Syndicate [Preview] – Is it still Syndicate?

1 Feb 2012  by   John Robertson

No matter which way you look at it, this Syndicate is not going to please everyone. The diehard followers of the original will, (in fact they already have), attack publisher EA and developer Starbreeze Studios (but mainly EA) for essentially pissing over the game’s legacy – accusing them of using the history and fame of the 1993 game as a means of giving their latest FPS a palpable identity.
On the other hand, hardcore FPS players are likely to complain that EA have tried too much to stay true to the original and that mechanics have been bolted on to please the series’ fans, rather than as a means of improving gameplay.
No matter which way you look at it, this Syndicate is not going to please everyone.
But EA shouldn’t worry about that, no game pleases everyone. What EA should be worried about is pleasing someone.

Our latest outing in the world of Syndicate circa-2012 (via 2069) was exclusively based in the realms of multiplayer. To be more precise, co-op multiplayer. As is in vogue for co-op multiplayer circa-2012, the maximum player count is four. Not only that, but players must select a specific class that defines their weapon loadout and avatar aesthetic (from giant meathead to sexy cyber-woman with a partially shaven head) and there’s an emphasis on sticking together.
Co-op as we know it then.
If you don’t stick together in Syndicate, it becomes harder to breach. If you don’t breach, you’ll die. Rather than sticking a lump of C4 on a door, waiting for it to detonate and jumping through the smoky crack (no laughing!) with lungs in full voice screaming Yippee Ki-Yay!, breaching here is a rather more technological affair.
Activated by chips located somewhere in your body, they interact with the world in a variety of ways. For example, through breaching you can heal a teammate, hack into a security gate (thus deactivating it), deactivate enemy grenades or disrupt a boss’s active camouflage system. The entirety of these actions are performed simply by holding ‘X’ (on a 360 pad); but it’s not their input that is important, it’s your timing of them.

Like with many of today’s shooters, Syndicate features a down-but-not-out phase during which teamates have a limited amount of time to resurrect a fallen ally. As you may have guessed, it takes a breach to resurrect them – not only that, but you must be within a specific distance (signified by a holographic ring around them).  Then it’s simply a matter of waiting until your breach is completed and your partner is back on their feet.
Other uses of the breach do not define such strict proximity limits. Electronic panels can be accessed quite some distance away, and enemy bosses can be disrupted from even further. One map we played featured a veritable juggernaut – more accurately, a human in enormous armour and wielding a mini-gun – who could only be damaged after breaching his armour and rendering it useless. This could be achieved from a great distance, meaning the best tactic was to have one of us stay back with a view to constant breaching while the rest get in closer and blow the hell out of him.
It worked. He died. We won.
Essentially, breaching is a fancy word Syndicate uses for ‘interaction’. But the neon lighting, on-screen bars signifying remaining time and range of results make it seem like more. It’s all sleight of hand designed to make you think there’s more going on than there actually is, but it’s presented with enough style as to get away with it.

Looking beyond the breaching and under the usual set of long, black leather ‘Matrix’ overcoats and other cyberpunk stylings, Syndicate is an action FPS through and through. Maps are objective based, forcing you to progress through areas in a set order with a set goal. One map, for example, tasked us with stealing and removing ‘server racks’ from a hostile installation. Another asked us to dispatch of the aforementioned juggernaut.
The objectives add some much needed differentiation from the likes of Gears of Wars’ Horde mode. On the other hand, the large maps and open areas prevent Syndicate’s co-op becoming an imitation of Call of Duty’s Spec Ops mode or Battlefield 3’s co-op campaign.
Enemies came in a variety of flavours, from your standard assault rifle packing goon to snipers and armoured vehicles topped with automatic cannons. Their variety is actually quite surprising, forcing you to adopt different tactics on a regular basis – hopefully that’ll prevent things getting stale too quickly.
Because of the enemy diversity, and their position throughout the maps, the right weapon is essential. And while there are a number to select from, it’s not their ammunition type or firing speed that’ll make you remember them (or not) it’s their ferocity of sound and recoil.

More than possibly any shooter I’ve played in recent memory, Syndicate’s weapon feels like it’s come straight from the depths of hell when firing. The things shake the screen when the trigger is pulled, and if you’re wearing 5.1 surround sound headphones you’d better have a tissue on hand to wipe up the blood.
And that’s not the only impressive aesthetic effect. Rain in Syndicate can genuinely hamper your success and accuracy. Raindrops are large enough to make you feel like an ant, splashing on and remaining in your viewpoint until they’ve slowly run down and off the bottom of the screen. I know, I know, they’re only raindrops. Seriously, they make a big difference to your ability to aim and add a significant sense of drama and imbue the locations with an added level of hostility.
Syndicate is exceptionally stylish, as all cyber-punk based games/books/movies tend to be. Whether that’s enough to set it apart from the rest of the shooter crowd remains to be seen, but the breach mechanic could work in its favour in that regard. But only if it’s used in both single and multiplayer in an intelligent way.
What our hands-on time brought into stark reality was that this is a game worthy of attention, not only for the history behind the brand, but because of its potential to create intense, visually striking situations.
Ok, so it may not be Syndicate as we know it, but it certainly shouldn’t be crucified for that.

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