Passing Judgment on... Syndicate
Syndicate is the 2012 FPS re-imagining of Bullfrog’s isometric squad-based RTS put together by Starbreeze Studios (The Darkness, The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay). While the shift to an FPS has ruffled the feathers of purists, it has also allowed Syndicate’s world to appeal to a wider audience, and in a slick technological age where corporations rule (some might say – conspiracy theorists, mostly), where better to set your FPS than in a slick technological age where corporations rule? And who better to develop your FPS than a developer renown for smart gunplay that packs a visceral punch? From the moment you boot up the game you’re treated to a gritty, incredibly stylised environment, not entirely dissimilar from a scene in Blade Runner. It was in these opening minutes that I knew that Syndicate and I were going to get along just fine.
You are a EuroCorp agent, engaging in corporate espionage, occasionally corporate sabotage in a slick techno- OK you get the picture. It’s a world where half of the population have accepted chip implants from the very top companies, and the other half are completely unchipped. The latter half are the forgotten ones in this world – out of sight, out of mind. It’s an interesting vision of the future, and although not as harrowing as say Orwell’s, it’s still somewhat harrowing to think of a world where people would accept corporations exercising direct control and possessing direct access to every single moment you experience.
The chip has its perks though. Your EuroCorp chip grants you access to the DART system (quite what the acronym stands for escapes me, so by all means, draw your own conclusions in the comments section!) linking you and your surroundings to an Internet that has evolved far beyond what we know and use today. As a EuroCorp agent you deal with patent infringements, violently of course – with especially grisly chip extraction animations as you hold your extraction tool by their ear, your vision flashes into x-ray and you can see cables worming their way through your victims skull and wrapping themselves around the chip before you wrench it out with a relatively subtly grisly sound effect.
Gameplay-wise, the DART system tracks your performance in a similar way to that seen with the leash in Bulletstorm. DART is a full interface and story mechanism, as well as a comprehensive post-chapter scoring system. As part of the story it can transport you to “Darkspace”, which is a Tron-like testing environment showcasing new offensive chip hacks (which sit alongside your weapons in your arsenal like a spell or biotic power in Mass Effect – before long you’ll be popping heads and forcing suicides with the same disturbing efficiency seen in games like Bioshock 2 where you could wield a gun or drill in one hand, and a plasmid power in the other) such as suicide, which forces enemies to blow themselves up, taking their nearby squadmates with them, persuade which turns an enemy into an ally before they too kill themselves, and backfire which knocks enemies to the floor for a swift execution.
The DART scoring system emphasises speed, precision and fluidity like Bulletstorm – but with little incentive, save for post-chapter performance analysis. This kind of analysis makes sense in terms of the story and lore of the DART system, but is really only a thinly-veiled attempt to increase Syndicate’s longevity. When there are only 20 chapters, each of which took me about 10-15 minutes to complete, and that was with me taking the time to pick up collectibles and enjoy the surroundings, you’re looking at a game that can vary in length from 4 to 6 hours.
(Sorry to do this, it's an easy way to see if people like my reviews!)