“Syndicate” tries to remake itself into a first-person shooter (FPS) with some good combat techniques, but falls way short on visually delivering an enjoyable experience.
The new game from Starbreeze Studios, Electronic Arts is a reboot from a 1993 title that was more of a tactical shooter and strategy game than FPS. This version drops you into a future where corporations instead of countries control the world and most of the world’s population contains chips in their brains. Players act as techno-agents with super-charged electronic implants that make them incredible weapons.
The key invention is the DART-6 chip technology that is implanted in the brain of your character, Miles Kilo. Kilo is tasked with discovering corporate espionage and dealing with it – permanently. The DART-6 enhances Kilo so that the world appears to be moving slower and he becomes more powerful.
He also gets additional enhancements early in the game that unleash three different powerful attacks – suicide, backfire and persuade. Each of these abilities allows Kilo to tap into an enemy’s chip and force them to do something against their will.
The suicide ability causes a brain chip to explode, possibly injuring surrounding people. Backfire shorts out an opponent’s weapon temporarily and makes them vulnerable to damage. Persuade gets enemies to switch sides and help out Kilo before blowing their own brains out.
Kilo also gets upgrades by stealing important chips from other people’s skulls. The technique is rather disturbing as the technology is removed through the ear or eye – after the people are already dead, of course.
These upgrades add to health, recharging, shields and other benefits that you’ll need to complete your missions.
From a shooter perspective, the action is solid with a wide range of weapons to collect and use. From a simple pistol to the powerful chain gun with infinite ammo, each weapon causes unique, and sometimes very visceral, damage. The chain gun literally cuts enemies in half. Don’t examine the bodies too closely without a strong stomach.
The enemies are numerous, so players will get plenty of practice with their weapons and abilities. Some strategy is needed in most scenarios, but on more than one occasion, the bad guys just kept coming down a hallway without any personal regard while I continued to mow them down.
The boss battles were lengthy and difficult, requiring quite a bit of dodging, restocking and flat out hiding. Kilo seems extraordinarily fragile for all his offensive firepower so you will die often.
Apparently, civilians aren’t immune to all the bullets flying around either. It was hard to determine whether I should care or not because there isn’t a morality system that punishes or promotes my actions. I tried not playing like a psychopath, but the lines between good and bad get blurred on the way to the game’s conclusion.
Most troubling was the visual representation of the environments. Yes, it is a far-flung future reminiscent of “Deus Ex” or even “Tron,” but the experience was visually painful.
Lens flare and extreme lighting lessened the game’s enjoyment. Even by adjusting the gamma and blackness controls, transitions from scene to scene would result in blinding brightness or darkness so deep that I couldn’t make out individual items on a desk. I spent more time in the video options menu than worrying about what skills I wanted to upgrade.
Glitchy animation didn’t help the visual experience either. Other characters would go through the shakes like they were going through techno-DTs and on more than one occasion, enemy soldiers would appear to go down only to spontaneously reappear in the same location and shooting.
The detail in the environments was impressive, but most of it was just for show. Walls and barriers would show bullet marks without taking any real damage.
The multiplayer is co-op for two to four players and puts you into some typical agent missions. Cooperation is vital as the enemy appears single-minded in their desire to destroy you. It doesn’t detract from the overall game, but it is important to get with people who know what they are doing. Those “solo” team members are just going to get themselves – and you – killed.
Overall, “Syndicate” is hampered by visual style and glitchiness that gets more frustrating as the game goes on. The combat is solid, fun to play and takes a creative mind to use properly against numerous and increasingly tough enemies.
Don’t treat it as a reboot. Treat it as something brand new and you’ll probably enjoy it more.
“Syndicate” is available now in North America and February 24 in Europe on Windows PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It is rated M for Mature due to blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, and suggestive themes. This review was done using a review copy for the Xbox 360.