It's OK to Like the New Syndicate
Cooperative play in EA's new first-person shooter may win over even its biggest naysayers.
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En route to a recent Syndicate event at Electronic Arts' HQ, I wasn't sure what to think. I hadn't seen the new Syndicate before, and as a longtime fan of the original Amiga strategy game, I think it's fair to say that I wasn't thrilled at the prospect of revisiting its dystopian world in a first-person shooter. But after spending an hour with the game across three co-op missions, my thoughts were not of the original Syndicate and of how badly I'd still like to see a true continuation of the series, but rather of how much fun I'd just had and how much I'm now looking forward to getting my hands on Starbreeze's game next month.
I'll be keeping an eye out for reviews of Syndicate next month, not because I expect it to evoke memories of the game I enjoyed during my formative years. Rather, because it has the potential to be an action-packed and entertaining shooter that--based on my exclusively cooperative experience with it--I'll enjoy with friends. Perhaps more of the folks being vocal about their disappointment following the game's announcement would be looking forward to it if they could get past the title--particularly given the developer's track record. Maybe if Syndicate had a different title, forums and comments sections wouldn't be filled with remarks like:
"Making syndicate a shooter, this is awful."
"As a shooter?!? Ugh. Dead on arrival, EA."
"i really was a fan of the syndicate series loved to play all parts so im definately [sic] wont get this one!!!"
Failing that, perhaps folks will be won over by the consumer demo that's coming at the end of January. The demo will incorporate the first of the three missions that I played at EA, which, incidentally, is the only one that I'm cleared to talk about until sometime next month. I don't want to get hung up on the specifics of the nondisclosure agreement, though, because while the scenery and the objectives in the three levels were different, the levels were near identical mechanically.
As I sat down to play Syndicate, the first choice presented was selecting a defensive, offensive, or support agent. I ended up opting for the latter because, after taking a quick look at their respective default loadouts, I decided I'd rather have a sniper rifle as my primary weapon than a shotgun or machine gun. Zooming in on enemies and quickly taking headshots with some subtle snap-on targeting assistance, I was pleased with my choice. Hanging toward the back of our foursome, I not only picked off enemies from a safe distance, but was also ideally placed to heal my fellow agents by simply holding down the "breach" button when prompted to do so. (My secondary weapon, incidentally, was a pistol with an impressive rate of fire that made it fun to use when enemies got too close for comfort.)
Anytime an agent in front of me had a health bar that was less than full, there I was, topping them up with the L2 button on my PlayStation 3 controller. Different classes of agents have different repertoires of breach abilities (damage-over-time attacks and squad heals, for example) at their disposal, but all have the ability to heal other agents and, when necessary, to disable the otherwise impenetrable armors on some enemies by holding down the same button. Agents cannot, however, heal themselves, so it's a bad idea to stray too far from your co-op buddies.
My experience playing through that co-op level--set in Western Europe--wasn't wholly unlike playing through a small dungeon in a massively multiplayer online game. We didn't have clearly defined tank, healer, or DPS roles, but we were relying on each other for heals (and for resurrection-equivalent breaches when the heals failed) at all times, and we were mowing down dozens of vanilla enemies between more meaningful and challenging encounters with minibosses. There was no loot, but we were free to swap out our weapons for those that enemies had left behind at any time, and when those minibosses went down, we could extract the chips from their heads and use them to upgrade our own chips between missions. At that time we could also queue up various weapons and weapon accessories for research, all of which had point costs associated with them; score enough points with your persistent agent during a mission, and there might be a new gun or hair trigger waiting for you at the end.
After finishing the Western Europe mission, I couldn't wait to get into the other two, and after making it through those, I wished I could have taken a copy of Syndicate away with me. Did I leave EA feeling like my memories of Syndicate are being betrayed somehow? Or that as a matter of principle there's no way I'll ever play the finished game? No way. I left EA that day eager to experiment with more of the game's weapons, trying to figure out which of my friends will play through the co-op missions with me next month, and wondering if it was me or one of the other agents who had somehow managed to cut an enemy clean in half at one point.