This game came out of nowhere and won my heart. The trailer did it first, then the multi-player demo followed up. If an analogy must be made, it must be that Syndicate is a faster-paced Deus Ex: Human Revolution. In the single-player, you’re cast as agent Miles Kilo, a testbed for a powerful new weapons chip that the titanic EuroCorp is about to leverage against its corporate rivals. While the single-player can be a little ho-hum, it’s the co-op multiplayer where the game really shines. Unfortunately, I know many who will be turned away on that fact alone.
It’s fifty years in the future and corporations are the new governments. In your role as a weaponized special agent, you use your new technology to cause enemy weapons to detonate, force combatants to commit suicide, or turn them on their peers in order to accomplish your goals. Things go south when an exfiltration early on gets botched and you’re on your own, wandering through the decrepit streets of future New York. Brian Cox serves as your boss Denham while Michael Wincott and Rosario Dawson play your co-workers. Despite the fancy setup, the game never spends much time building you or your peers as characters, only providing a narrow string of a narrative to pull you through the story. The plot’s twists and turns are underwhelming as you’re given little reason to invest in the actions going on around you. You don’t understand the alliances or the betrayals, but they happen anyway. Despite the Call of Duty series’ Michael Bay-esque mess of a plot in each installment, the material is still set up with some grandeur: you always feel like you’re part of some epic shift in the world. That feeling comes up short here. I defeated the campaign on Normal (medium) difficulty in about eight hours and honestly have no desire to go back through.
The presentation is a highlight. Developer Starbreeze is known for its Chronicles of Riddick and The Darkness titles and they don’t shy away from laying on the eye candy. If you could take the cyberpunk settings of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and swap the gold color palette for blue, you get an idea of what Syndicate feels like. All of the settings are dressed in a persistent bloom, rather than HDR effects, meaning that lit surfaces glow and daylight fights are blinding. It’s stylish but distracting at times as your screen is washed out with light from even the most inconspicuous locations. Starbreeze delves into color separation and a cool vector-styled look when you go into Dart view to pick out your targets from the environment. I felt the Blade Runner influence in the downzone, a place for misfits who refuse to be chipped, and not just the movie, but Westwood’s adventure game as well. Unfortunately, while the levels were well-assembled and never repetitive, they weren’t very memorable.
The action is tight with a twist that puts it somewhere between the aforementioned Call of Duty and Deus Ex games. While running around and shooting dudes feels exactly as it should, complete with a confident cover mechanic, it’s the wrinkle in the form of hacking (breaching, as the game calls it) that allows you to dispatch foes faster, add or remove environmental barriers for cover, solve puzzles, deactivate grenades, and otherwise interact with the world. What might’ve been a full mini-game in another game is a mere hold on the left bumper, so in this way, breaching serves as your most powerful weapon. More elaborate foes will require you to breach their outer defenses before you can lay into them with ammunition. Bosses were a bit on the simplistic side, leaving you to determine their attack patterns and play along. While not as frustrating as Deus Ex’s horrid encounters, they are a bit distracting and held up the game’s pace more than a few times. I’m not one to throw controllers, but I could hear my controller moan as I twisted it in frustration after a twentieth or thirtieth death.
The guts of the game are the co-op missions, laid out in Spec Ops-style encounters. You and up to three teammates shoot, duck, and breach your way through various objectives in a manner that requires everyone to be on the same page, but doesn’t require a headset for elaborate coordination. You’ll build your character’s skills as you proceed up the levels with points gained for not only killing enemies, but healing your friends as well. Those familiar with MMO-style raids will feel the underlying mechanics here as you support your friends. It’s here in the various co-op missions that you’ll ultimately spend most of your time.
Syndicate is a very clever game for a reboot. The product is quality and while it’s not a terrible campaign by any means, it would be difficult to recommend for $59.99 alone. Those looking for a cool new cyberpunk adventure will probably want to wait, but the co-op is different enough from other titles, and is thankfully more strategy than twitch, that multiplayer fans will have a blast.