Fresh from Starbreeze Studios comes EA’s latest first-person shooter, Syndicate, a reimagining of the original isometric strategy game released back in 1993. Despite the shift in genre, there is plenty here to appreciate.
The story has potential but is lacking substance in the middle, although there are some nicely paced story segments where you’re walking around with characters and talking. You play as an agent for the Cayman Global chip corporation, who are rivals of the Aspari chip corporation. You are sent to see why and how they are stealing tech from your company. You soon find a defector and then all hell breaks loose as you try to survive and get to the bottom of this syndicate war. Most of the story is told through data you pick up on your travels, and this way of delivering story is kind of dull because the last thing you want to do in a fast-paced shooter is a lot of reading.
With this being a shooter, you need awesome guns that feel great to shoot. Syndicate has plenty, and most with cool alternate fire modes. Guns include pistols, shotguns, rocket launchers, and assault rifles. On top of the variety, there is a twist to a few weapons. For example, the gauss gun is downright fun because it has a lock-on mode, while the laser rifle can burn through enemies or act like a pulse laser and just deal damage. All the guns feel great to shoot – it is like you can feel the power of the weapons in your hands. That’s when you know you’re playing a good shooter. Each gun feels different to the next and you adjust your strategy accordingly – if you are running down narrow halls for a while, you might want a shotgun and pistol, whereas if you are in an open area, drop the close-range weapons and pick up an assault rifle and some other long-range weapon.
This would just be a standard shooter if it stopped there, but Syndicate has a nice hacking gameplay element that is genuinely fun and mixes up your strategy, helping to move Syndicate away from the norm. Enemies and certain objects will have an icon hovering above them that allows you to hack them. Enemies can be breached using three different breaches: Suicide, Backfire, and Persuade. Suicide allows you to have an enemy blow himself up and take out guys around him, Backfire will make their guns misfire and stun them as well as doing damage, and Persuade will turn an enemy against his colleagues before having him blow his own brains out when your meter drains. These three elements are fun and crucial for survival, because the enemies in the game come at you in clusters and having the explosive damage helps tremendously.
Hacking allows you to interact with the environment in a new way. Disabling shields, blowing up hover bikes, and raising cover are just some of the many uses. It’s fun to do all this on the fly while shooting, because hacking is the most important thing in the game. Some enemies even need to be hacked to deal damage to them. The bosses are fun and each one has to be approached differently – some may not have you use a gun at all.
Overall, the main campaign is like a training ground for the online co-op, as unfortunately the campaign is lacking in both length and story details. Sure, the voice acting is superb, but this type of setting calls for a better-told story. The graphics are good but nothing ground-breaking. The overall art style is like a mix of Blade Runner and Deus Ex. There are some nice elements, like everything being labeled in your HUD, some over-saturated lighting effects, and the overall structure of buildings is quite cool. The only other major complaint about the campaign is that it can get extremely hard. The designers decided to throw tons of enemies at you instead of changing the formula. The AI is decent, but a greater variety in enemies would have added to the experience. Also, a greater variety of hacking abilities would have been nice as well. There was potential here because throughout the game you will find new chips, and although they do level you up, you can’t use them to gain more hacking abilities, and this feels like a missed opportunity.
That brings us to co-op. There are nine levels, some of which are based of the original game, which is a nice touch, and you can bring up to 4 players with you as you take on these levels. There are some different hacking abilities exclusive to this mode, like healing teammates, and having to work together to take on objectives is really fun. It’s an interesting take on co-op and can be a blast, but only for a while. There are more co-op missions coming in the form of DLC, but what’s on the disc is a little lacking.
Overall, Syndicate provides a great shooting experience with solid guns, fun hacking abilities, and a great co-op campaign. The story had potential but it never engages the player the way a better, more detailed story could have. We recommend this as a weekend rental with some friends, but you will probably forget about it later on in the year.
This review is based off a retail copy of the PC version of Syndicate by Starbreeze Studios distributed by EA