n7's Syndicate (PlayStation 3) review

Syndicate Review: Syndicool

Syndicate. A name somewhat long forgotten in the face of video games today. What used to be a critically-acclaimed real time isometric strategy game has been transformed into what some have said was nothing short of a generic first person shooter. A bastardization of something that had no right to be " just another shooter".

Of course, when Syndicate was announced not long ago, everyone seemed to have something to say about EA turning a classic into " one of those". Confusion. Fear. It was easy to agree with the idea that EA needed just another shooter to fill the void and take the momentum away from the archnemesis of Battlefield: Call of Duty, and what better way than to take an established IP?

Having played and beat the game recently, I can say that this is so far from the case it isn't funny, but rather refreshing and entertaining. Syndicate is, if nothing else, an interesting take on the run-n-gun formula we've seen a multitude of over the years, but with layers and layers of personality and creativity. It's almost confusing to see how far this game goes to handle traditional FPS scenarios differently, and with a lot more finesse than the stale "go here and shoot people until no more people come from behind that bus, k, cool"

Make no mistake, Syndicate is a first-person shooter. But to simply write it off as nothing but would be a cruel disservice to the beautiful craft by Starbreeze.
 
The weapons themselves are all unique in their own way albeit with a slight, yet customizable floatyness to the controls, having both strengths and weaknesses that determine when and where they should be used. For instance, it's obvious that the shotgun shouldn't be used for long range encounters, and sniper rifles shouldn't be used for close quarters combat.
 
That said, all of the weapons in the game feel very nice. I found myself agreeing with the pistols a little more than anything else, but shooting any of them feels excellent. The assault rifle known as the Kusunagi is one I found myself to have a love-heat relationship with, as it is a somewhat weak yet very accurate gun, seeing as there are two scopes on it; by pressing down on the d-pad you can toggle between a single-shot mode using the rifle scope or a rapid fire red-dot. It's a neat little thing that makes using it a blast, but it's weak power can sometimes be a problem.
 
Melee is a personal favorite of mine. The game is really good at making you feel like a badass. Nothing compares to the fun of shooting three enemies to death with a rapid-fire pistol, only to finish the fourth off by kicking him to his knees and making him shoot himself with his own pistol. Or breaking someones neck... You get the point.
 
It flows really well in combat, requiring you to be up close to an enemy and clicking in the right stick to deliver a killing blow. If done in conjuncture with an upgrade, it's possible to take down a multitude of enemies via melee as it will heal you a percentage of your base health.

The gameplay is familiar and easy to pick up and play by anyone that has ever played a first-person shooter before, but there's some added complexity here to ensure that you can't win every fight by a simple point and click.

The first being an overlay called DART that you can trigger by pressing the R2 button(Right bumper, presumably, on the Xbox 360). While in DART, you can see enemies through walls(Provided that you've spotted them before going into the mode), lessen the damage taken and of course, slow down time, capturing valuable time to line up shots and fell enemies quickly.

DART is not only a gameplay mechanic, however. Starbreeze is telling a story here, and that story is carefully woven into everything you see, trigger, pick up or shoot. DART is your personal cyberbrain assistant that alerts you to the usual goings-ons during your mission, such as looking for alternate routes when the path is blocked and things of that nature.

The second of which is the ability to interact with the digital environment around you, such as hacking turrets to fight for you, or hacking away the nanomachine shields of flying sentries or mini-bosses.
 
It doesn't end there though, with the abilities you get throughout the game. One being "backfire" that causes the targeted enemy gun to explode back at them, knocking them and another enemy down, giving you enough time to finish them off in their weakened state. My personal favorite ability is "Suicide". Which, when used against an enemy, they will pull out an explosive device and use it against themselves, blowing them and everyone around them up. 
 
The fun part of acquiring these powers for you to use against enemies, are the VR Missions it makes you go through to learn how they work and to practice with them enough to understand when they would work the best. It wasn't much, and they don't last long, but it's the attention to detail that makes the little things like this an awesome experience to play through.
 
Speaking of story, you play as Miles Kilo(Which people mainly just refer to you as Kilo throughout the game), an expertly-trained, cybernetically enhanced agent prototype working for EuroCorp, one of the may super-corporations called Syndicates, which divide and replace the government, effectively putting these companies in charge of the modern world with the price of planting CHIP's inside citizens to secure their place in a "perfect" world.

Still being companies, competition is not unheard of, often which results in horrific and bloody assassination attempts as each side sends their own "agents" into the fray to extract information or put a hurt on the competitors.

The game starts out at the beginning of a war-in-the-making as EuroCorp has a leak. A leak that's going to put them in jeopardy if they can't handle it in a timely fashion. And as any company with a loyal employee, or any video game with a playable character, EuroCorp sends Kilo(That's you!) out with fellow agent and backup Merit to figure out where the leak is coming from and who's responsible.

During these missions, you are sent to bright and beautiful landscapes. The graphics might be a little dank with less-than-stellar textures in some places, but the lighting engine is a marvel and it does what it does beautifully. The atmosphere in some levels are second to none. Starbreeze really knows what they're doing when it comes to atmosphere.

Of course, level design and pretty lights can get old after a while, and for that they've got the dirty and downtrodden Downzone. A section of New York closed off and abandoned years before. One thing is for certain though, this game is stylish. It's bleeding style everywhere from the level design, to the objects within the world all the way to the weapons and designs within the game. Stylish is it's middle name, if you weren't aware.

It's wet, it's dirty, and it's the complete opposite of the colorful, happy, bright Utopia you've spent the last couple of hours fighting your way through. Most importantly, though, it's angry. Of course, I think now would be a good time to drop the story(For spoiler purposes) and move onto the upgrades.

The game features a good amount of boss battles, all different from the others and spaced out between missions. Each requiring you to find their trick, exploit it it, and use it against them. One boss battle, for instance pitt Kilo against an enemy jumping around rafters, firing rockets at you that you must "breach" with your CHIP abilities, which will cause the rocket to fire back at him.

Finish the fight and you can go up to him and rip out their CHIP, using it as an upgrade point worth one upgrade. With these points(Which don't come often), you can spend it on the list of upgrades, such as doubling the ammo and grenades you carry, or increasing your base health by 33%. Once you spend them, that's that. So choose your skills wisely.
 
However, even on normal I had trouble with the difficulty. Sometimes enemies would just show up from behind and I'd have no idea until it was too late. The cover system requires you to duck down behind an object and press up on the stick to peek out and begin shooting, but sometimes it felt like my cover never worked properly and in some instances, I would be shot continually no matter where behind cover I was. There was one boss battle in particular who's kink I figured out relatively quick, but was getting creamed so fast I could hardly even use it against him.
 
For boss battles, it's definitely a live-and-learn experience as sometimes it's not the best at conveying information to you, which will end with death upon death until you figure out exactly what you need to be doing.
 
And while the game does get a good flow of running-and-gunning/meleeing enemies in a frenzy, it is easy to forget there is any challenge whatsoever, until the harsh-reality of getting lucky comes down on you in the force of a couple of mini-bosses. This game requires patience and finesse in order to get by, even if it is by the skin of your teeth.

There's enough upgrades in the list to ensure that you can't get all of them, so it often comes down to a hard decision as there are some pretty useful abilities.

That's not even mentioning the 4 player co-op mode with hours and hours of content and endless replayability. (That does not require an online pass of any sort, because if you didn't know, Syndicate does not have an online pass to begin with!)

The real winner here is you and three of your buddies as you get to pick a character, customize weapon loadouts with upgrades like grenade launchers and bullets that do more damage and even upgrade your soldier's CHIP abilities with more features than you'll find in the campaign. Though, I'll save that for maybe another review later as I haven't put enough time into the co-op to really give any say in the matter.

It's an interesting thing to see, as the campaign certainly doesn't give me the feeling of "Eh, why not" like you'll find in most shooters today. Instead, you'll find a really refreshing take on a long-since disappeared series that does more right than most other shooters.
 
Although I did get one freeze and a hassling performance issue leading up to the crash, it wasn't enough to hamper my fun, and the checkpointing is good enough that I was never too far from where I left off. It was regrettable that it had to happen in any such regard, but it appeared to be a one-time deal and began working normally upon reboot.
 
With games like Portal 2, Bioshock Infinite and Syndicate here, it's easy to hope for the day that more and more developers go out on a limb and take a chance in the way that Starbreeze did with this game. The end result is a must buy with an interesting campaign that doesn't feel tacked on, and a co-op mode that is a time-hog in it's own right.

All in all, I'd say Starbreeze has taken the Syndicate franchise they created and managed to revitalized the lore and idea behind it in such a way that I feel anyone can appreciate it, FPS aficionado or content tourist. I think if you play this game, you'll find something to like.
 
This is the first game I've played in a long time that I feel hit all the right notes in such a way that I had to review it. This is my first ever review and I enjoyed this game a lot. That said, I hope my review can get that across in such a way that you can understand my excitement. I played it on the Playstation 3 on Normal Difficulty. Also, I went into this game completely cold(Aside from the demo) and did not want to reveal a big deal about this game to maybe keep the surprises I encountered for the people who may be on the fence about this game. Thank you.
11 Comments
Posted by McGhee

Damnit, I really don't have the money for any more games right now. If only I could go back in time and punch myself as I was buying Reckoning.

Good job. This is a really well written review. Didn't even have any of your terrible jokes.

Posted by N7

Thank you. I don't review games very often(Actually this is my first), but I do not want any lame humor to get in the way of a review of a game that I resonate so well with... or any game for that matter.
 
I was five seconds away from posting and decided it needed some polish and I added a whole bunch to it, and I feel like it's a pretty decent review. I'm not sure how often I'll be doing this, or if this was a one-time deal, but Syndicate was a very well made game and I wanted to let people know that.

Posted by Makoto_Mizuhara_Sakamoto

You have given me a reason to buy this. :D

Posted by Jay444111

@N7 said:

Thank you. I don't review games very often(Actually this is my first), but I do not want any lame humor to get in the way of a review of a game that I resonate so well with... or any game for that matter. I was five seconds away from posting and decided it needed some polish and I added a whole bunch to it, and I feel like it's a pretty decent review. I'm not sure how often I'll be doing this, or if this was a one-time deal, but Syndicate was a very well made game and I wanted to let people know that.

So how is the story of the game? Is it near what the first Darkness was or is it lacking in that area?

Posted by honkyjesus

Finished the single player last night, and I really thought it was well done. Thanks for review.

Posted by MariachiMacabre

This review changed my life and saved my marriage!

Thank you, N7!

(Yeah, I've used this joke before but fuck off it's my body damn it!)

Posted by VisariLoyalist

What I find interesting about the gameplay style, is that the difficulty is "hard" in so far as you are very fragile, but easy in the sense that if you use all your resources it becomes manageable. Weapons that shoot around or through cover in combination with dart mode and your breach abilities allows you to finish missions quickly and satisfyingly but still requires active engagement.

Posted by N7
@Jay444111: I think the story is better than The Darkness II, but in a way that doesn't actually fault The Darkness. The Darkness is a love story. You're Jackie Estacado and you'll go to hell and back for your girlfriend. You also have demon powers and run a gang. You go to dank warehouses and shoot and shoot and shoot, and also slash and throw and grab. Whereas Syndicate, you go to beautiful, almost Mirror's Edge looking environments where the lighting engine hits you like a bag of beautiful bricks.
 
I'd say The Darkness II, while not bad in any given right(I know as I beat that too), it's boring compared to Syndicate. In Darkness I was just waiting for the game to end because it was grudging on like a slowburn of angsty teen-drama. Whereas Syndicate you work for a megacorporation that, in some small way, controls the world. You are a cyber soldier who doesn't even talk, and you kill people because, hey, why not.
 
I'd say Syndicate went out on a limb whereas The Darkness II played it safe. Which is funny, because Starbreeze were the ones behind The Darkness and Syndicate, yet I prefer this game over theirs.
Posted by NorthSarge

i was half expecting to come into the review section on here and have a couple reviews that kind of pooped on the game. But instead i found this one which shares my exact view. the game is a lot of fun, its got a couple of mechanics on top of a first person shooter that make it different enough that i find it hard to put it down. as the kind of person that plays most of the big shooters i have to say that it holds some ground against some of those other big name shooters.

Posted by Robster

fantastic review!, detail you went into was just enough, cheers

Posted by Nettacki

@NorthSarge24: I saw one review that pooped on the game a week ago, but apparently that was quickly removed. Maybe due to quality of review? Or the guy who wrote it decided to remove it.

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