Taking a classic strategy game from the '90s and turning it into a modern first-person shooter is not an easy task by any means. But it's one that Starbreeze Studios and EA tasked themselves with when deciding to convert tactical shooter/strategy game Syndicate into an FPS. From a technical shooter standpoint, they've succeeded. It's beyond the gameplay mechanics where Syndicate falls a bit short.
Syndicate sends you 50-some years into the future where corporations, not countries or government, rule a world dominated by neon lights and cold steel. In this bleak future, each corporation fights for technological dominance over the others, employing deadly agents to do the dirty work.
Syndicate tells the story of Miles Kilo, an agent equipped with Eurocorp's top tier DART-6 technology. Having such tech implanted in his brain, Kilo has the ability to manipulate the world around him. Using a hacking mechanic referred to as "breaching", you can enter an enemy's mind and force them to commit suicide, persuade them to fight on your side, or detonate their weapons. In addition the DART 6 gives Kilo augmented vision allowing you to see enemies behind walls and move so fast enemies appear slower (it's basically bullet time with a sci-fi skin wrapped around it). These abilities are what set Syndicate apart from other shooters.
Although these abilities are fun to use, each encounter ultimately leads to a shootout, and when it comes to firefights, Syndicate comes out guns a-blazing. Syndicate features a strong arsenal of weapon choices ranging from semi-automatic shotguns, mini chain guns, laser weapons, and my personal favorite, weapons that seek out the enemy targets, regardless of whether they're behind cover.
Despite the DART-6 technology and wide array of weapons, combat in Syndicate leaves much to be desired. Giant explosions and never ending waves of enemies get very old, very quickly. The game's simplified cover system has you ducking behind crates and walls constantly, only to make yourself an open target when your forced to strafe out just in order to target the enemies with your breach. The creative breach system is useless during boss fights. These drawn out skirmishes rely on precise timing to remove the boss's shield, deflect missiles, etc. No matter how much Syndicate tries to complicate combat, you'll ultimately be left running around in DART mode, avoiding gunfire, and waiting for the right moment to strike. Frustrating bosses, never-ending spawns of enemies, and button mashing to dislodge doors make what could be a unique game, into a pedestrian, forgettable shooter.
The game does contain an RPG element, albeit through a very simplified skill system. When defeating enemy bosses, you can steal their chips and use them to level up certain skills like health regeneration when in DART mode, increased ammo capacity, etc. It's a nice addition to a genre that normally relies on weapon variety to succeed.
As I mentioned, the game is set in the future. And as with every other game that takes place in a futuristic setting, Syndicate relies on extreme use of lens flares and neon lights - almost to the point where it's so hard to see and being painful on the eyes. From a graphical standpoint, however, overall the game looks nice. Movement and animation, despite a few glitches, are generally fluid.
Gameplay and presentation aren't the only thing holding Syndicate back from greatness, however. The game lacks storytelling elements that truly make me care for what is happening around me. While Kilo struggles internally with why he's fighting and who exactly he's fighting for, the game fails to make me care why. Syndicate provides a narrow plot to try to pull you into the story, but little character background and underwhelming plot twists ultimately give you little reason to invest in the story. Despite the game's effort to explain what is happening in long, drawn out sequences, there's still a lot to be desired.
This is why you may opt for Syndicate's co-op multiplayer experience. In multiplayer, Syndicate drops the plot and turns into a sci-fi themed action shooter. You still defeat hordes of enemies and encounter bosses, but you get to do it with a team of three others, in which you all must work cooperatively to win. As you defeat multiplayer challenges, you get scored on your overall performance (killing, healing, etc.), which you can use to build your character's skills through an unlock tree.
Multiplayer, though much more enjoyable, ultimately doesn't save Syndicate, but it's definitely a nice addition to the game. It's also one that adds some replay value. Although the singleplayer attempts to offer replay value in the form of level "scoring", you'll most likely spend your time in the multiplayer mode. Those looking for a mindless action shooter set in a cyberpunk future will be pleased with Syndicate. Syndicate does attempt some nice things to set it apart from other shooters. The DART system and breaching is a nice addition to what otherwise would be stale gameplay. Still, as with most shooters, it's hard to get away from the repetitive combat that seems to be the downfall of that particular genre.
[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]