All of this has happened before, and will happen again.
‘Syndicate‘ has joined the rank of PC gaming classics like ‘Jagged Alliance,’ ‘Monkey Island’ and ‘X-Com,’ beloved titles who are getting modern remakes with varying degrees of success and faithfulness. Released on the PC in 1993, Syndicate is a real-time action/strategy game set in a futuristic, cyberpunk world. The dystopian future has remained for 2012’s Syndicate but most everything else is different- the series transplanted into a modern FPS by Starbreeze Studios, the guys behind ‘The Chronicles of Riddick’ and The Darkness.
You play a voiceless character named Kilo who works as an agent for Eurocorp, one of the three major corporations that now run the world. In the future everyone’s got chips in their heads and you have one of the latest, the DART 6 bio-chip, which will better serve you as you attempt to fight the war for your corporation of choice. Corporate warfare has taken on a whole new meaning, and assassinations and all-out battles regularly take place in the effort to control the latest technology.
You’ll do so with a typical array of weapons (pistols, sniper rifles, shotguns, etc.) that each come with a secondary fire, but since you’ve got this fancy computer chip implanted in your skull you might as well put it to use. That’s where Syndicate’s innovative “breach” attacks come in. Since nearly everything in this world has a computer in it you’ll be able to interact with the environment just by aiming at it, and you can even hack your enemies themselves. Breach their weapon and you can cause it to “Backfire”, knocking them down and allowing you to easily mop them up on the floor. Feeling a little more evil? Get inside your enemy’s head and convince him to commit “Suicide” via a dropped grenade that will take out any nearby enemies as well. You can also use “Persuade” to make them to start shooting their former friends, which has the bonus side effect of making them commit suicide once they’re finished.
Each of those three attacks has a separate meter that charges up as you kill enemies, faster if you do it in rapid succession or with headshots. Once a breach is chosen via the d-pad you just hold down the left bumper when an enemy is highlighted to set it off.
That’s not the only benefit from your chip. Hit the right bumper and you’ll go into DART viewing mode, which gives you the benefit of a slow motion bullet time (of sorts), as well as increased armor and highlighted enemies on screen.
These little systems make the combat a lot more enjoyable than it would be otherwise- it’s just too bad it’s stuck in an unremarkable campaign. The main problem is that it recycles the same boring story of every other shooter out there. You know the type- the one that sees your protagonist blindly following instructions from someone, trusting them and believing they’re doing the right thing, only to find out you’ve been a sucker all along. More than a couple of twists occur over the game but you’ll see them coming a mile away. For instance, there’s your new partner that gravelly-voiced character actor Michael Wincott (The Crow) plays, who immediately gets into a dick-waving contest with you. Certainly you two will end up the best of friends. Brian Cox and Rosario Dawson play your boss and another agent respectively, so at least there’s some decent acting for the cliched script.
While the campaign is a linear affair, some of the agents from the other corporations you face have fancy upgraded chips of their own, and if you defeat them you’ll be able to use them to upgrade your own chip. You won’t get them by asking nicely though, you’ll jam a metal prod in their ear and perform a “chip rip” to tear that sucker out of their brain. Besides the benefit of upgraded powers the boss battles themselves offer a nice challenge and a good change of pace, so you’ll find yourself relishing them.
There’s a great look to the game, a clean and antiseptic world that takes place in bright corridors and bright outsides of buildings, with plenty of light bloom. But the boring levels don’t offer much in the way of variety and are filled with awful quick time events that require you to jam on a button nearly every time you open a door or grate, and the campaign is forgotten nearly as fast as it’s over.
Fortunately the multiplayer mode is here to provide you with all the fun the campaign is missing. A co-op mode that sees four players trying to complete missions as a team, you’ll soon find out that working together is absolutely essential. As well as the offensive breaches from the campaign you’ll be able to breach your partners to heal them or boost their shields, and if they get knocked down you’ll have to pick them back up. There’s actually a separate story to this game told via mission briefings but it’s even looser than the campaign. No, the real fun here is the combat and fortunately you’ll get plenty of it, along with the requisite experience system and purchasable upgrades. There’s tons of stuff to unlock and nine different scenarios to attempt, so you’ll be playing this for quite a while. In fact, I’d say that the real meat of the game is online- that the campaign acts as an overlong tutorial to the best part.
Syndicate is a puzzling game. Fans of the original won’t find much to reminisce in besides the name, and while the combat is fun it can’t really compete with the glut of shooters out already. But pick it up with a few friends to play with online and you’ll change your tune.
Now, for that remake of Grim Fandango…
Syndicate ($60), is available on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. It was developed by Starbreeze Studios and published by EA. The publisher provided a copy of the Xbox 360 version for review and this was written after ten hours of gameplay split up evenly among the single and multiplayer modes.
Follow Alex Riviello on Twitter: @alexriviello