If I had to think of a single word to describe Syndicate it would be “safe.” Everything from the story to the weapon selection feels like it was designed by marking off a checklist, and the game still manages to have issues. Syndicate also doesn’t even really ramp up the spectacle, which might normally help gloss over the paint- by-numbers approach. It’s a perfectly adequate first person shooter that ultimately fails to spark into something greater.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but it’s the future, corporations have all but taken over and nearly everyone, at least those above the poverty line, is chipped. These chips allow their physical bodies to be connected to the digital world. With the fall of the governments and the rise of these mega-corporations, or Syndicates, corporate espionage has risen to a whole new and violent level. You play as Miles Kilo, an agent for EuroCorp, and you’re testing their latest chip technology, the DART 6.
The following is technically a spoiler, but is anyone honestly surprised that the giant corporation is -gasp- not actually all that nice? Oh, and that chip can be used to control you as well. It’s so utterly predictable and reminiscent of the boiled down narrative of any number of pieces of cyberpunk literature or sci-fi films. There are some glimpses of greater depth just below the surface (like the agent’s “recruiting” process, one of the few nods to the original game), but at only around six hours, the game doesn’t have the time to explore any of it.
Gameplay strikes a similar tone. You’ll shoot your way to the credits with the standard array of weapons and mechanics. While you’ll occasionally be given some more interesting weaponry, as in something that makes you think it is 2069, not 2019, they are quickly slapped out of your hands with a scripted plot point or a total lack of ammo. So once you’ve shot down all the drones in the designated play section with the awesome Swarm missile launcher, you’re back to the bog standard shotguns, assault rifles and sniper rifles.
Most of the mechanics face a similar issue. For instance, the DART overlay, basically a gussied up bullet time, lets you see through walls, but most enemies spawn out of nowhere and there’s only ever one path to take through the level anyway. Likewise, the upgrade system is just a big grid of passive bonuses that never made me feel like my choices changed my approach, which is doubly irksome. Rival agents, the game’s bosses, have awesome abilities like holographic clones and invisibility, and there are a slew of additional breaching powers in the game’s co-op. I would have loved to choose from those instead of a 33% increase to reloading speed or 25% greater health regeneration.
The gameplay element of Breaching is Syndicate‘s one saving grace. In the game’s single-player this manifests in any number of ways; you might hack a grenade so that it doesn’t go off or breach some jet blast deflectors open as some make-shift cover. Breaching is also how you’ll typically interact with the world and solve simple puzzles. You also have a few special breaching powers at your disposal, Suicide, Persuade and Backfire. Suicide and Persuade focuses on messing with the targets head while Backfire causes their guns to explode. These are all fueled through your adrenaline, i.e. killing, so there is incentive to not only kill safely but efficiently and with style in order to more quickly regain your powers.
Every breach can also be spiked by correctly timing it, which lets it go off a little sooner and gains you some adrenaline. When it works well you’ll be chaining together kills and timely breaches and actually enjoying game. Likewise in the co-op you use breaching to use a much wider variety of powers, and to affect your comrades directly, either healing them or rebooting (reviving) them. The high health agent with an automatic shotgun might wade under fire into the room while someone setup for a more supporting role will stand back and keep them on their feet.
There are, however, some problems with breaching. Obviously being able to one-shot bosses with suicide would be a little anti-climactic, but these fights turn into hit-and-run grind fests as you whittle away at their health bars, run away to regenerate your own health and deal with each boss’s gimmick. Also the game just doesn’t offer that many varying challenges outside of these scripted encounters. Shoot the little guys or the ones carrying jammers and then breach away the shields or armor on the bigger ones is about as complex as it gets.
There are some other minor issues and annoyances too. While the game is generally pretty gorgeous with a nice aesthetic, it’s a little too eager to bloom light into your face and it can sometimes be confusing to figure out where you need to head with all the clutter. It also has these occasional sequences of mashing “X” to force a door or grate open that are utterly pointless. You’re not on any kind of timer, so it’s not adding to the tension. It just wastes your time.
As you may or may not have noticed, I haven’t brought up the fact of Syndicate being a reboot much. There’s honestly not much to say on this, it’s simply a disappointment that instead of using the property to create something interesting that such a safe, and in the end worse, route was opted for.
Bottom Line: Syndicate is a decent albeit uninspired shooter. While there are a few highlights, it mostly feels bland and homogenized from other games and cyberpunk fiction.
Recommendation: It might be worth a rental, but unless you’re really intrigued by the co-op I would at least wait for it to drop in price.[rating=3]
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.