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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.

Psychological warfare

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 temporary submission.

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.

Unforgiving brutality

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.

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5 comments

  • InFeRnOg - September 30, 2011 11:21 a.m.

    "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." Plenty of gamers still love and enjoy strategy games, and pretending that they don't exist or that they're "not contemporary" is really annoying. There is definitely a place for strategy games and there always will be (particularly with the PC crowd). Turning every game into an FPS is NOT the answer, and adopting this view is frankly disturbing and makes me worry for the future of gaming.
  • GamesRadarCharlieBarratt - September 30, 2011 2:49 p.m.

    "We're still disappointed." I didn't say we agreed with the choice to make Syndicate a shooter, just that we understand it from EA's point of view. I loved strategy games in 1993, continue to love them today, and wish the new Syndicate could be more like the old Syndicate. But it's not, and rather than continue to lament that fact in preview after preview, I decided it'd be more productive to analyze the game on its own merits, as what it actually is instead of what it could have been.
  • HankVenture - September 30, 2011 5:30 a.m.

    looks like a Deus Ex setting with crysis gameplay style
  • Redeater - September 30, 2011 4:34 a.m.

    I loved the original and I would be a little more worried had Deus Ex not been such a fantastic game. This game looks like they are taking a lot of points from it. That being said if they mess this up I will be very upset.
  • pin316 - September 29, 2011 11:29 p.m.

    only one of these that I'd be worried about from your description is the brutality - the contrast in the orig between hardcore/humour was excellent, and something that i would like to see in the reboot to ensure it has personality. as for the others - you already said you know there are other hacks of different types; the devs came out and basically said "bladerunner is one of our biggest influences"; i hope they get the balance right too but it's not really a cause for concern; and it's been touted for long enough that it's not really 'so soon'.

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