Funny, this future feels a lot like the past…
For a guy who sees the world in ways others can only dream of, Eurocorp agent Kilo seems ironically familiar with life in corporate America. Raised from infancy as a wage slave bound to the whims of his employment overlords, the guy can’t seem to escape his lot in life. In that sense, he shares a strange kinship with Strabreeze’s 2012 reboot of the RTS classic Syndicate.
Originally released in 1993, Bullfrog’s baby was a gritty real-time strategy game with a flair for dirty work, but this new sci-fi shooter borrows more from big-budget bonanzas like Call of Duty and Battlefield than the old-school fan-favorite or its thematic twin Deus Ex, rightfully raising some serious red flags in the gaming community. But does this distant cousin hold true enough to the family name to avoid a web-riot?
For the most part, yes.
The core game’s driven by excellent shooting controls that handily demonstrate Starbreeze’s continued mastery of action gaming. Artfully executing the switch between DART mode, all-out combat, Brink-style level navigation, an intuitive cover system, and over half a dozen hacking methods, Syndicate excels at the sticks at all times. What’s more, the underlying engine offers a diverse, beautifully realized world that effortlessly illuminates the heights and horrors of future earth; the enemy AI makes clever use of their surroundings to give you grief as often as possible, leading to some serious shootouts that’ll get your pulse pounding with alarming frequency.
The thing is, the whole experience never quite reaches the heights of Infinity Ward’s flagship war simulator. It’s a typical rollercoaster ride from start to finish, but there’s a noticeable lack of screen-shaking explosiveness, and the blockbuster moments are perplexingly few and far between. Boss battles factor in nicely to the game’s light RPG elements, but the ability to “steal” upgrade points from other agents is a great example of how the game ultimately fails to deliver on big moments. Rather than allowing you to capture capabilities in the Mega Man vein, you’re limited to basic points that power up your chip via a small subset of basic enhancements. It certainly adds something to the experience, but it’s not quite as empowering as I would’ve liked.
The same could be said for the game’s series of event-based minigames, which introduce new gameplay, weaponry, and even a small homage to Portal into the mix in fun ways, but Syndicate’s just as quick to toss these techniques to the side in favor of another new gimmick, rather than building on those mechanics in meaningful ways. Obviously, this is the order of the day in a CoD-style shooter, but after Human Revolution, I really missed the sense of growth provided by consistent use of new elements here.
Starbreeze did try to spice things up a bit with the co-op missions, and they’re a nice addition that provides some much-needed replay value and a dash of nostalgia for the old-school fanbase, but as with most modern “co-op” efforts, I would’ve rather seen this approach integrated into the story mode itself—and I’m not sure if it’s something that’ll keep me coming back in the long run.
This leaves the game’s story as a big part of the main event. Penned by science fiction veteran Richard K. Morgan, it would’ve work nicely in a Hollywood action flick that sported the same themes, but (slight spoiler alert) the whole “secret agent who gets caught up in a conspiracy that forces him question his loyalties” bit has been seen so many times before that it failed to add much to the action, eventually serving as yet another reminder of Syndicate’s struggle toward individuality.
And that’s just it. At certain moments, Syndicate was a beautiful, engaging shooter that had me on the edge of my seat, but there were just as many phoned-in, shoot-by-numbers sequences that left me feeling that it’s bound a bit too tightly by a set of conventions that lead to an unfortunately predictable experience. Starbreeze definitely knows its way around the genre, but I can’t help but wish that they would’ve strayed a bit farther from the script with this one.
SUMMARY: If you’re looking for a sci-fi shooter in the style of Battlefield and won’t expect the same level of “OMFG” around every corner, you’ll probably have a great time with this one. But, in the event you were hoping for a more action-oriented Deus Ex, Syndicate’s just a few steps shy of delivery on that front.
- THE GOOD: Tight gameplay and admirable visuals.
- THE BAD: One-and-done game mechanics, no campaign co-op.
- THE UGLY: The inescapable feeling that we’ve seen this all before.
Syndicate is available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was on Xbox 360.