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Syndicate Review

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On 03/09/2012 at 12:00 PM by Jesse Miller

Fantastic co-op saves what is otherwise a forgettable journey to the near future.

For FPS aficionados and those looking for more than the standard online multiplayer offerings.

In a world without Deus Ex: Human Revolution I might be more kind to Syndicate.  In that world Syndicate’s central concepts and general aesthetic presentation may appear more original - less derivative of a previously released game that did a far better job of creating a plausible, near future setting where the lines separating humanity and artificiality aren’t quite as clear as they are today.  In that world Syndicate would be far more enjoyable, if only due to the lack of any real competition.  It is good that we do not live in that world; it is not so good for Syndicate.

Syndicate thoroughly subscribes to the Blade Runner school of science fiction thought.  In the near future corporations have become so massive in size and have such economic pull that they have outgrown the use of government rule and instead operate outside the lines of nations as totalitarian states.  Megacorporations known as syndicates partake in chess-like games of corporate espionage, each outfitting itself with the most advanced weaponry and technology-infused warriors.  I’m sure this all sounds familiar and it should.  This is the same near future dystopian setting we’ve been exposed to over and over again.  This wouldn’t be a major detriment if the game did something new with the concept, but unfortunately it fails to do anything exciting or remotely original – a theme that plagues nearly the entire game.

The player assumes the role of Agent Kilo, a special EuroCorp operative who has been fitted with the company’s latest and greatest synthetic enhancement – the DART 6 chip.  The DART chip is a neural implant that grants the recipient access to the world’s many electronic and informational devices.

What this means in game terms is that Kilo has the ability to hack or “breach” the surrounding environment’s many electronic devices as well as the chipped minds of his enemies, causing them to commit suicide, turn traitor for a short time or for their weapons to backfire.  Kilo also has the ability to enable a DART overlay for a short period of time which grants him a higher pain threshold (he can take more bullets), slows down time, as well as limited x-ray vision. 

The breach abilities and the DART overlay offer the only real unique and interesting elements of the first person shooter experience.  It’s undeniably satisfying to enter a room chock full of baddies and own them – you can cause the first two guards’ guns to backfire, gun them down, then pursue another to take your side and while he’s taking pot shots at his former friends cause another to go mad and, finally make one pull a pin on a grenade that will take out more than a few enemies with him.  It’s completely possible to not have to fire a single round in simple altercations. At first it’s fun and empowering, but it also quickly becomes repetitive.

Syndicate is a completely linear experience.  For all the fun you’ll have exploring your powers and their potential uses early on in the game, you’ll soon realize that each level plays like a set of shampoo instructions – lather, rinse, and repeat.  You may as well be battling the Emperor Palpatine’s clone army for all the enemy types and environments are practically recycled, offering no real views of what the future actually looks like aside from some very generic sci-fi set pieces.

Yes, the game suffers from a severe case of tunnel vision.  You’re practically dragged by your nose through the levels, occasionally gunning down a few enemies while small tidbits of information are spoon fed to you.  If the game’s goal was to really make you feel like a mindless automaton they did a bang-up job.   I was constantly forgetting what my mission objectives were, a testament to the emotional investment I had in Kilo and his co-workers at EuroCorp.

Normally this is where I would tell you to not bother at all with this game, but something strange happened when I decided to take the online co-op for a spin.  I started to enjoy myself.  A lot.

Syndicate’s co-op almost feels like a completely different game.  Sure, there are similar themes and features that make the trip from one mode to the other, but the disparity between them couldn’t possibly be any greater.  In the single player you are limited to three DART abilities.  Online you have access to twelve.  Granted, many of the additional abilities are team-based in nature, but it gives you an idea as to how limiting single player really is.

Co-op teams you up with three friends or randoms to take on nine missions.  Most missions are simple smash and grab jobs, but the simplicity of the basic structure allows for a greater variety of accomplishing these goals.  In some instances you’re going for a simple data grab, while in others you’re in for some corporate sabotage – the variety lies in how the objectives are defended.  What really makes it work though is the focus on teamwork.  Players who are only out for kills or forge on ahead of the rest of their team will quickly find themselves in need of resuscitation. 

Customization is key online and you’ll find that you can modify everything from your DART powers to your weapons through picking up enemy chips and blueprints during missions.  It takes a few missions to really get a handle on what kind of role you will want to play (defensive, support, attack, etc…), but once you do, you’ll find a plethora of options to enhance your role in a group. 

The only real complaint to be had about the co-op is the complexity of it all.  It’s easy enough to figure out what the objective is or how all the controls work, but the objective-based nature of the mode means that cooperation is key.  Undertaking a mission with a random group of un-mic’d strangers can be frustrating if you have a Leroy Jenkins in your party.  It’s a task best handled by a group of friends, but even when I was hooked up with the occasional selfish player I still had more fun than headache.

Syndicate is the tale of two games.  One is window dressing – an empty experience that does nothing more than teach you the basics of the meatier co-op game.  It’s a good thing that EA decided against an online pass with Syndicate, because I can’t recommend the co-op enough.  Just wait for a price drop or pick it up used – I’ll be waiting.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

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Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.




03/09/2012 at 06:45 PM

Great review Jesse. I've been really hyped for this game ever since I simply saw gameplay footage. I've read other reviews and spoken with reviewers and they've all had about the same experience you did. Single player = okay, but forgettable, and the Co-op shines. I was asking one reviewer if there was any stealth options in the gameplay or level design and he was telling me it was completely linear and the gameplay was of the run-and-gun variety. I don't have a problem with run-and-gun (I play CoD all the time) but I would really prefer to have stealth options in my games like Crysis 2 and Deus Ex: HR both have.

Whenever I think of Syndicate and Deus Ex: HR I always lump them together in the same breath, likely because of the cyber-punk theme. I really want to get them both, but I definitely want to get Deus Ex first because I would rather have the stealth gameplay available to me. After Deus Ex if I get around to buying Synidicate I'll probably enjoy it (I'm just interested in the gameplay, not the story) on single player, but I'd love to see the co-op as well. I love a good co-op experience.

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