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Review

Syndicate Review

  • Game release: February 21, 2012
  • Reviewed:
  • PC
Aaron Sampson on Google+

Syndicate's cooperative play is undeniably thrilling. Too bad the single-player campaign doesn't reach the same heights.

by

If you're a fan of 1993's beloved strategy game Syndicate, you might see the new series reboot as heresy. But if you've dismissed the new Syndicate because you think it sullies the franchise, you're doing yourself a disservice. That's because 2012's Syndicate is a really good first-person shooter with a palpable science-fiction vibe and rousing cooperative play. If you're looking for a first-class way to play an online game with three good friends, here's your destination. Just be sure you come to Syndicate for the co-op rather than the intermittently entertaining but messy single-player campaign, which prizes form over function.

Why are nightclubs such hotbeds of violence?

But such form it is: Syndicate is slick, moody, and in total command of its near-future vision. You are a digitally enhanced agent of a megacorporation fighting for domination, and every aspect of the presentation reinforces this notion. In a rainy courtyard shoot-out under the rising skyscrapers of New York City, you're struck by the hazy blue lighting and how it contrasts with the craggy industrial pipes and pillars that surround you. Elsewhere, walls of text scroll down transparent green computer terminals, and countless objects are identified in your heads-up display. The atmosphere is both gorgeous and emotionally disconnected. This is the future, cool and indifferent, and Syndicate does an impressive job of transporting you there.

If only this attention to detail were applied to the rest of the campaign, which is characterized by momentary thrills broken up by pointless puzzle-solving and stretches of nothing that grind the pace to a halt. Consider this scenario: For narrative reasons, you find yourself strapped into a fancy machine--the kind that appears in so many science fiction games. Developer Starbreeze squeezes out as many minutes as it can out of this unskippable scene (not to mention, the ones leading up to it). You take drowsy steps into the device. You watch as straps bind your wrists in place. You look around as the machine ever-so-slowly rises into the air and then ever-so-slowly examines your innards. Every whirr and every click is belabored.

Such pace-killing moments are common. Syndicate moves forward in fits and starts, grinding to a halt just when it seems things might finally get awesome. Quiet moments can build tension in games that tell great stories or at least deliver effective payoffs, but Syndicate isn't such a game. You know that you are Miles Kilo, a EuroCorp agent with a special augmentation chip that gives you superhuman abilities. You meet comrades like Lily Drawl and Jack Denham, and you are told of EuroCorp and competing syndicates, but you are never given a reason to care. What does EuroCorp actually do? What makes it different from other corporations? What are the real stakes in this corporate war?

Don't forget about the tactical overlay; it might be just the advantage you need.

Syndicate does a poor job of answering such important questions. In place of true world development, it dumps thousands of words of text into an infobank, where you can read character profiles and various propaganda. The game doesn't tell a story so much as it shoves an encyclopedia at you and expects you to do the legwork. Compare this approach to last year's Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which used similar devices to expand its proper narrative, not to replace it. By the time Syndicate makes some last-ditch attempts to elicit emotion in this apathetic climate, it's too late. If a game never bothers to flesh out its characters, then you can't be expected to care about their pasts or futures.

Had Syndicate's campaign focused purely on the action, it would have made a much better impression. When things take off, they can really get your pulse pounding, though such moments don't last very long--at least, not until the final chapters. But when the shooting intensifies, the exciting single-player shooter hiding finally breaks free. Taking aim and shooting feels as satisfying as you'd like. A steady frame rate and sleek animations do their part to keep the action feeling fluid, and you feel a sense of weight when jumping or sliding into a cover spot. You might feel a bit of Killzone 3 in that feeling of heft. Perhaps not coincidentally, Syndicate employs a Killzone-esque first-person cover system. This is no cover shooter, however: persevering enemies approach from multiple angles and keep you moving. If you're used to predictable shooting galleries, in which foes enter from obvious entry points and seem content in their roles as bullet fodder, then Syndicate will represent a refreshing change.

You need to breach that bot if you have any hopes of bringing it down.

Of course, as a future supersoldier, you don't just get guns: you get a few handy applications to keep the challenge from being overwhelming. It all starts with the suicide app. With the press of a key, your target is overcome by mental anguish before grabbing a grenade and expiring in particularly explosive fashion. Then there is the backfire app, which flings a merc to the ground, where he's temporarily vulnerable. The persuade application tops off your repertoire, turning your chosen enemy into an ally until he turns his gun on himself.

That all sounds deliciously gory, though in practice, you're not focused on the splattering of brains: you've already moved on to your next target. Some of those targets may require breaching, which is to say, hacking your target's chip. Powerful enemies require you to breach their armor before they can be harmed, which requires holding a key for several precious seconds. When such a foe is playing lone gunman, this isn't so bad. When he's accompanied by a few comrades, things get a lot more intense. If the action seems too much, you can activate your tactical overlay. Doing so slows down time and highlights every nearby enemy, even those behind walls. And with the right weapon, you can even snipe targets protected by cover.

Guns and apps together lead to rare but sublime glee. You grab a thermite gun from the ground and spray liquid death on nameless soldiers. When gunfire intensifies, you activate your overlay, slowing down the proceedings long enough to take down a pesky soldier with a gauss rifle. And when your tactical overlay expires, you recruit an enemy to your cause, who turns his pistol on his own kind. After all of this, a nearby grunt cries out in anguish, heeding your demand for his own suicide. Such moments make you feel extraordinarily powerful. On medium difficulty, Syndicate offers just the right amount of challenge: enemies can be tough, but your additional survival tools make you feel like a powerhouse of destruction. The final levels are an action-packed blast, betraying what Syndicate might have been had it not strayed so often.

That turret will prove troublesome until you shut it down.

But stray it does, lingering on pseudo-puzzles that only require you to jump around a bit or breach a few computer terminals. A lengthy midgame section removes two of your three applications and reduces the fun factor by doing so. Then there are those annoying little details, such as picky contextual key prompts and even the game's own lighting. Lens flare and screen grime are evocative effects, but Syndicate gets noticeably carried away with them, sometimes obscuring your vision during shoot-outs and even making it difficult to tell a window from an empty doorway. As gorgeous as the game is, you get the sense that Starbreeze too often prioritized presentation over gameplay, at least in the campaign.

You can't say the same about the online cooperative missions. Four-player co-op is challenging and exciting, a fantastic mix of shooting and special abilities that requires actual cooperation and communication. In place of flaccid pacing and weak storytelling, you get barrages of bullets, as well as areas swarming with thick-skinned sergeants and hoverbots. The varied levels also require you to be conscious of what's above, behind, and below. The AI is tough and aggressive. Hardened soldiers trudge toward you with their miniguns and snipers pelt you with lead, all while you sprint to a security room so that you can disengage a nasty turret threatening to tear the entire team to shreds.

The future is grim, and its lighting is smudgy.

Co-op play requires you to think differently, starting with the healing of your teammates. You can heal teammates at anytime, providing you're in range, though it takes a few precious seconds. The importance of this mechanic can't be overstated because it changes the flow of the match considerably. Enemies approach from all angles, so you are constantly on the move. Yet, you must not only be aware of where you are in relation to your foes, but also where you are in relation to your friends. Your teammates can revive you should you fall, but doing so in the heat of battle isn't always easy--not when an entire horde is upon you. But with a full team, no challenge feels impossible. Co-op maintains a delicate balancing act, making you feel as if the odds are almost--but not quite--insurmountable. And that's what makes the action so explosive. Watching your three teammates fall powerless to the ground and then bringing them back after single-handedly cutting through the mob? It's pure adrenaline, and it's all but guaranteed to cause bouts of triumphant swagger.

The co-op scenarios recycle some of the same ideas: grabbing objects and returning them to a dropship or escorting a little bot as it rolls forward, for instance. But the level design prevents tedium from being a lengthy visitor. In a maze of walkways, a heavy may appear, zapping you with electric bolts and preventing you from moving and shooting. Elsewhere, you snipe teleporting agents from above while your buddies charge the expansive hangar below. The most powerful foes have chips to extract, which are used to enhance your performance, just like in the campaign. But that corpse--and his chip--won't last forever. You need to get to it quickly if you want to reap its benefits, which is a neat challenge in the later missions.

You need to be skillful with your gun, though rifles and pistols aren't your only tools of destruction. Not only can you customize your loadout with different weapons, but you can also customize it with different applications (special abilities). Team heals, damage buffs, shields--these skills and others--give you an edge when you most need one, but you can't exploit them: applications take time to refresh between uses. In time, you might even equip additional skills once you earn enough chip upgrades.

Save your apps for when you need them most.

In fact, Syndicate sports a nice selection of enhancements and unlocks designed to keep you coming back. It won't take you as much time as you might think to fully improve your applications and weapons, but with so many weapons to grab off the ground after a heated battle and with three difficulty levels, returning to the cooperative missions is a temptation you'll fall for time and again. There are other considerations to keep you returning, too. You can create a syndicate--that is, a clan--and vie for leaderboard dominance as a group. You get credit for besting the performances of fellow syndicate members. It's a shame you can't physically customize your co-op character and that the maps don't scale based on how many players join you. (The missions are all designed for four players, though earlier missions are perfectly doable by two or three skilled gunners.)

Syndicate is a game of thrills and missed opportunities. And so it's important to know what you want from this shooter before you commit. Come to it for the thrills of joining a team and mowing down gunners like so many weeds in a Colorado research facility. Come to it for a chilly vision of the future, where the minds of meddlers can be altered with a simple computer program. There are numerous games better at providing single-player satisfaction, however, and this is where Syndicate falters. While it isn't entirely successful, the campaign still dares to be different. And while "different" isn't the same as "great," Syndicate reminds you that with a bit of creative effort, shooters don't have to play by Modern Warfare rules to be truly modern.

The Good
Fantastic, nail-biting cooperative play
Aggressive AI keeps the pressure on
Online progression system gives you reasons to return
Smooth animations and dazzling visuals
Gunplay and hacking lead to thrills
The Bad
Weak storytelling wastes the cool setting
Mediocre, poorly-paced campaign
Ridiculously oversaturated lighting effects impede gameplay
7.5
Good
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Discussion

53 comments
monowasp
monowasp

I really liked it, but it takes a few hours into the game until it really gets you going.

Ladiesman17
Ladiesman17

This is good game,,, the problem is they shouldn't use "Syndicate" name on it.

nativehk
nativehk

just finished the game, and its a decent game w/ really nice environment design setting.... enjoy the single play alot...

rusted87
rusted87

i dont know whats up with all the negativity I thought it was a descent game.. Whenever i hear that a game is a remake from an old game i never expect it to be the same, and why would you? things have changed way to much to keep that same feel of a classic.. the online is great but yes the campaign is poor and the lighting is just terrible!

farhad2690
farhad2690

Neither is one of the hardest game ever nor boring

IT IS DISASTER

only wasting money

xDeadP00lx
xDeadP00lx

Why does every....game.....remake HAVE to be a damn FPS? It's getting ridiculous in epic proportions. Why the heck couldn't they just rehash a gorgeous game in the same vein with some updated graphics, gameplay etc. So it can appeal to a bunch of 12 year old kids? Disappointed. Another classic blasted. Sorry Bullfrog, your honored has been tainted.

blahdeblahde
blahdeblahde

WTF is with the bloom filter??? It's like running through a 1970's chocolate ad thank god they didnt find the star burst filter!

tableto
tableto

I don't know why everybody is hating this game, but i think it wasn't so bad. Ok, I got it with 50% discount, not worth full price.

biokrysty
biokrysty

just finished it and I enjoyed it , good game!!!

NereusG
NereusG

well the game is pretty good...really enjoyed it...but yes, the lighting effects are too much...almost blinded by it during gameplay....

Phrykshun
Phrykshun

Boring.... Another cookie cutter FPS. Don't waste your time.

outlawst
outlawst

I hope they make a sequel for this high potential game

CylonRaider01
CylonRaider01

the new motto of EA should be "EA games...crapping everything" cuz that they do.

Diarma10
Diarma10

As soon as I read that the single player campaign was not great I struggled to complete reading the review. Not buying this. 1993 version was superb, looks like another wasted opportunity. Again. @Skakruk - were you drunk when you wrote all that crap? ;-)

iluvOP
iluvOP

Well I got the game and quite honestly I loved it. I made me want to touch the old game again because its completely different and I remember it fondly but then I realised that its best the leave past to the past. If I pick the game up now, the same thing happens as every golden game memory. Gets pooped over since the games are boring as hell nowadays. Ive done this to many good games from the past. Gotta stop doing it and just enjoy what I can get now with an open mind.

Skakruk
Skakruk

i just replayed bioshock and tried to play the second one but first there was games for windows live crap - and i didn't know it!!! why, in the God's name, why it takes me 10 minutes to start the game if it should start in 1 minute !!! why I can't save if I'm not logged in online ?? in a single player game !!!! why some ass company have to know that i bought it - and why it restricts me to play it if i"m not online ??? why ??? that were the most sadly spent 19.90 $ in my life... i fu**d myself up. I had my heart went down in thought that they can do that sh*t again and crap the bioshock infinite but then i realized the Levine is the man, that won't let that happen. I hope...

Skakruk
Skakruk

again let me post this - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1ZtBCpo0eU. man, after rage crap - i'm waking at nights sometimes thinking - here's id fell to console drug and made rage - not too bad but not standing up to the standards of PC game that they themselves established.. it looks like everyone at the industry are lowering their standards and trying not stand out from the crowd with talent but with sales count. creating a great game is not a priority anymore. just to make sales and multiplayer. that's it.

Skakruk
Skakruk

too bad that EA policy of creating crap of great premises is ruining what could be otherwise good game... it's like they intentionally taking good titles of the past and making crap out of it. i cannot believe that starbreeze made it on purpose. that happened cos EA f***s sat on their heads each time they wanted to do something good. i wonder what will they sh*t next.

Diluted_NZ
Diluted_NZ

I had an idea for some DLC I'd like to see for this. There's a Half-life mode called Natural Selection - http://www.unknownworlds.com/ns/about/ - which is described as a combination of FPS and RTS; one player is the Commander, who has a top-down view of the level while the rest of the team plays in first person. If you could do the same kind of thing in Syndicate's game engine, you could have a team of 4 agents with a 5th player able to scroll around the map and help give the team situational awareness. What I was thinking was "What would the original Syndicate be like if you replaced the AI agents with human players?"

CylonRaider01
CylonRaider01

it was a complete let down..my eyes were hurting because of the excessive light,the storyline was "wtf happened?" and the end was bad no final boss fight no soldiers to kill u just crawl to the last boss.Avoid it.. save u money for ME 3.

dutchgamer83
dutchgamer83

@Calilis Well you where a terrorist afterall. Sure they call them agents, but you blew up civilians at a millitairy parade just to kill a commander with planting bombs on the road and press the button to explode them as soon as the armored vehicle drove over them. Awesome experience xD First game i played where you wheren't a hero, you where just a bad @ss motherlover! Blowing everyone up just to reach your goal. And who didn't loved the rocket in that game?

sidh9u5
sidh9u5

Whatever, bad single player, then I am off to pirate bay

Calilis
Calilis

@flesh19no the original syndicate games were hard and a bit frustrating, but absolutely unique... sometimes I still play them just to watch all hell brake loose in a future urban environment full of people... @dutchgamer83 in less politically correct times, running into parades with flamethrowers, missile launchers and uzis spraying was seen as just a bit of fun... in syndicate wars they made it especially satisfying to level buildings! ;) it was a cyberpunk experience no gamer could miss!

korj
korj

When Deus Ex Human Revolution appeared, this game should have been scrapped and forgotten. It looks like poor early development preview in comparison to DE:HR. There is less of everything: hacking, augmentations, weapons, inventory, world, plot, visuals. May be the AI is better but I'm not a fan of plain shooters. And this game is just one more stupid boring plain FPS.

Cherokee_Jack
Cherokee_Jack

@FoeCrusher Bioware had nothing to do with this. It was made by Starbreeze.

snoos
snoos

I agree with everyone who want the old style sydicate. We've got enough FPS's Hopefull Xcom Enemy Unkown will do well.

dhunterhell
dhunterhell

the bloom is killing you, u need sunglasses to play a damn game the campaign is short the idea is nice but the way it was put in practice sux the testers and QC should have at least told the dev how horrible looks they should have let you at least have more options in video menu if you wanted ti disable some things anyway i bet i will not even finish it till me3 comes out, thank good it was a present and i didn't had to waste money on it :|

true_gamer007
true_gamer007

If its single player mode is weak, this game is not for me then.

lindallison
lindallison

who started this crap where the future is full of camera flares...

flesh19no
flesh19no

The funny thing is, I remembered Syndicate as one THE badass game I played when I was young. So I bought it on GOG.com now recently, but I was surprise how fast I got tired of it, and then I remembered: I got tired of it very early too when I was. I just didnt remembered it until I played it now. I think Syndicate is one of those game your remembered well since it was so different, but it had / has very repetetive gameplay and the researching for new stuff stops very quickly and basically all the missions are the same. An overhyped game when I think of it.

The_Godfather_
The_Godfather_

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

FoeCrusher
FoeCrusher

Well let us wait and see if this sells well or is the market for FPSs finally starting to get saturated. Bioware may have made a fun game but it is not Syndicate. Syndicate was all about being the mastermind and not the cannon fodder. So this game misses the point entirely.

pitmeetpat
pitmeetpat

@traykey1 it's not that bad you say, give it a chance. i don't think it's an insult to the original, u r wrong body!

cr8ive
cr8ive

Here's the beef, original Syndicate fans wanted a Syndicate game.. but what they get now is a syndicate-ish flavoured FPS. And it seemed to fail at single-player side as well, reading the review I can only think that this game was meant as multiplayer first, single-player second. Syndicate games were never about fast action and quick trigger, they have always been about careful planning and controlling. To reply to the Starbreeze director McEwan comments about the original Syndicates as "old games" .... Hasn't time moved on? FYI the first FPS came out even before Syndicate.. so which one is the older one?

traykey1
traykey1

This is an insult to the original game,period.

scarred_fox
scarred_fox

i'm glad i didn't pre-order this. should be in the discount pile soon enough...like RAGE >.

ferygame
ferygame

I havent play this game but it seems like deus ex.

pelvist
pelvist

@cyberarmy Theres an english version of Cannon Fodder 3 on Gamersgate. Also Google for a game called "Cartel", it is the true spiritual successor to the original Syndicate games. Not another FPS cashing in on a brand name.

pelvist
pelvist

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

cyberarmy
cyberarmy

@dutchgamer83 Those were the days mate, those were the days... Well they can always make it turn-based for easy consol handling :) I will not complain about it if that come true. Not even a word. @xxxxTRISTAMxxxx Im still amazed by it. Bioware indeed done a nice job there, maybe a little bit tweak and 1/2 more battle mods.

xxxxTRISTAMxxxx
xxxxTRISTAMxxxx

@cyberarmy I played the ME3 Demo....It is a blast and so much fun!

dutchgamer83
dutchgamer83

@Gelugon_baat Why the die hard syndicate fans aren't bashing this game? Well the average age of the visitors here is as old as the original Syndicate game ;) Okay maybe they where 2 or 3, but the game is very old. I loved the game and its a shame they made it another FPS. But as someone mentioned thats because of today's generation they want FPS games. A isometric point of view with 4 people to controle will be to hard for console gamers to handle (due the lack of a mouse) and the mainstream gamer will be to confused if you control more then 1 person in real time and can't shoot from a first person view. But you won't see many fans bash it cause its a old game, things changed and it probally wouldn't work, though i would love to see the orriginal syndicate with today's graphics (especially the mission where you had to blow up a parade!).

starduke
starduke

I play games mainly for the single-player. Sounds like I'll be sticking to Deus Ex 3.

cyberarmy
cyberarmy

All i was trying to say another classic IP turned into a generic FPS with level up style multiplay... And we have already dozens of FPS jerking around. At least new Cannon Fodder looks nice, eventough its only in Russian...

cyberarmy
cyberarmy

@abfackeln I agree with you mate, R.I.P. Syndicate. And they say new Syndicate's co-op is blast and challenging. Too bad because Mass Effect 3's co-op is addictive with tons of variety. And it is very challenging too, difficulty is well aranged, you need good communication with your team and everybody must play at their limits past bronze. Actually i cant believe im saying all this, 1 month ago i was one of the head naysayers about ME3's multiplay and im now addicted to it :(

Trenchman
Trenchman

I was never a huge fan of the original Syndicate games, but I have to say I'm a little bit upset at the route this one took. The problem is that there aren't many games like the original Syndicate, and this was a chance for a new game of that genre, instead it took the same route as so many other games, the FPS. That's not to say that it's a bad game because of it, but there are so many FPS's to choose from, I'm not sure what would separate this one from so many others. At least if they had kept the original gameplay, that could have been a different experience, and one that many strategy game players would have appreciated. I am a huge fan of the X-Com game though, so I just hope they don't screw that one up.

00J
00J

 @tableto haha, yeah i just bought it for 1/4 the original price. i knew i would not be paying full price for this and i was right, people paid $60 for this?! They got ripped off. The lighting effects are too over the top and the dark areas are too dark!  I played it for about 1 hour and got sick of it. Now it's in the gather dust collection to be revisited from time to time when i'm in the mode for gun fighting... Sigh... Back to Skyrim...

xDeadP00lx
xDeadP00lx

 @iluvOP I know what you mean. Reliving the past with current eyes is difficult with gaming. Doom, Wolfenstein, Simcity, Xcom, etc were epic games of the time with many a sleepness night, but when you got back and play you're like "ho hum". However, they did pave the way for the amazing stuff we have today, and it does have it place in the annals of history.

Syndicate(2012) More Info

  • Released
    • PC
    • PlayStation 3
    • Xbox 360
    EA has partnered with Starbreeze Studios to reinvent classic EA franchise Syndicate as a shooter.
    7
    Average User RatingOut of 951 User Ratings
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    Developed by:
    Starbreeze
    Published by:
    Electronic Arts
    Genres:
    Action
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    All Platforms
    Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes