can target certain sections of enemies and force them to do your dirty bidding. In order to learn these abilities, however, you must partake in stylish mini-game-esque sequences. These sequences happened to be my favourite moments of the game; transporting you into a dark, “Tron”-like digital realm and educating you on how to use apps to execute the enemy. Nice feature.
The gameplay is not without its faults, however. I found right from my induction into Syndicate that I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters, nor (and more importantly) the main crux of the game EuroCorp – the actual conglomerate I was supposed to be working for. You’re quickly introduced to a cocky, know-it-all roguish agent named Jack Denham (voiced excellently by the stunning Brian Cox) who immediately belittles you and flirts with the female staff. You’re then set off on a mission with him – and subsequently all you can feel on that assignment is hatred. I was constantly expecting the game to suddenly reveal that he’s in fact an enemy or wants to screw me over, but no – it never did. Another minor gripe that kept hassling me came in the form of wounded soldiers and cowering civilians. They’re littered across many of the levels, and whilst I often longed to assist, negotiate or interrogate them – you’re only ever given one Rambo-esque command… Execute the little shits. And yes, whilst it looks cool to stylishly curb stomp a wounded soldier in the face I literally never felt a need to. First of all – it isn’t exactly fair to kick someone when they’re already down, and secondly I couldn’t even tell why I was really trying to fight these guys in the first place, let alone kill a random bystander. Aside from that, the game suffers from one bizarrely executed aesthetic choice – and that is regarding doors, exits and control panels. Quite often throughout the game you’ll encounter doors that are drastically lit up as if they’re important to your mission, but no, they’re just beautiful, inanimate, hilariously unnecessary doors. Subsequently to that, you’ll then find that the doors you actually do need to go through are not easy to spot at all – and often blend themselves frustratingly into the environments. Control panels, too, are designed with small illuminated squares popping out of them; squares that resemble ammunition but are actually nothing at all. Time-consuming and strange, but always minor, minor criticisms.
Graphically the game is vibrant and stunning; a welcome variation to the impressive-yet-dull visuals of many of this year’s blockbuster monoliths. While running around the various levels I was constantly reminded of Mirror’s Edge (not surprisingly another EA beauty), as producers StarBreeze Studios appear to have paid specific attention to detail regarding the haziness of the wind as it rushes by you. Sliding on the floor, vaulting over chest-high walls then sprinting over to execute the enemy – these are all frequent moments in the game which feel fluid and polished. It’s what Mirror’s Edge would have been had it have featured a stronger combat system – and I for one am impressed by it. Using the stylish DART chip (an app which essentially slows down time and gives the user X-ray vision), one can survey the environment and plan their attack ahead of time – meaning that when it comes to the crunch, the fluid combat feels even more responsive and satisfying. In summary, if you take the gorgeous futuristic art style of Mirror’s Edge and add a dashing of Dead Space’s intuitive in-game video and hub systems – then you’ve essentially made a cocktail for Syndicate.
Whilst it’s often challenging and sometimes frustrating, Syndicate is a fantastic game and a fine example of a first person shooter. Whilst it may not withstand the test of time, the free-to-play online co-op mode really does give Syndicate that extra kick of value, and therefore I would recommend it to any fans of the genre that want to add a little variety to their library of games.