Now, while I don't often do reviews, I felt compelled to do a review of 'Syndicate'-- developed by Starbreeze Studios and published by EA-- because the original Syndicate games were one of my formative gaming experiences. I must've played the original 'Syndicate' and 'Syndicate Wars' upwards of a hundred hours back in the day, so I feel I have a pretty good grasp of the story.
Sadly, this game is not 'Syndicate' in any way, shape, or form. Leaving aside the fact that it's a FPS as opposed to a 3rd person isometric RTS with a few RPG elements, there is very little in the game that ties it to the originals. Literally, aside from the concept of mega-corp dominated future, the use of the words 'agent', 'EuroCorp', and 'Persuadatron' (which unfortunately doesn't involve the association with the Church of the New Epoch that you would expect: in fact, aside from a mention in an overheard conversation, the Church does not come into play at all), there is very little to make this distinguishable as a 'Syndicate' game.
Now, I know that this was claimed to be a 'reboot', but I saw very little mythos-building happening here. The game came across as a bland, and SHORT, cyberpunk-setting FPS... and when put next to Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a poor one at that. So, they're rebooting to... nothing? A blank slate? I suppose that's possible, but it really seems to be a curious business decision-- after all, there isn't much here to sell the next game.
Now, with that out of the way, let's get into some of the different game aspects:
Graphics: Very polished and smooth, including the facial animations and lip-synching. However, Starbreeze made the very curious decision to force an absurd amount of light-bloom, which almost makes it feel as if the main character is constantly on the edge of a migraine headache. Also, there is no light-amp capabilities or even a flashlight to be had, rendering several portions of several levels a dark muck in which structure details and items are virtually unrecognizable. Apparently, in 2069, lightbulbs are at a premium.
Sound: The game does well in this department: very good use of background music, a decent amount of ambient noises, the gun sounds are adequately "chunky" and realistic sounding. The voice-acting is actually some of the best in a game in a long time: there aren't any of the absurdly stilted exchanges as you find many video games, and the actors (Rosario Dawson of Sin City, Brian Cox of Deadwood, Bourne Supremacy and The Ring, to name the two primaries) are at least A- Listers.
Gameplay/Difficulty: much has been made of the article where Starbreeze wondered if they made the game 'too hard', and even on 'normal' difficulty, it's no cakewalk, but it really felt decently balanced for the most part. There are a couple of battles where Starbreeze- for some strange reason- thought it'd be a good idea to force the player to use a single game mechanic in order to be victorious. At this point in video gaming, a developer who forces the player into such a situation is most likely only going to be causing frustration, and at least one alternate way to defeat the opponent should be available to the player, even if it takes substantially longer.
Length: This is where Starbreeze and, more likely, EA are engaging in highway robbery. I am a very methodical player, and the game only took me around 10 hours to complete. I imagine that someone who liked to run & gun could complete it in six hours (yes, SIX). If the '50 or so hours to unlock everything' isn't just a blatant lie, it's clear that the majority comes in multiplayer.
Story: The story was pretty good, actually: Richard Morgan demonstrates that he can adapt his story-telling style to video games with relative ease. Now, that said, it's not an incredibly compelling story-- I never felt that urge to keep playing when I should be doing something else, just to see what happens next. And it's not a terribly original plotline, just well-fleshed out in the details. I have the sneaking suspicion that cuts to the story were forced by EA. Hopefully Morgan will have the opportunity to deliver a very meaty and intricate story for a video game sometime in the (near) future.
So bottom line: If you are a hard core Syndicate fan, you should wait until it goes on sale. This game is just not worth $60. If you're not, rent it; if you fall in love with the multiplayer, you can always buy it later.
TL;DR Review: A disappointing (especially to fans of the original games), relatively generic Cyberpunk FPS. Rent it, or wait until it goes on sale.