Syndicate Review

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An incredibly hostile takeover


The original Syndicate was a much-loved isometric tactical shooter from 1993. EA and Starbreeze Studios’ 2012 update-slash-reboot is a first-person shooter – a reflection on the corporate dystopia presented in the series, where free will is subsumed by big business concerns? It’s possible, though overt similarities to other nightmarish futures in fiction, from the ‘Big Brother’ paranoia of Nineteen Eighty-Four to the tiered society of Gattaca, make it seem a touch more soulless.

Playing as Miles Kilo, an agent of the super-powerful EuroCorp, the single player campaign draws you through a web of high-tech corporate espionage, infiltrating rival organisation to protect business assets and prevent product leaks. There’s no boardroom intrigue though – negotiations are exclusively conducted via lethal weaponry, though the core story involves an almost predictable resistance movement rising against corporate control. With an experimental chip implanted in Miles’ brain stem, the game does at least explore beyond the parameters of nigh-on every other FPS, offering a variety of nasty hacks and remote operations allowing you to brutally exploit enemies’ bodies and weapons.

Left there, Syndicate could stand as a competent sci-fi shooter. Unfortunately, in an attempt at world building, it drowns the player with an information overload. The Dart-6 chip in Miles’ head scans in ambient info within visual range. Tiny markers pop-up, identifying everything from orange juice cartons to keyboards, though nothing can be interacted with. When a data file is discovered, a lengthy dossier is presented – great for background but more than you’ll probably want to spend time reading between firefights. Writer Richard K Morgan is a fantastic author but the balance between narrative and gameplay just feels wrong here. The game also disappoints on the visual front, with unacceptably poor textures in place and odd lighting. Bright spotlights will cascade through ruined towers, yet cast few if any shadows.

Multiplayer does extend the life of the game handsomely, and credit is due for the wonderful voice performances from the likes of Rosario Dawson and Brian Cox, but overall Syndicate provides little that hasn’t been seen elsewhere.