Syndicate all starts so promisingly. This first person shooter is set in 2069, where the world is hooked on CHIP technology. Implanting one of these little beauties inside of your head connects you to a network, essentially like being part of the Internet, giving you instant access to information.
The corporations who produce CHIP technology all vie for power, spying on and sabotaging one another in an effort to stay one step ahead. For this dangerous task each corporation trains a group of elite specialists, and equips them with the latest CHIP technology.
You take on the role of Miles Kilo, an agent for Eurocorp. You’re not just an average Joe, though, as in your head is a powerful prototype chip, named DART 6. You’re a guinea pig, putting the chip through its paces and making sure it is suitable for mass production. Unfortunately a war is brewing between the corporations, and it’s hard to know who to trust, even in your own camp…[drop2]It’s a really interesting set up, with a lot of potential; however the story never really goes anywhere. It’s hard to like or dislike Miles Kilo, as he never says anything, and by the time you do find out a little bit about his past you’re about 6 hours into the game, on the final stretch. It’s the same with every other character you come across. There’s precious little character building, and as such it’s a struggle to care about who has done what and why. You just end up going with the flow.
In an effort to stand out in an already crowded genre, Syndicate has a couple of tricks up its sleeve. First up is the DART Overlay which, when activated, allows you to slow time and highlight enemies through walls, so you can track their positions. The Overlay is limited though, and once the energy bar has been depleted it will be inactive for a period of time.
DART 6 also has you covered when entering a combat scenario. Throughout the game you can unlock a handful of commands, all based around “breaching” the enemies mind. The first example is suicide, which will convince a single enemy to take their own life, although the resulting action can damage those in the surround area.
My favourite is persuasion, which makes an enemy turn traitor and attack their comrades. If all enemies are killed before the persuasion effect wears off, the traitor will then take his own life. This isn’t for the faint of heart. Of course, the game would be easy if you had unlimited access to these abilities, and as such they require a period of recharge once used. Certain areas, such as recharge times, can be upgraded by collecting the chips of fallen agents. They are extremely scarce, though.
I really liked the DART 6 based additions, as they present you with a number of tactical solutions of every encounter. Rather than burst in, all guns blazing, you can assess the situation via the Overlay, make the enemy on the left suffer from a weapon backfire, persuade the enemy on the right to attack the sniper on the roof, and if anyone’s left, well, they can basically go and kill themselves.
Unfortunately it all falls apart in the level design; it takes linear to the extreme. Yes, FPS games are well known for their linear structure, but many attempt to cover this with vehicle sections, or set-pieces. Syndicate is just room after room after room of enemies. There was one point, about halfway through the game where I thought I’d hit a bug, because there was about 10 minutes worth of endless enemies.
Just when I thought it was over, another door would open and out streamed another dozen or so guards, all shouting and cursing in my direction. This happens far too frequently, and even the DART 6 abilities lose their appeal.[drop]The boss battles are also a mixed bag, but at least they have tried something different with them. Personally I don’t think the type of bosses present work well in an FPS game, with the first one being a prime example. He can move at extreme speeds, and split himself into several clones, which are all armed to the teeth. In contrast all you can do is shoot a gun, and flail about looking for cover as three heavily armed nut-jobs descend on you.
Due to the futuristic nature of the game the visuals, for the most part, have that clean, sterile look about them, with the occasional glimpse through the window of a sprawling city. Ironically enough things never look beautiful until you reach the slums of the city, with its grimy neon tinge. Alas that section is over rather quickly. Brain Cox and Rosario Dawson adds some star appeal to the voice work, and they do a good job, but as previously mentioned without character building it’s hard to care.
The Syndicate single player campaign feels wasted as a FPS. Forgive me if that sounds elitist, it’s not meant to be, but the potential is there for something in the vein of Mass Effect, where you travel to different locations, recruiting agents and taking down corporations. As it stands we have a solid FPS game that, although bringing a couple of nice ideas, struggles to rise above average.
You may have noticed the distinct lack of a score at the bottom here, despite the word “review” in the title. Unfortunately, whilst our debug review copy of Syndicate on the PS3 had the single player campaign fully intact, the co-op online modes could not be connected to. The editorial team have made the decision not to add a score until we can get our hands on a retail version of the game, as from what I understand co-op is a significant improvement over the single player campaign.
Supporting up to four players, the online co-op mode sees you create your own syndicate and take on Cayman Global, Aspari and Eurocorp by acquiring their technology and headhunting their senior executives. I’ve heard it’s extremely good fun, and certainly sounds like a step above the single player. Hopefully we can get a retail copy soon and test it out.