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Syndicate Review

5 March 2012

A game with as much atmosphere as Syndicate deserved a stand-out single-player experience, but it instead excels when played with others. On the surface, that’s not a bad trait for a first-person shooter, but once you dig a little deeper you will likely feel there is something missing. Yes, it has sharp shooting mechanics, great visuals, a rich futuristic science fiction presentation, and a slight deviation on the standard FPS tools, but when you blend it together it feels like something we’ve played before and it seems developer Starbreeze was hesitant to push its limits. It doesn’t, however, feel much like the original tactical game it’s actually based on, but the co-op experience makes Syndicate truly addicting.

Set in the not-so-distant future, Syndicate relies on the evil corporation motif to drive a forgettable narrative. It’s a shame the story wasn’t more interesting—or, more accurately, told better—because the overall premise is presented quite well. Corporations rule in the world of Syndicate, and while the poor are forgotten, the well-off have chips in their bodies that allow them to stay connected to a new digital landscape. Players assume the role of Miles Kilo, a part of a new wave of super agents that work for EuroCorp.

There isn’t much to explain about the narrative beyond this. The single-player portion revolves around Miles’ story and, in particular, his testing of EuroCorp’s new technology, the DART 6. This is where Starbreeze starts to pull itself away from other shooters. Miles can tap into enemies to perform several unique attacks—he can force an enemy’s weapon to backfire, or he can make them commit suicide, for example. This is all done through breaching, a gameplay mechanic that adds some real fun, especially later in the game. You’ll need to have adrenaline to perform these abilities. In addition, your breaching abilities, if timed correctly, can trigger faster. This all acts as a super simple mini-game, and while performing these abilities isn’t difficult, the end result is actually quite rewarding. When you couple this with the game’s relatively basic weaponry, you’ll get some extremely thrilling moments.



Level design and pacing are a bit off, though, so those moments when tooling with breaching and your DART 6 ability—this allows you to see hidden enemies and briefly puts the game in slow motion—truly shine but are often rare. It’s almost like the single-player experience can’t decide if it wants to tell a boring story, or show you cool ways to approach battles. Unfortunately the former generally prevents the latter from sticking around too much as the pacing makes sure every exciting moment is followed by boring story development.

It seems there is something missing with the ability leveling system. You can unlock upgrades, but they are mostly for more health or less downtime of your breaching abilities. It’s not a huge complaint, but considering the bosses have unique abilities, we could have done with tapping into cool new abilities to add more desire to level. The boss battles also miss the mark a bit. There is a unique way to kill every boss, and while this sounds promising, it ends up meaning all those unique ways you have of eliminating normal baddies is lost into a bland, almost forced experience.

Perhaps this all sounds like doom and gloom, but the truth is the game has some bright moments, namely the co-op. There is a separate story in the cooperative mode and your abilities are different than the single-player mode. Four-player squad-based co-op is the mode of transportation in Syndicate you’ll want to ride because you’ll find a terrific assortment of abilities and gameplay. You can upgrade your gear and abilities, which include shields and health buffs for your teammates. Co-op is rewardingly challenging and enemies come at you fast and from every direction. You’ll need to work together—which is a given for co-op.

Your teammates play vital roles and are not necessarily tied to a single class. You can reboot allies—essentially reviving them—and keep them healed when close. In addition, you can send one teammate to a high point to act as your sniper and set another to the front lines to absorb some damage. Levels rarely get boring as you’ll find multiple objectives and steady waves of baddies to overcome. There is a lot more freedom in the co-op mode as well. Where the single-player experience feels a bit tedious, a bit overly linear, the co-op adds a certain level of decision making that makes teamwork truly the focus. You will rarely find bottlenecks but it’s also not a giant open warzone. There is, however, a certain feeling of repetition if you play co-op frequently as levels have pre-established enemy waves. You can up the difficulty, but it’s not all that varied.

The game has solid graphics and runs smoothly. Syndicate has a bit of a J.J. Abrams lens flare addiction, which adds plenty of sci-fi atmosphere to this dark shooter, but it’s used so much that it frequently gets in the way. When outside, flying drones are frequently lost when the screen flares.

If you can get past the boring story, you will likely appreciate the basic first-person shooter mechanics and enjoy the more unique breaching abilities. Yes, this game is a reboot, but it’s hard to tell. We’ll let diehard fans of the original complain about how this version of the game sidestepped the proper cyberpunk presentation. For what it’s worth, Syndicate is a solid shooter with some mildly interesting features not found in other similar games. The co-op truly shines, but the single-player campaign ends up feeling quite bland. Still, the co-op is enough to recommend you check out this shooter.

-The Final Word-

A solid shooter with relatively interesting unique features, Syndicate's co-op outshines the otherwise lackluster single-player campaign.
  • Truly fun co-op
  • Interesting abilities
  • Solid shooter mechanics
  • Cliche narrative and poor pacing
  • Prescriptive boss battles
  • Annoying and distracting lens flares
7.5
Platforms reviewed : PlayStation 3
See PSU's reviews scores on Metacritic and Gamerankings

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