Syndicate PreviewPublisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: Xbox 360
, PC, PS3
24 February, 2012
Syndicate isn’t anything like Syndicate-of-old. That’s obvious from the first time you see it; this is a first-person shooter with RPG elements, not an isometric strategy game, but the differences go deeper than that. Where Syndicate-of-old was brutal in its efficiency and stark in the simplicity of its malevolence, the new Syndicate feels noisy and cluttered.
This stands out more than any of the other changes enacted for Electronic Arts’ reimagining of Bullfrog’s tactical masterpiece; the constant barrage of flashing lights, highlighted foes, holographic overlays and more that fill the screen. It’s stylish as hell and implies there’s an impressive number of systems at play, but it’s also borderline overwhelming – and certainly at odds with the source material.
Developer Starbreeze has remained faithful to the topic and tone at least, even if the presentation has been drastically altered for modern audiences. Again, Syndicate portrays the future as a sinister and technology-driven place, where mega-corporations have replaced governments and profit matters more than principle. In this world corporate espionage and sabotage has replaced full-scale warfare, and you find yourself being a soldier on the frontline.
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You’re more than just a regular soldier though; along with everyone else in Syndicate’s universe you’ve been upgraded with a bio-chip in your brain. This chip ties you and the rest of your squad together and is the explanation for Syndicate’s frenetic interface, highlighting your objectives and guiding you through levels. It’s also the interface through which you can manage and influence your character progression, by doing things such as ripping the chips from defeated opponents with a satisfying crunch.
Your neurological implants do more than merely justify the gamification of Syndicate’s universe, however – they also bestow certain powers on you and your squad, called breaching abilities.
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The breaches themselves vary tremendously depending on what mode you’re playing; in singleplayer, for example, you only have a handful of different abilities and all of them are focused on hurting enemies. In the separate co-op campaign that we played there’s a greater variety, most of which involve buffing or healing your allies.
Breaching is a core concept for the new Syndicate, essentially acting as a high-tech magic for you to bypass the obstacles in your path. Heavily armoured enemy enforcers will require you to breach their digital and physical armour before you can defeat them, for example. However, this proved to be a sticking point in the multiplayer mission we played, as armoured enemies would continue to shrug off gunfire until the team began to work together to stumble the foe and remove his biochip.
Once our group had learned how to tackle obstacles such as this however, later enemies quickly fell – Syndicate’s co-operative mode definitely requires teamwork and communication.