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Syndicate review

Solid
AT A GLANCE
  • Solid sci-fi shooting action
  • Beautiful sense of design
  • Online co-op done right
  • Corridors, corridors everywhere
  • No competitive modes limits life
  • Good ideas need more expanding

A recent trip into EA’s intellectual property vault results in Syndicate, a new first-person shooter that combines the craftsmanship and technical expertise of Swedish devhouse Starbreeze with the basic fiction (but little else) of the late, great Bullfrog’s classic 1993 isometric tactics game, Syndicate. Unless you’re hopelessly wed to the old games, you’ll find the new Syndicate a thoroughly solid, impressively rendered, just slightly undercooked take on the modern manshoot. EA could have done a lot worse.

Syndicate takes place in a nightmarish future 2069, an era defined by the domination of a few dozen massive corporations --those would be the syndicates-- which have displaced traditional governments. 57% of humans have expensive chips in their heads which let them participate in a malignant consumer culture based on compulsory unchecked consumption, while the 43% who are have-nots scramble for survival in the ruined ghettos underneath the megascrapers. Syndicate has a lot of fun with the social commentary, and it feels timely given recent real-world events. This hellish future proves a continually interesting backdrop for the bang-bang shoot-shoot.

The single-player campaign serves as a reasonably fun tour of this compellingly grim future, dropping you off in a succession of syndicate hotspots just long enough to feel ready for the next. The story is pretty thin, relying on lots of supplementary text to flesh itself out and ending in the typical cliffhanger that games seem so fond of nowadays. Even so, the ride itself is enjoyable because the action is solid and the locations are beautiful.

 

From the radiant neon night of the training mission to a massive, sun-drenched flotilla under the azure skies of the Atlantic Ocean, Syndicate’s production values are impeccable; Starbreeze really coaxed some beautiful sights out of aging hardware. Some might decry the admittedly excessive use of bloom effects, but we enjoy the busy, occasionally blinding, over-the-top motif. (And you never know, maybe by 2069 every other surface will in fact have a blindingly shiny chrome finish.) The only real problem with these pretty levels is that they often have you running through corridors and enclosed rooms. The flotilla level, for example, lets you glimpse a few vivid vistas worthy of Mirror’s Edge, but mostly sends you running through the ship’s innards.

You play a technologically modified agent, and a simple upgrade system lets you boost his abilities once in a while. More important is his ability to breach (hack) many electronic systems, including those in enemies’ heads. Breaching lets you activate environmental switches, disable enemy shields, and solve very simple puzzles. You can also run three offensive “applications” that stun your foes, make them kill themselves, or start fighting for you (a thankless job, as then they kill themselves anyway). Killing baddies recharges your programs, with rapid-fire killstreaks providing the fastest charge. 

All these systems feel a little underdeveloped. The three offensive apps feel like just the tip of a larger iceberg, but they’re all you get (at least in single-player). Character upgrades are rare and somehow unsatisfying. And the killstreaks need better calling out, à la Unreal Tournament; we barely noticed when we were on one, or that it was helping us. Still, breaching works well enough, and it’s undeniably cool to start running toward a would-be piece of cover and make it rise while you’re en route. It’s like, you’re a cyborg, man.

Like many other contemporary first-person shooters, Syndicate emphasizes aiming carefully and seeking cover rather than jumping all over the place and dodging with superior agility. Imagine the fun AI and semi-realistic gunplay of F.E.A.R., the modest pace of Killzone or Resistance, and a tinge of Halo-like sci-fi. The shooting feels very solid, augmented by a satisfying bullet-time mode that boosts your damage and lets you see through walls. The normal difficulty level isn’t a complete cakewalk, and the Achievements / Trophies are well-considered and mostly fun to strive for. (One thing we don’t like: Grenades are really clunky, necessitating a weapon-switch to toss).

 

Based on single-player alone, Syndicate is a solid, mostly enjoyable, workmanlike shooting game. The clincher comes in its four-player online co-op mode. Yep, we said co-op; compulsive deathmatchers should look elsewhere. Co-op offers nine fresh missions, some set in the same locales as the single-player outings. It does a good job of offering all of today’s expected bells and whistles, such as experience-based leveling, weapon and app unlocks, and rudimentary guild functionality. If you enjoy the single-player, you’ll find a lot of the same satisfying itch-scratching in multiplayer.

Just one warning: The co-op missions do not scale with player count at all, and they are definitely designed to be tackled with four players. Three players? You’ll probably do fine, if you’re careful. Two? Really stretching it. And solo? You’d have to be a masochist to even try, which means we’ll be seeing some really badass solo runs on YouTube in approximately two weeks.

Syndicate is a fun, well-made shooter that introduces an appealing new sci-fi dystopia, which we’d love to see another game explore further. Whether this is enough to justify 60 bucks is your call, but it’s nice to know that there are other solid, meaty shooters to explore once you’ve had your fill of Call of Duty and Halo. If this is what it looks like when EA desecrates old licenses, maybe it should do so more often.

More Info

Available Platforms: PS3, PC, Xbox 360
Published by: Electronic Arts
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes

Topics

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23 comments

  • fault3 - March 2, 2012 5:14 p.m.

    fun fact,and this is true. i used to work for Schenker truck company,and i was the one who delivered the hardware and computers to starbreeze a couple of years back,so in a way i helped make this game. i think it was a good game,it was like a more actionfilled deus ex,i played it as such too.
  • NullG7 - February 24, 2012 8:30 p.m.

    I would like to ad that it freezes all the time, $#^%*#$ EA Private servers
  • DigitalSensationUK - February 24, 2012 3:07 p.m.

    I got this today from lovefilm - seems alright so far but is it just me but are the menus and especially the text really blurry and rubbish?
  • haku-jin - February 23, 2012 5:29 p.m.

    Too all call of duty players newbies and online players get a life play a real game .. It's so leggy the demo .. Beat it six time plus with my friends from GameStop on psn network ... Also Xbox live sucks dick ...paying too much 70 bucks for gaming plus premium service coming soon 150 bucks and u can ply for free on nintendo network summer 2012 ... Beta witch I'm in haha
  • UberNoob - February 28, 2012 8:35 p.m.

    lolwut
  • RedOutlive10 - February 22, 2012 8:30 p.m.

    Skimmed through it, noticed the words perk, killstreak. Sounds legit
  • obliviondoll - February 22, 2012 5:38 p.m.

    Review's a little behind on the news. The demo mission had solo runs within a couple of days. I doubt it will be more than a week before people are posting their solo runs of the entire co-op campaign. I could do the demo mission myself, consistently, at least on Normal (I like how Co-Op skips the "Easy" difficulty), and got it once on Hard.
  • spideralex90 - February 21, 2012 6:56 p.m.

    The demo for this was fun. I may pick it up when it drops to $40 or something.
  • EnragedTortoise1 - February 21, 2012 6 p.m.

    I have a feeling if this wasn't named Syndicate, then people would be a lot less pissed about this game.
  • RedHarlow - February 21, 2012 5:51 p.m.

    Does every game released need a competitive online mode now? I'd rather a game have only single player and get knocked off a point in a review than it have a dead-on-arrival competitive online mode and get better marks in a review.
  • spideralex90 - February 21, 2012 6:55 p.m.

    It's all about money really. Rarely do single player games do phenomenally well, with exceptions of course, Mass Effect 1 and 2 and The Elder Scrolls are the only games I can think of right now that was single player only and did very well. Meanwhile Call of Duty clone #99 makes a zillion dollers.
  • IceBlueKirby - February 21, 2012 5:02 p.m.

    I'll pick this one up when it's cheap. It doesn't sound as appealing as the other FPS I want right now, The Darkness II, so it's going to have to wait a while since I don't have that either.
  • asspills - February 21, 2012 5:45 p.m.

    That's funny in an ironic sorta way. The Darkness 2 is the sequel to Starbreeze's (who made Syndicate) last game. I'll stretch my wallet a bit and see if I can support both.
  • TanookiMan - February 22, 2012 6:40 a.m.

    I honestly thought Starbreeze had closed, particularly because they didn't do Darkness ii. I'm playing it now, pretty awesome but not quite as "open world" as the first one.
  • Travia220 - February 21, 2012 4:14 p.m.

    You could of summed it up as a generic fps game with a cyberpunk theme. Just another piece of shit churned out from EA Games, destroying yet another IP. How do you go from an awesome Isometric Tactical Shooter to Cover Shooter of Mediocrity..
  • Rub3z - February 21, 2012 3:44 p.m.

    One thing that may make it a purchase or pass for me... does it have splitscreen co-op? My friend and I are cooperative gaming masters, and this sounds like it would be a kickass splitscreen co-op offering. That is, if it has that in the first place. Let me know. Thanks.
  • SnowCat - February 22, 2012 5:52 a.m.

    No splitscreen, online only.
  • Redeater - February 21, 2012 1 p.m.

    I had a bad feeling about this game after I played the demo. Most reviews are pegging this one at mediocre to fun...for awhile. You know what this means. Hello $20 clearance game! Though I would have supported this had it turned out as good as Fallout 3. I loved the original Syndicate.
  • ObliqueZombie - February 21, 2012 2:40 p.m.

    Haha, thought the same thing! It'll definitely be a bargain-bin item, what with those awesome graphics and solid gameplay. Stabbing a few eyes and retrieving a chip every once in a while sounds great, too.
  • ThePrivateer - February 21, 2012 12:49 p.m.

    How long would you say the single-player lasts?

Showing 1-20 of 23 comments

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