Cementing yourself in the hall of gaming history requires a title to be filled with moments so unique, that it becomes instantly unforgettable. The tram sequence of Half Life, Metal Gear Solid 4’s ending, these are moments that elevate the idea of a video game way beyond simple home entertainment.
The original Syndicate earned itself a place at the table of gaming greats very quickly. It played brilliantly, sounded great and looked quite unlike any other game available at the time. After more than 10 years the franchise has returned, this time in first person shooter form. But is the shift in perspective a good idea or is the game just moving with fashion? Does Syndicate do the original justice or will it end up tarnishing those great gaming memories?
Syndicate is blue. Rarely, if ever, does the game ditch its cooling filter. Everything is drenched in a cross-processed colour palette and the whole game runs with a heavy black vignette set around the screen. It works brilliantly and from the outset Syndicate nails its ultra-modern minimalist vision of the future perfectly.
Coupled with a tight graphics engine and varied environments which keep playing through the game exciting, Syndicate is one of the best-looking games we have stuck into our Xbox 360 in a while. Character models also look very good, as do the weapons. Unfortunately the script and most voice acting is a lot weaker, which does detract slightly from the visual prowess.
The game uses something called "dart assist" to put a futuristic overlay on top of the Syndicate world. Think of it like in-game augmented reality, it keeps you informed of everything you can interact with. Guns also have ammo counts and fire modes projected on to them. The end resulted is a pretty convoluted HUD, which often creates confusion during the more intense firefights. Shame really, as the rest of Syndicate’s looks is spot on.
So what is Syndicate all about? The world has been transformed into a quasi-digital dataverse where people interact with objects around them using something called a DART chip embedded in their brains. The chip allows them, and thus you, to interact remotely with electronics and other people’s DART hardware. The result is a world where class is divided by the quality of the chip in your brain.
At the top of the chip bearing elite are those who can do something called "breaching" - the ability to hacking something remotely, to get it to do what you want. The world has become divided between three vast corporations that are so big, full-scale syndicate wars take place between them.
It sets the scene for the game’s inventive approach to shooting using the DART chip and also allows for the more impressive of the title’s environments to make a bit more sense. You play an "enforcer" called Miles Kilo. His job, like all his enforcer mates, is to wreak havoc on behalf of your syndicate - Eurocorp. They are on the frontline of an inter-syndicate battle for new technology, which you obtain by yanking the chips out of the brains of high-ranking syndicate members.
All the brain-orientated technology justifies Syndicate’s clever augmented reality world and Miles’s power over electronic devices. It definitely works well on paper but the story is scripted in such a way that characters become quickly forgettable. In all honesty though, the breakneck-pace of the game means any cutscenes simply justify an environment change. We were happy to skip them and get on with the shooting. If you want an engaging story however, Syndicate probably isn’t the game for you. Try Mass Effect 3, which has a similar feel but a more involving story.
Syndicate plays out like an old-school shooter. Sure the Halo style health recharge is there, but other than that it feels more like something from the mid-Nineties to us. The closest way of describing how Syndicate plays is to look at the original Turok game on the N64.
Each weapon in the game forces you to play slightly differently. One, for example, will encourage hiding and then some shooting around corners. Another - the pistol, say - has a three-round alternate fire which makes it a perfect headshot gun for those quick on the trigger.
Enemies are absolutely brutal, they are incredibly accurate and will come at you in an unrelenting fashion. Expect a lot of circle strafing and hiding behind small objects as your health recharges.
On top of the normal shooting is your DART overlay and "apps". Enemies can be forced to commit suicide or have their weapons backfire on them. Turrets can be hacked to help you, and even things like lift doors can be used to slice enemies in two, when breached remotely. Switching to your dart-powered vision lets you see through walls and slow down time to pick off enemies easier. It all definitely works, but can quickly result in total mental overload when taking on multiple enemies in a firefight.
All this technology makes you feel incredibly powerful as a player. Once you nail using apps and breaching properly, you can destroy entire crowds of enemies without firing many shots. This is all changed when you take on a boss, or enforcer from another syndicate. They can do everything you can, and this sudden leveling of the playing field, coupled with dubstep from the likes of Skrillex, makes them very memorable indeed.
Syndicate is a good game. It has a unique look, which, coupled with a great set of graphics makes for a very visceral experience. Boss battles are a particular highlight, as is the futuristic dubstep soundtrack running alongside them. Sadly the game is marred by an incredibly ballsy A.I. which results in plenty of unfair-feeling deaths.
The story is also not hugely grabbing, which is a shame as it could have reached Deus Ex levels of futuristic goodness if it had a script to back up the style. If you fancy an exciting shooting experience that plays out slightly different to the conventional FPS, Syndicate is the thing for you. If you want that little bit more and a complete sci-fi experience, then perhaps wait until they get the formula right. The world created is spot on, the game itself just needs a bit of work.