We were very excited to have the new Syndicate title land on our desks; not because it's another first person shooter in a world inundated with shooters, but because of its highly acclaimed background.
The Syndicate series has its roots in the 1993 title of the same name, released by the now defunct Bullfrog Productions (one of its founders was gaming icon Peter Molyneux).
The original Syndicate is, for many, one of the best games ever created. Gamers controlled a team of cyborg agents in an isometric, tactical shooter - kinda like an RTS, but not quite. The game was brutal, and essentially something very unique on the gaming scene at the time.
This new version of Syndicate is also a brutal title, and - after playing it - we can confirm that its R18 rating is justified. But with the switch to FPS, we were curious as to what Syndicate could bring to a gaming environment where the concept of a first-person shooter isn't as unique as an isometric shooter was in 1993...
The year is 2069, and the world is a decidedly different place to the world we know today. Mega-corporations, also known as Syndicates, rule the world. These organiSations have done away with known political borders, and surpassed the power of any given nation on Earth. The power they have was achieved through mega-consumerism, and by ostracising the have-nots.
The world is split between those who embrace the corporations and have chip implants giving them access to a unique world (similar to that of the Matrix), and those who - refusing the influence of the corporations - have been pushed to the borders of known society.
It's somewhat Orwellian but rather than an all-powerful state we have all-powerful corporations, who compete with one another in a technological race. The race isn't a clean one, however, and each of the Syndicates employ a number of "Agents" (super-soldiers, essentially, chipped to the highest potential possible) to protect their interests in the cut-throat world of tomorrow.
The amazing thing about the storyline, and the hugely futuristic world that has been lovingly crafted around it, is that it's something we haven't seen before. Not only that, but it feels very much as though it's a distinct possibility in our real future. This is helped in no small part by the fact that the current global financial crisis has been cleverly integrated into the storyline as well.
You step into the shoes of Miles Kilo, an agent of EuroCorp. EuroCorp, one of the largest of the Syndicates, is lead by CEO Jack Denham - as voiced by Brian Cox. He is your typical bad guy head of corporation, well known from his role in the Bourne Identity and thus a perfect fit for Jack Denham. Without ruining the storyline, the initial shine on Jack Denham's shoes quickly wears off, and the storyline takes a gripping turn.
Miles Kilo has some amazing chip functions that can be further upgraded as you progress through the game. These chips allow the player to use "apps" to hack into other chip-users and force them to do a number of things.
Fun examples include forcing someone to blow themselves (and anyone who happens to be near them) to smithereens with a grenade, to fight briefly on your side before ultimately ending themselves, or simply blasting them backwards and making them more vulnerable to incoming fire. These special attacks need to recharge, and they recharge from the adrenaline generated by making kills.
Similarly, Miles Kilo can access something called the DART 6 Overlay, which allows him to see enemies locations - but only after they have been spotted initially. He can also use it to slow down time a fraction, helping to make those all-important head-shots and also useful in getting out of a tricky situation.
This, too, has a recharge period and - depending on your chip upgrades - can be enhanced to work more effectively. Weaponry is as expected - with a few surprises thrown in - and all the weapons have a nice futuristic feel to them.
The single-player is challenging. It also brings back some great retro elements - such as the epic boss battles, which effectively put you up against an enemy agent who is almost as powerful as you are. The AI is (generally) relatively smart, taking cover and also moving around cover to chase you, rather than just cowering and blind firing or anything of that kind. This certainly adds a level of unexpectedness which is important in any shooter.
Graphically, Syndicate is a definite looker. The single player is a beautiful rendition of a 2069 cityscape, with some great lighting effects and crisp textures. The multiplayer co-op doesn't fare as well as the single player however, and here the graphics can look a little ragged at times, which is not helped by some significant anit-aliasing (AA) issues.
The controls are fluid and, while they can be a tad on the twitchy side at times, you quickly become familiar with them. One slight quirk is how difficult it is to switch to grenades, effectively making them more clunky than we would have liked.
Another important aspect of the game is its co-op mode - particularly because the single-player is relatively short, at around six to nine hours. The co-op mode lets you play with three other agents online. Using the matchmaking to find random team-mates worked really well, even dropping in new team mates when others dropped out, seamlessly.
In Syndicate's co-op, you play through a range of missions which are different to the single-player, but tie in with the storyline. The missions are not all available from the outset, and need to be played through in sequence to be unlocked.
We had a blast in the co-op multiplayer, so much so that it's worth it almost all on its own. It is well fleshed-out, and prevents players from going it alone to an extent which is a relief, because you'll need the back-up. The ability to use your chip to breach enemies really adds an exciting twist to the online mode.
What we didn't like is the need to sign up to EA's Origin online service when we already have a PSN account - when will developers stop doing this? That said, it's a relatively minor criticism.
Syndicate really lived up to the expectations laid down by its predecessor. It is a totally different approach, and it was a risk in a market flooded with first-person shooters.
Our feeling is that Starbreeze haS done a great job with this one, and though the single-player mode is shorter than we would have liked, the co-op multiplayer goes some way to make up for this.
Graphically the game is great, aside from the multiplayer, and the storyline is one of the most gripping and enthralling we've seen. If you were thinking of buying it for the single-player alone, you could easily give it a rent, but the multiplayer makes it worth the buy.
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360