Accept the facts. Syndicate
is a first person shooter, not an isometric real-time strategy. This is 2011,
not 1993, and while we’re still disappointed that EA couldn’t bring back the
original series’ gameplay along with its title, we understand – the industry
has evolved and Syndicate must evolve with it. Our first preview of the new
Syndicate, then, will focus only on what is,
and not on what could have been.
Playing the game with
that clean slate mindset, we were happily surprised by how much fun we had
during our 20 minutes with the shooter… but even when sampled as a standalone
experience with no ties to the past, this Syndicate still gives potential cause
for concern. Both the excited and the worried below the trailer.
What has us excited: Easily the
coolest – and most unique – feature of Syndicate’s science fiction universe is
the bio-tech brain chip implanted in hero Miles Kilo’s head, as well as in the
heads of all his enemies. During combat, you can target an opponent and hold
down the left bumper button to perform a remote hack sabotage on his system.
Choose the “Suicide” option to brainwash him into pulling a gun or grenade and
ending not only his own life, but those of any other enemies nearby. “Persuade”
convinces him to turn against his fellow employees (in Syndicate, people fight
for corporations rather than for family, country or personal survival) and
assist you. “Backfire” causes his weapon to malfunction and stun him into
What has us worried: These are fun superpowers to use and abuse, but
they’re the only offensive ones you have – according to the developer we spoke
with, you constantly upgrade these three abilities instead of earning newer and
crazier ones. For example, later in the game a Backfire could cause a greater
explosion while a Persuade could create a stronger, longer lasting ally. We’re
not sure, however, we’ll still find those concepts novel or interesting five to
six hours into the game, and more defensive hacks like peering through walls
and slowing down time were unavailable in this demo.
Slick futuristic setting
What has us excited: The screenshots released for Syndicate so far
don’t lie – this is a very pretty game with mesmerizingly futuristic details
almost everywhere you look. Gun metal shimmers in the glow of neon computer
terminals. Laser turrets slice through a room shrouded in cryogenic chamber
fog. Enemies’ nerve and bone structures are exposed in x-ray form when
targeted, while certain ammunition will automatically curve and bend toward
them in a crackling lightning arc. The brain chip interface is smartly
designed, too, with translucent pop-up menus unobtrusively labeling everything
in the environment, from couches to locked doors to collectible dossiers, and
little loading bars zipping by as you attempt to hack an opponent’s mind.
Syndicate’s future is colorful, too… with bright reds and blues and greens that
never made an appearance in Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
What has us worried: Some of Syndicate’s visuals, at least those we
experienced in the demo, are way too familiar. A dystopian city filled with
massive animated billboards is predictable enough, but… geishas? Really? And
Asian language characters plastered on the side of every office wall and
skyscraper? Blade Runner was almost 30 years ago, people. It’s time for some
new sci-fi tropes.
What has us excited: An extremely violent shooter is nothing new, of
course, but Syndicate displays a cold and unapologetic brutality that is worth
mentioning, especially because the original game possessed this quality as
well. In the demo’s opening scene, you follow a mentor figure who shoots two
men in the head as if he was flicking dust off his shoulder, then waits for an
elevator door to open and murders the unarmed occupant without even glancing in
his direction. You can be equally cruel later, smashing enemy (and NPC) skulls
into your knee, snapping their necks or curb stomping them with a melee
“execution” button. And when you need to steal a new chip from an uncooperative
scientist’s brain, there’s a squirm-inducing scene of a long sharp needle
violating his ear canal.
What has us worried: We know we promised not to talk about the old
Syndicate games too much in this preview of the new Syndicate, but here’s the exception:
the original balanced and justified its inhuman brutality with welcome doses of
black comedy. Hopefully, this update can manage to do the same.