Saturday, 5 January 2013

PC Game Review: Syndicate

Originally posted on Accursed Farms Forums on February 25th 2012.

Platform: PC (Origin)
Released: 2012
Genre. First Person Shooter
Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Publisher: EA
Buy on Origin

Remaking games as first person shooters is far from any new trend. Hell, Wolfenstein 3D, the very grand-daddy of the genre, is actually a remake of the 80's top-down stealth PC game Castle Wolfenstein by MUSE Software, though Wolfenstein 3D has far eclipsed the durability of that game without a doubt. And while it's safe to say that the Syndicate reboot strays a bit far from its source material, an isometric strategy game, like Wolfenstein 3D it's not necessarily a bad thing.


Syndicate doesn't really have much of a story as much as it has a setting. Taking obvious inspiration from hardcore cyberpunk fiction, the game is set in the near future of 2069 in a world where megacorporations known as "syndicates" rule a globalized world and every living person is implanted with a chip that basically replaces all digitial devices, like cellphones, mp3 players and entertainment. The plot starts out rather razor thin as you're literally thrown into the shoes of Miles Kilo, a DART 6 chip-enhanced agent for the EuroCorp syndicate. However, as you progress through the game, the plot does thicken and has its twists, but at its roots, Syndicate is pretty much an oldschool FPS where you mow down enemies, fight a boss, and then repeat the cycle. If you expect a deep intriguing story with lots of character development, you should probably look elsewhere, however it does at times give us a bit of a warning that we might be turning into machines ourselves as we merge with technology, which has always been a cyberpunk dilemma.


The single player campaign is pretty much what you'd expect from a modern shooter. You're limited to carrying only two guns, your health regenerates, quicktime events are often thrown in for mandatory mashing of the action key, you can aim down your sights, and do melee attacks, often resulting in execution of your enemy if you're lucky to get close enough. However the guns are very fun to use, and there's enough of them to keep you playing through the whole thing. There's an assault rifle that can shoot through thin covers, taking enemies by surprise, the Gauss gun can lock onto enemy targets and fire bullets in a trajectory, the minigun will turn you into a non-stop killing machine, the sniper rifle feels rewarding to shoot and all in all, there's a wide variety of guns here.

However, what really sets Syndicate apart from other shooters is the way your character can use his DART 6 chip to remotely hack into not only electronic devices such as elevators, computers and turrets, but also into people's brains. Using "applications" you have installed, you can force your enemies to become suicide bombers, make their weapon backfire, or make them turn on their own and eventually kill themselves. It's a very dark gimmick that feels gleefully rewarding and these applications recharge the more enemies you kill and the faster you kill them, so the game expects you to use them tactically and at given moments. Unlike other modern shooters which at times feel like they're treating you like a moron, Syndicate never really forces you to use these applications at any time, leaving it up to you to judge when it's appropriate, so if you fuck up, it's generally your own fault.

The chip also gives you an overlay, similar to thermal vision, which slows down time and reveals your enemies for you, and also enhances your weapon damage, making it easier to get kills, very similar to the adrenaline burst in Mass Effect 2. Unlike the apps however, it recharges on its own. At certain points in the game you are given an opportunity to rip out someone's implanted chip from their brain and use it to upgrade your own systems, giving the game some minor RPG feeling as you need to choose which upgrades to get, similar to Deus Ex.

The only bad thing about the single player is that it's short, way too short. I completed it in about 2 days, playing a total of 5-6 hours, though near the end it definitely got very challenging, and it might be worth playing through twice, though not much due to how linear it is.

The co-op mode is actually its own experience in of itself, and the co-op levels are allegedly based on levels from the original game. In the multiplayer, you can either join a syndicate or create your own, making it easier to keep in touch with friends and gives the multiplayer a corporate feel that is very in touch with the game's cyberpunk tone. You can customize your loadout as well and you can have several different ones for any mission, customizing not only which guns you want to use, but also which apps you want to have installed during the mission. The missions feel a lot like a L4D mission where you have to work as a team in order to survive the enemies and complete the mission objectives. Like the single player, you use your hacking skills to defeat enemies and complete objectives, and also to heal your squad mates. It's a fun mode that will definitely outlast the single player experience.

On PC, the game is pretty much forcing you to use an XBOX gamepad and I feel that there's a lack of support for those who prefer using only a keyboard and mouse, and sometimes you HAVE to use the gamepad to just perform simple menu actions, and the menus lack any customization of the gamepad buttons. While this doesn't really ruin the game in any way, it's confusing.


Syndicate is a very beautiful game at times, using a lot of visual effects to enhance the experience, and there's a lot of glow involved, giving it a very neon-like look that fits the tone of it. There's also a lot of use of various glitch filters to make it look more realistic and low-tech which I kinda like, and it does feel very gritty at times, especially in the downtown areas. Overall the game has a wonderful computerized techno style that feels really futuristic, and it does look attractive.

However I spotted a lot of rather pixelated textures, visual glitches would happen in certain places, like an elevator where parts of it would jump around, and the menus lack any options to customize the graphics and improve them, you're basically just given some minor sliders for antialiasing and bitdepth which doesn't fix some of the blurry textures. It's obvious this game was not meant for powerful PC's, or consoles, as it runs smoothly even with all the current settings maxed, and it's a shame that multiplatform titles suffer from this. If you have an average PC you'll probably be able to run it just fine, and this is definitely not a "showoff" title like Crysis or Battlefield 3.


Syndicate has a very cool sound about it, there's a lot of techy effects thrown in during hacks and scans, wonderfully electronic dubstep music will cut in during a bossfight, and Rosario Dawson really plays her character well. Overall, it's obvious a lot of attention was given to the game's sound department, and the music is always mixed a bit lower than the in-game sounds so it never overdubs it. The end theme, remixed by Skrillex, is very headbang-worthy and it's awesome to hear some real dubstep being used in a game where it actually fits, as the music sounds very futuristic like the game itself.


There aren't really any reasons you should get this on PC, aside from being able to play using your keyboard and mouse, and using Origin to lock the game to your account in case the CD gets scratched. In my opinion, it's a shame that not much care was given to give PC gamers the superior version of the game like they should have, and it really does feel like a console game on PC. Despite that, Syndicate is a great and solid FPS with awesome design, and the multiplayer will hopefully hit on with its great and fun co-op missions that pay homage to the origins of the game.


STORY: 6/10
SOUND: 9/10

Overall Score: 7.5/10

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