Syndicate reboot comes with steep learning curve
Syndicate (Electronic Arts; PS3, Windows, Xbox 360; rated mature)
The setting of the Syndicate games is familiar to those who have read Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. It’s the near future. International borders have become irrelevant with global corporations wielding the power and influence countries once had.
While the original Syndicate series—1993’s Syndicate and its sequel, 1996’s Syndicate Wars—were tactical games with players acting as executives of a global corporation, this reboot is a first-person shooter where players become bio-engineered agents of the massive multinational Eurocorp. You’ll be going up against other companies in the struggle for control, but also a militia who are fighting the corporate system.
The story, crafted by author Richard Morgan, borrows heavily from the movie Blade Runner and from Morgan’s own cyberpunk novels featuring an agent, Takeshi Kovacs, who would be quite at home in the Syndicate universe.
It’s likewise hard to distinguish the new Syndicate from some recent games with near-future dystopic milieux, but what sets it apart is the methods of attack. Not only will you make use of guns and grenades, but your unique technical augmentation allows you to attack the computer chips that people have implanted in their heads.
In the game it’s referred to as “breaching”, and in the single-player campaign you have three “apps” you can use: suicide causes the enemy to take their own life, backfire causes their weapons to explode, and persuade turns them into your ally. The source of energy for your breaching attempts is adrenaline, so you can more quickly recharge by doing the kinds of things that release adrenaline: headshots and melee finishing moves.
There’s a steep learning curve to getting the hang of using breach apps while you’re running and gunning, but once you’ve mastered those mechanics you’ll be able to appreciate what else the game has to offer in terms of a decent story and visuals.
The most pronounced echoes of the original Syndicate games are to be found in the co-op mode, which features a stand-alone story and accommodates up to four players. It’s here where you’ll find a more tactical gaming experience and even some levels that are directly modelled from environments in the predecessors.
A final note regarding the display text in Syndicate: it’s so tiny as to be nearly unreadable, even on large, high-definition screens and monitors. Consider yourself forewarned.