Video Game Review: Exciting Gameplay, Addictive Co-Op Make ‘Syndicate’ a Solid Shooter

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CHICAGO – Back in 1993, Bullfrog Productions developed a game called “Syndicate”; an isometric real-time tactical game where the player is in charge of a corporation that sends cyborg agents on deadly missions. The player’s goal was to lead his agents on missions to benefit their own syndicate corporation and harm competing syndicates. Video Game Rating: 4.0/5.0
Video Game Rating: 4.0/5.0

Now, nearly 20 years later, Starbreeze Studio has reimagined the franchise with the new first-person shooter “Syndicate.” Putting you on the front lines of battle rather than ordering a team from a distance, Starbreeze took a major risk by recreating the franchise into a shooter. The first risk was alienating the players that were already fans of the franchise. The second risk was being able to create a shooter that could stand-out and compete with all the other big name shooters that are available currently in the gaming world. While it is not a monster success, Starbreeze does create a very entertaining game with some great features.

“Syndicate” begins when you awake as Agent Miles Kilo, an agent of the syndicate EuroCorp. The structure of the world in the game is a place run by these syndicate corporations. After the design of the DART chip in 2025, a neural chip implanted in the brain that allows a person to access the dataverse, the world has changed immensely; corporations rule rather than governments, electronic devices have become useless, and half of the world’s population has been denied benefits as they remain unchipped.

Photo credit: EA

Fast forward to 2069 where you wake up as Kilo. Equipped with the new DART 6 chip and successfully breezing through a trial run (used as the tutorial of the game), Kilo is sent on a mission to kill Gary Chang, a scientist of a competing syndicate corporation that is designing a chip similar to the DART 6. Though there is disagreement about you going from EuroCorp scientist Lily Draw (voiced exceptionally well by actress Rosario Dawson), you are sent out after learning a new ability.

Photo credit: EA

Throughout the game, your DART 6 chip gives you the ability to hack into an enemy’s brain in what is called breaching. While breaching is also used for extracting data, opening doors, powering down machines, etc. the coolest breach abilities are the ones you get to use against your enemies. The first ability you receive, suicide, hacks the brain of an enemy, forcing them to kill themselves. The second ability, backfire, forces the enemy’s gun to backfire on them, knocking them to the ground or out of hiding. The third breach is persuade, which forces the enemy to side with you. In persuade, your enemy is now your ally and they will continue to kill your enemies until they are killed, or, if no enemies remain, they will finish by killing themselves. Sure, some of these abilities are pretty extreme, but they come in very useful during the game. You are also able to upgrade your abilities throughout the game by retrieving chips from enemies you have killed. In a somewhat graphic animation showing the ship removal, Kilo retrieves chips from certain fallen opponent’s brains, allowing him to upgrade his own abilities. Upgrades include better health, a surge of energy before death, shielding, enhancing hacking abilities, and much more.

The other great part of having a DART 6 chip in your brain is the DART Overlay mode. DART Overlay slows down the time rate and puts you into a night vision-esque look where enemies appear as orange and everything else is grey or black. In DART Overlay, you deal out more damage, receive less damage, and are able to move faster than any of your opponents. The ability is great for finding targets behind walls and in hiding, killing multiple opponents in a pinch, and is even used for puzzle sequences along the way. The incorporation of DART Overlay along with the hacking abilities helps remind you that you are a super-agent and that your prototype skills are why EuroCorp is so excited about you.

Photo credit: EA

However, as gameplay continues you soon find out that there is a split within EuroCorp. Lily is upset with the way the syndicates treat the unchipped citizens of the world and it becomes clear that Lily has been working against EuroCorp and helping rival syndicates. Frustrated with this, EuroCorp’s CEO Jack Denham (voiced by Brian Cox) sends you on a mission to first watch, and then recapture Lily. The mission sends you on numerous fights within rival syndicate facilities including several boss fights.

The mechanics and controls of the game are very solid and an asset to “Syndicate.” These mechanics are enhanced even more by the large amount of weapons you can use throughout the game. Aside from the awesome hacking abilities and DART Overlay controls, there are 21 different weapons you can use, from simple revolvers and semi-automatics to grenade launchers, flamethrowers, and laser guns. The controls react very well and the multiple weapon options (in both guns and hacking abilities) give a lot of variety to the controls and the game. This all comes in a package which contains great graphics and a very cool looking, futuristic world, minus the fact that the game gets saturated with overpowering light all too often. Also, the sound in the game is fantastic, from the mixing and variety of sound effects, to the score, all the way to the voice-acting (namely Dawson and Cox). Technically speaking, this game is sound.

While the mechanics of the gameplay and the abilities you are given are both solid, I did become a little bored with the boss fights. Several of the fights are extremely similar to one another, and I was left wanting more variety in the battles. Also, there were the frustrating auto-changes by the game which forces you to lose special weapons or be equipped with no weapons at all. In one particular fight, you enter the area with multiple guns, but when the fight begins you are not able to use them. No reason is given as your guns are not taken away or destroyed, but one can assume it would have made the fight all too easy. In this particular fight you must battle long distance as the boss fires missiles that you must hack and send back towards him. This boss fight was actually kind of unique, but most of the fights simply deal with hacking the boss out of immunity and shooting down their immense armor. In fact, the final boss fight of the game is just that, reflecting several other boss fights that you have already played through.

Photo credit: EA

The other major peeve I had was the conclusion of the game, which was rather predictable and anti-climactic. The actual campaign mode of the game can be completed in less than ten hours and a grand finale would have been nice to see with such a short playtime. In the end, I was left thinking “hmm…that was it.” Even in a full 20 hour campaign, this ending would have still been lackluster and bland.

While the boss fights are a bit repetitive and the end is kind of lame, the game is absolutely addicting in co-op mode. A game that got around having to use an online pass for the co-op (allowing for even more potential players), you play as one of four agents working for a syndicate that is sent out on a mission together. Working through stages of the map (which have points of rendezvous where you can load up on ammo and heal) the players must fight through enemy lines to reach an overall goal (usually killing a specific target). You get points for kills, headshots, healing, hacking grenades, hacking armor, and even chip removal within the co-op. As you build up experience and stats you move on to new maps and missions, creating a brand new co-op campaign. The replay value of the game comes from this co-op mode, which is more about working together than a competitive multiplayer. As you have to progress through the levels of co-op, there is more reason to come back to this game to play, rather than having every possible map and mission given to you when you begin this mode. While some may have wished for a competitive multiplayer, the team co-op is fun and refreshing to play.

“Syndicate” is not always perfect and does have some flaws in boss variety, short campaign, and lacking conclusion, but it is nonetheless a very worthwhile play. As a first-person shooter, the hacking abilities and DART Overlay are fun to use and standout from other shooters, while the co-op mode is an exhilarating way to play through a new campaign with friends or strangers online. While it might not be an all-around perfect score, there is no doubt the game is worth picking up and playing through. Whether it be hacking an enemy to fight along your side or taking down a heavily armored target with three other players in co-op, “Syndicate” is a fun-filled shooter with a lot to offer.

“Syndicate” was developed by Starbreeze Studios and released by EA. The version played for this review was on the PS3, but the game is also available on the Xbox 360 and PC. The game is rated M (Mature) and was released on February 21, 2012. staff writer Tim Martens

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