by Keaton Arksey
previewed on PC
From tactics to shooting
It seems as if there is a new trend to take established PC franchises and change them into first-person shooters. First, 2K Marin is giving a facelift to XCOM later this year, and EA has followed suite, taking Bullfrog Games’ Syndicate series and switching genres. Not seen since 1996’s Syndicate Wars, the strategy series’ revival is both exciting and concerning for fans of the series. Thanks to the talented development team at Starbreeze Studios, developers of The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay and The Darkness, the Syndicate series will return, but in an entirely new genre.
The game, simply titled Syndicate, acts as a reboot for the series. Written by Richard Morgan, the author of Altered Carbon and Market Forces, the game’s world is set in 2069, where humanity lives in mega-cities controlled by massive corporations, called syndicates (ah ha!). In order to provide for such a large population, the syndicates provide neural chip implants to their citizens, which are used to access data-network systems at the blink of an eye (literally). Thus, the syndicates provide everything from basic services like health care and banking to entertainment to their consumers. Unsurprisingly, this gives the syndicates a humongous amount of power in the daily lives of the people, and if history is any lesson, power only leads to the desire for more power.
Desiring ultimate market dominance, the syndicates enlist agents, bio-engineered warriors with chip-augmentations. Unlike the agents of the original games, these new agents have a small amount of free will in deciding how they approach missions. Their near-superhuman powers make them deadly foes capable of breaching anything in the dataverse, from weapons and gadgets to their enemies themselves. EuroCorp, one of the many syndicates, has created a new prototype agent, Miles Kilo, the protagonist. The developers apply the term “protagonist” loosely however, pointing out that Miles is by no means a good person, and his job as an agent means situations will often end violently. There will be no bailouts this time... Unless you count bullets as bailouts. In that case, yes, there will be many bailouts.
Breaching enemy implants
As Mr. Kilo is a bio-engineered weapon, his deadliness is not limited strictly to whatever weapon he may be carrying. Gunplay is still a major part of the game, but Kilo has more options than simply shooting people to death. With the latest chip technology in his noggin, Miles is able to physically see and interact with the data network like the general populace, but also hack it for his benefit. This system is called “breaching” by the developers and, in-game, it shows up as so-called DART-6 overlays over any system that Miles can hack, such as security doors. More disturbingly, Miles can breach the chips in the heads of enemies, causing them to become homicidal and even suicidal.
Some enemies have shields, and Miles can only damage them after breaching their chips. The DART-6 overlay reveals any electronic signatures nearby, showing enemy positions through walls while also slowing down time, and increasing the damage Miles can give and take. All these abilities require adrenaline, so staying in dangerous situations and racking up the kills means more adrenaline, which means more breaching. By taking the chips from targets (which involves head-stabbing), Miles can upgrade his own abilities.
Parallel to the main story, Syndicate features a four-player co-op story mode with different missions. Taking the role of various agents that have created their own syndicate, teams attack rivals as part of the war between the various corporations. Interestingly, the game assigns each player a specific class, and victory requires the use of each class’s specific skills. These do not stray too far from the standard classes, with Assault, Spec Ops, Generic, and Medic classes. The Medic class, for example, can heal allies from a distance using breaching. By breaching enemies in co-op, agents can steal their chips, which act as loot drops. The loot, in this case, takes the form of weapon attachments for co-op.
Those who have a difficult time finding three friends to play a game with at the same time will be happy to know that the difficulty will scale down for fewer players. Aside from co-op, Syndicate does not include any other multiplayer features, which is sure to make fans of single-player experiences happy.
Something to look forward to... for FPS fans
After sixteen years, the return of Syndicate to the gaming landscape is a cause for celebration. While it may not be the tactical experience fans remember, the talented team at Starbreeze Studios has shown their ability to take established franchises and make some great first person shooters. Syndicate, with a dark and intriguing storyline and open-ended gameplay, looks like it will continue this tradition.