Yes, I was one of those people that let out a collective groan when Syndicate was finally announced and it wasn’t a strategy oriented title like the original. I’m also the one who quickly changed his mind when I got my hands on the game at a preview event. While it might not be the game I hoped to play, it was a game I wanted to play. The 2012 version of Syndicate is a gritty, action oriented first person shooter created by developer Starbreeze, famous for the well received Riddick titles. The obvious influences from those games carry over to this game and really help push it above the "just another FPS" genre.
In the year 2069 most of the world is connected through implant chips in their brains called DART, these allow for the mass sharing of information and the ability to interact with devices and each other in unique and interesting ways. In Syndicate you play as Agent Miles Kilo, a member of the Eurocorp Syndicate. You are outfitted with a military grade version of DART, literally making you a walking weapon.
The Syndicate world seen through DART enhancement.
It’s not long before you are sent out to battle rival syndicates, stealing their technology and conducting corporate espionage. While on the surface the game feels like a traditional FPS, there are some distinct differences. You are equipped with breach abilities, these allow you to remotely hack into panels, doors, turrets and people. This is where part of the game’s strategy actually comes into play. You can’t simply run and gun through the game without using your abilities like persuade or backfire. For instance you might find yourself pinned in cover as a turret is firing on you, you’ll have to make your way close enough to the turret to remotely hack it to shut it off.
But sometimes these abilities aren’t required, instead they just allow for an interesting gameplay mechanic. A good example would be an encounter with an enemy with a riot shield. In traditional FPS games you might try to flank (which you can still do) or toss a grenade behind (which you can still do). But in Syndicate you can simply tell the big hulking dude with the shield to shoot himself in the head. Problem solved.
Extracting a DART chip in single player is brutally violent.
These abilities are recharged via adrenaline earned by killing enemies. So in doing so there’s a nice ebb and flow of traditional combat and breach ability combat. Starbreeze has done an excellent job of making you feel like a badass. The gunplay in Syndicate is simply top notch, the weapons all feel really powerful and impactful. Every bullet feels like it has a purpose and the audio of the guns are eerily satisfying, like listening some sort of deadly opera. And if you get up close and personal with an enemy you can deal a brutal melee attack. My personal favorite? Ripping out the persons legs from under them and kicking them in the face.
For the most part the campaign is pretty straight forward - you’ll be killing everything in your path and using your breach abilities to open doors and some light puzzle solving. Things are mixed up with several boss battles against other agents, these are mostly just a lesson in frustration more than anything else. Killing them will earn you an upgrade chip allowing you to customize your agent’s powers and abilities.
BRIGHT LIGHT! BRIGHT LIGHT!
There’s a good variety of environments to keep the visuals from getting boring. You’ll go from some bright areas with plenty of whites and blues to dark underground areas that remind you of a NY alleyway. The game does have an unhealthy obsession with bloom, so much so, it’s almost an enemy in itself during certain battles. JJ Abrams would be proud.
After you wrap up the campaign there’s a co-op campaign to tackle. Here you have 9 missions to take on with three other friends online. The meat here is just how deep this mode is in terms of character customization and unlocks. While the 9 missions won’t offer all that much variety - it’s either kill everyone, kill everyone with a boss battle, or kill everyone while retrieving these objects - they do offer multiple difficulties which aid in replayability a little After a single play through of all the missions you’ll be hovering around 15-20% complete for co-op - so there’s actually a lot left to do. Let’s talk about the missions themselves first before hitting up the deep customizations.
It’s obvious the missions were designed around co-op just because of how difficult they are. You’ll be attack from multiple sides and tasked with drawing fire away from each other to progress forward almost around every turn. Everyone is capable of healing another player from a distance using a breach ability and it’s absolutely crucial. More so, it’s probably a good idea to have one player act as a support character equipping both a group heal and shield ability along with some ranged weapons. You see - in co-op there are several new breaches that are only available here - and almost everyone affects the team somehow.
The missions themselves will earn you chips and other objects that are used to upgrade your weapons and agent. You’ll be plugging in new breaches and enhancing current ones as well as unlocking modifications on weapons. But simply unlocking the mods doesn’t give access, you must use the weapon then and earn experience towards mastering the modification until you see the benefit. It’s a vicious cycle of rinse and repeat to get to the badass character you want, but if you plan it out and stick with a defined role it won’t take too long.
I can’t say enough just how satisfying the gun play is in both single player and co-op. My last session in co-op was also one of the most rewarding I had. There were only three of us, despite the missions obviously being designed for four players, but we still managed to prove victorious thanks to careful tactics and defined roles. We had a sniper support from afar to cover us while I acted as our healer providing both teammates with shield and group heals. Our other character was our tank, dealing front line damage and running to disable turrets while shielded. When we finally reached the boss battle we used an MMO tactic of pulling enemies away from the group, isolating them, and taking them out. Everyone one of us marvelled at just how satisfying that was.
All of this being said I have to mention some of the problems with the game. The biggest is some serious stability issues which include complete system lock ups on the 360. I’ve already pointed out an issue with party chat and mid-mission lockups when restarting. If Starbreeze can fix these, the entire experience should be that much smoother. I would have liked to see a little more variety in the co-op story missions, as well as - you know - an actual story.
While Syndicate may not be the game the nostalgic gamer in me wanted, it is a game the current me really enjoyed. Starbreeze really understands what makes a first person shooter so satisfying, it’s something you can’t really describe in words, but when you play it you know it has that intangible quality. With a solid single player campaign and a deep co-op mode Syndicate is an easy recommendation from me this year.
The Co-Optimus review of Syndicate is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game which was provided by the publisher.