Syndicate's futuristic gameplay and absorbing cybernetic world provide a mind-altering gaze into a conceivable future
Contains: Strong Bloody Violence
Syndicate is a science fiction first-person shooter that is a reboot of the original 1990's version, completely changing the genre from a tactical shooter to an FPS.
STORY - 4/5
In 2041, EuroCorp initiated the Agent Operations Program, merging research in DART chip engineering, bio-genetic augmentation, cybernetics and chemical reprogramming. The result was a new breed of Syndicate Enforcers. Now the year is 2069: No longer governed by politicians, the developed world is divided up into regions controlled by mega-corporations known as the aforementioned syndicates. These syndicates have revolutionized how the consumer interacts with the digital world. Since the consumer requires a device to access the world's data and control technology, they can do this in the blink of an eye via neural chip implant. Civilians flocked to be "Chipped" and enjoy all that their selected syndicate has to offer: housing, medical, banking, insurance, education, entertainment and jobs. One complete package. One complete lifestyle. In return, the syndicates gained unprecedented insights, and control, over the individual and their behaviour. With little government oversight, business has become war. The syndicates will stop at nothing for ultimate market dominance. At the first line of this war are the agents, the syndicates' bio-engineered and chip-augmented enforcers. They can breach anything in the wired dataverse, including their enemies, their weapons and the environment that surrounds them, making them the most efficient and deadly technological weapons in the world. Take on the role of Miles Kilo, EuroCorp's latest prototype agent, and embark on a brutal action adventure of corruption and revenge.
The story delivers it's information mainly through intel that can be found throughout; picking up records of data, research, local news, business cards and other sorts of methods that detail the organisations involved, logged profile entries of affiliates to the companies, aswell as business strategies in the prospering economic state. To gain knowledge of the plot you are encouraged to read through pieces of intel, which isn't a bad option if you enjoy reading through some complicated document samples transferred to your info bank when found in the field, but overall doesn't convey across a real sense of urgency for the major threat in the story. However, despite this abstract form of storytelling, the backlog of detailed information is relevant and can be very engrossing to learn about all the different concepts used to make the story a good one, therefore you'll gain a degree of understanding through skimming through found intelligence, and the sheer amount of effort gone into fleshing out the history of the future is commendable and impressive.
GAMEPLAY - 4/5
The development of a bio-digital implant known as The DART Chip was at the hands of the mega-corporation EuroCorp back in the past (from the game's present), which is embedded in the brain stem, and fuelled by the host's own adrenaline. It provides the users with an unsurpassed connectivity with the 'Dataverse', and all features of personal communication are now integrated fully in the functionality of the chip, rendering all digital devices obsolete and transforming a large percentage of the worlds population to buy into the market of these DART chips. Data chip technology is what powers this reinvented classic-turned-shooter into a thrilling and unique experience, providing gameplay mechanics that have been unseen before, allowing you to manipulate the normal into something extraordinarily futuristic like the themes placed in the story. Your first taste of something cool derives from within the chip functionality used for both combat offence and defence known as DART overlay. Toggling the DART overlay with a tap of the R2 button overclocks the chip's systems, providing a range of extended features, but consumes stored energy. Once the energy bar is empty, the overclocking shuts down and requires a short time to regenerate for vital use again. What it basically does when activated is speeds up your information processing ability at the same time as increasing the response rate of all the Agent's implants, effectively slowing down the perception of time. Through a mixture of auditory filtering, visual tracking and chip detection, all enemies that have previously been spotted will be marked and visibly tracked in a cool computerised graphics style; displaying their internal chip systems when visible and predicting their position when behind cover and otherwise out of sight. Due to metabolistic processors, the damage taken is also reduced when DART overlay is triggered, making you significantly more powerful and resistant in the temporary time allowed before returning to normal. The weapons you will encounter can be used in conjunction with the DART overlay in terms of what their secondary abilities are after the primary function of firing bullets normally and taking lives and limbs. One assault rifle can be altered to a single shot burst with the potential to penetrate through light cover, whilst a very special Gauss rifle can lock onto targets and quite literally bend the bullets around obstacles of cover in order to strike the locked on individual. Guns are of a science fiction nature naturally, and throughout Syndicate you will get to possess a wide range of basic and advanced killing tools that occasionally offer unique secondary functions to exploit and conquer more troubling targets.
DART V6 (Datascape Access and Re-Tool) chips have been reconstructed to incorporate militarized functionality and the latest generation of adaptable AI. DART 6 specifically incorporates personality with fully integrated empathic feedback through a direct-to-user interface and seamless dynamic learning algorithms as well as military grade augmentations allowing for wireless chip to chip breaching and environmental sub-system hacking. The features consist of recurring gameplay elements that are innovative for this sci-fi outlook with real-time information on real-world elements transposed into your 3D field of view; It's designed to read all available data and provide real-time voice updates and advice to the user; Where available, detailed schematics and data on mission specific objects can be accessed via chip interface; And most importantly the unique ability to breach. Basic functionality includes malicious weapon hacking with potential for catastrophic chip breaches resulting in psychosis induced self destruction and enforced defection more commonly referred to as Backfire and Suicide (more info below).
Breaching is the action of hacking a target chip, exchanging data or violating core functionality. This includes breaking down environmental systems that perhaps takes away machine operated cover for enemies, thus exposing them to gunfire, or disabling gun turrets from further causing harm to you, and even possibly reverting its fire on targets instead. Also uses firmware applications to override chip-based gear (weapons/grenades/armour), and planting malicious firmware inside a chipped target's brain, forcing them to come to your aid, or commit suicide right in front of you which can occasionally take out other enemies in the explosive process. In order to breach, you have to hold the correct button and wait for the progress bar to be full in order for the attempt to be complete, since releasing to early will cause the breach attempt to fail, meaning the process must be restarted again. It is possible to attempt a Breach Spike by releasing the L2 button once the progress bar has entered the critical zone (requires precise timing), resulting in the gain of energy to power your chip applications like when you eliminate hostiles.
Eliminating enemies and performing Breach Spikes generates adrenaline for the IPA bar. The adrenaline excess is converted into energy which is used to power the Breach applications and maintaining DART Tactical Overlay. By killing enemies with a headshot or successfully maintaining a rampage (by killing in quick succession), you'll generate a bit more adrenaline than normal liquidation kills, sequentially restoring your Breach applications quicker than normal. Gathering this burst of adrenaline is beneficial in many ways, especially should you find yourself outnumbered in a challenging section of the campaign in which every bit of produced adrenaline is used for survival methods as meaningfully as offence kill streaks.
By simultaneously using your fine selection of weapons, DART tactical overlay, and Breaching abilities, you'll prove that you possess incredible augmentations that enhance your perception aswell as your killing capabilities, overall making you the best person in the battlefield, and a strong force to be reckoned with that hones immaculate observation skills and acts like an efficient and calculated assassin. On the topic of assassin's, an Agent engages in covert missions which are where the story missions are provided. Agent operations are planned secret missions you'll be participating in, provided with information and the means to either terminate an objective and/or extract embedded, valuable chip data from the brain of that designated high-value target. Certain high-value targets offer the DART V6 system an opportunity to upgrade itself by analysing the firmware structure of another chip. After you've extracted the chip, you will have the opportunity to permanently upgrade the functionality of your DART V6 chip. Health benefits and energy efficiency bonuses are just a sample of what is available and possible for you to choose from a limited but worthwhile selection.
Intelligence documents can be uncovered on enemies, weapons, characters, propaganda, agent tutorials and various story elements linked to the core plot, and are very impressively documented for optional viewing. The text is incredibly detailed and complexly written to fully understand and appreciate the plot strands threaded through these intel, but nonetheless makes for interesting reads to try and absorb the words in order to relish the sci-fi setting that incorporates all sorts of cool, futuristic developments further up the timeline that ranges from cybernetics to government authorities. The knowledge you gain from all this analysed data will flesh out the historic backgrounds of notable characters, the political stabilities in business war, chunks of details on the atmospheric setting, the ambitions and goals of technological advances for humankind, and the themes of revolutionising that are represented in gameplay.
GRAPHICS/ATMOSPHERE - 4/5
The graphics capitalise on the science fiction premise and create a very eye-catching art design that oozes with futuristic touches to maintain your level of immersion and connectivity within the story. Sharp and consistent colours arrange themselves into the imaginative environments, further holding your attention in the cybernetic-controlled cityscape that you travel through, where in the major cities massive skyscrapers overwhelm the space in which the majority of the population now live, while the remaining citizens not obliging to the new market of chips are restricted and confined to the forgotten ground below the towers authoritive heights; living in a hostile zone filled with social unrest and gang warfare with little in the way of law enforcement which is visually grittier than the clean buildings populated by 'chipped' inhabitants up high in the Uptown district. It's a remarkable visual when staring out of a seemingly mile-high building while flying cars casually navigate the gaps between the structures avoiding collisions with the advanced technology that exists to avoid such a possibility, while it is just as captivating to enjoy the opposite style of art direction down on the ground. The clean science fiction world is not only engaging on the eye, but envelopes you in a truly convincing setting revolving around all kinds of futuristic prospects that come off here as positively real. The atmosphere is extraordinary in both design and execution, delivering a believable realisation of mankind's possible future and the profits that such a evolution could cause on those that accept the cybernetic changes, and the demoralising and harmful effects that declining the advancing technological steps could create.
The presentation is expertly done and futuristically stylish by displaying button prompts on the object and environment for interaction and exhibiting a rather classy heads-up display featuring ammo appearing holographically on the weapon which further consumes your attention in the fantastic setting clinically represented in this reboot. And to top off a rather remarkable visual department is the treat of no visible technical blemishes and a silky smooth framerate to keep the action exciting without hindrance.
An unfortunate con to the inspiring and imposing visual design is an unneeded one that perhaps could have been prevented. In the early stages of the adventure you'll likely notice and criticize with a minor point the brightness of the levels. Oversaturated lighting has a dramatic effect but crucially makes for an ineffective lasting appeal of overdone brightness in some areas that occasionally distracts during gameplay, proving an untimely opponent in itself when trying to target enemies in certain bright spots, mimicking someone shining a light directly in your eye and obscuring parts of the environment unintentionally.
SOUND - 4/5
The soundtrack is an unusual, though inventive, mixture that incorporates a positive variety of music genres (but mainly in the electronic remixes vibe) that contrast each other but nevertheless combine without sounding wrongly connected to fit the nature of the game and it's cyber technology existence, even going as far as using samples of music from the original Syndicate's soundtrack, and that statement is also reflected as valid when it comes down to the fantastical sound effects in the chip enhanced gameplay which are arguably spot on. Voice acting is very good too, with a couple of big name actors playing the major roles, which include Brian Cox, Rosario Dawson and Michael Wincott among others with minor starring roles that you might notice which include Steve Blum and Nolan North, rounding off a successful audio department.
CONTROLS - 4/5
Movement feels suitably weighty when it comes to running and jumping to coincide with the realistic action-heavy animations that are impressively smooth, and Syndicate manages to maintain the immersion intensity even in the most simplistic of lever-pulling interactions to a sincere level of authenticity that deserves praise. A cover mechanic that remains in the first person perspective throughout the animation is similar to the one used in Killzone 2 in the way you enter it and can lean and peak without being hampered by sticking to the piece of cover so to speak, and though you may not want to hide from gunfire, a challenging barrage of bullets that often and accurately fly your way encourages you to duck out of sight to get your bearings and prepare to fire back. Overall the controls are configured well, enabling you to get to grips with the layout fairly quickly if you are adept at first-person shooters.
ENEMY AI - 4/5
You'll face a diverse amount of aggressive threats that specifically make you think twice before simply firing your gun, and you'll have to tactically assess armoured foes, invisible assailants and other hostiles that are both human and robotic in form in order to quickly terminate them from the equation. For example, a hostile covered in modified, crystallising protection will require you to breach the armour first, which in doing so disintegrates that shielding and leaves them vulnerable to conventional fire; while enemies wearing advanced, camouflage technology suits will have to be hit with EMP grenades to be exposed for limited periods before returning to near-complete invisibility and making your focus levels intensify to pick them out against the surroundings. The most interesting of opponents that force you to adapt quickly under pressurized circumstances are against 'bosses', also known as the high value targets on your missions. These scenarios force you to utilise your breaching abilities offensively aswell as defensively to thwart them (kill them) and extract their embedded chip to proceed, and each boss fight is considerably different to the last and equally satisfying to defeat them after a challenging duel that requires high amounts of skill and awareness to ultimately be successful. Enemy intelligence is overall pretty good, with them taking cover very well, spraying their ammo clips accurately and showing off some impressive animations throughout firefights.
LENGTH - 3/5
Throughout the length of time you're in Syndicate's plausible universe you'll understand many things, and get a glimpse at an unlikely, improbable distant future, but one that is far from an impossible reality, and it backs up its ideas with incredible amounts of logical reasoning through intel that never for a minute sounds illusory or seems too far-fetched to embrace. A chunk of your time will be spent sifting through intelligently worded documents, but the bulk of the experience is dedicated to the innovative science fiction gameplay and the many thrilling outcomes possible as a result, and so Syndicate lasts an average but satisfactory length of about 7 hours in total.
REPLAY VALUE - 3/5
At the end of each mission, the internal performance monitoring subsystem in DART analyzes and ranks the in-combat performance of the Agent (you) with a final statistical evaluation. Finalised on your performance in the mission, an overall ranking is calculated based on several parameters that include your overall accuracy, accumulated headshots, time taken, and amount of adrenaline earned among others. DART stores your historical high scores for each of these performance markers on an individual mission basis, and should you strive to achieve the highest rank possible to compete with your friends or just simply yourself, you can replay them to see if you can better your scores.
The main reason to return to Syndicate and re-enter it's immersive universe however, besides the thrilling single player campaign, is for the exciting cooperative play for up to 4 players online. The challenge is set high so that each one of you needs to be aware and thoughtful when fighting the fleets of thick-skinned opposition, where cooperation and communication is necessary to adapt and overcome the tough circumstances. Mixing the classic gory gunplay and successful special breaching mechanics, you are bound to have an exhilarating time completing a variety of missions as a team, and the presentation that displays points earned for kills, assist and healing is an addictive formulae to keep you returning for more explosive sci-fi action with your friends.
Syndicate inevitably was going to receive elicited polarized reactions from critics and fans alike whatever the result of this reboot, and in this case, the change from the isometric shooter format of the original series has been deemed unnecessary, though having never experienced the original franchise I have no complaints for the heavy change to first-person shooting with a bit of espionage and sabotage added in for good measure. The narrative could have done with expanding upon elements during certain sections of the game where the action is paused and dialogue occurs, but as it is, the key parts to the events are through discovered and collected written sources that explain in depth about everything you could want to know in Syndicate. It may be a struggle to fully comprehend the complex writings that describe in great detail the organisations involved in the science fiction plot and everything involving cybernetics and politics, but it still manages to involve you to the extent that you'll enjoy reading through pages worth of documents to pick out the finer points the story fails to explain in cutscenes, and gain important knowledge of what Syndicate translates as a global possibility for the future with logical explanations.
Through the DART 6 bio-chip technology implanted in your head, you can slow down time and breach the digital world around you to take down foes with tactical precision using a variety of upgradeable hacking mechanics that never get repetitive to use in this fascinating experience. Whether you force an enemy to commit suicide with a grenade and witness the collateral damage of raining limbs and blood, backfire their weapon to stun them onto the floor allowing you to approach them and finish them with an execution method, or revert them into a temporary ally by cybernetic force of persuasion there is lots of action that is entertaining and rewarding in a neatly made sci-fi setting brimming with atmosphere, and exceeding expectations with very well produced concepts of a mind-blowing look into a credible future.
OVERALL SUMMARY - 8.5/10
Good Points: Abundance of very intelligently written intel to read that provide absorbing pieces of knowledgeable details on the concepts within the sci-fi setting and story, Futuristic style of presentation and heads-up display further immerses you, Weighty movement with excellent animations, Breaching has so many thrilling possibilities and outcomes, Impressive atmosphere and graphics suck you into the world, Nice weapon designs and clinical shooting mechanics, Cooperative play is fast-paced and exhilarating.
Bad Points: Some lighting effects are unnecessarily brighter than needed, More cutscenes were required for storytelling purposes.