In Starbreeze Studios’ Syndicate, the world is very much a different place. With the creation of a neural chip that permits users to access the dataverse directly with their minds, mega-corporations known as syndicates rule the world with an iron fist. Chipped users reap the benefits of their preferred Syndicates, but live blissfully unaware that they are but pawns to the higher ups, being constantly fed brainwashing propaganda.
Players control Miles Kilo, a prototype agent and enforcer for Eurocorp, the world’s first and largest syndicate. After receiving word that a rival syndicate known as Aspari is producing a chip similar to Eurocorp’s state-of-the-art Dart-6, Kilo is sent in to find and eliminate the opposition by any means necessary. However, things are not what they seem, as there may be a mole over at Eurocorp that’s playing both sides.
The science-fiction story is top-notch, weaving a powerful tale of corporate deceit and trickery at the highest levels. It paints a scary yet plausible picture of a future where humanity has relied too much on technology and has become a slave to it. As Syndicates wage war against each other like mad gods to gain control of the masses, normal chipped men and women sit oblivious to the fact as they live day to day.
It’s frightening to see how large corporations can take control of the world, and how expendable people are when they’re in the way. Innocents’ bodies pile up for no reason other than being at the wrong place in the wrong time, and rebellious anti-syndicate factions can do nothing against the might of the Mega-corporations. It’s cyberpunk at its finest.
The setting is as equally impressive as the story, offering a look into the world of the Syndicates and the dwellings of those who chose to forsake the chip. Syndicate buildings are a technological marvel, full of the latest and greatest tech. Bright, beautiful and clean, they represent high society and all it has to offer. But they aren’t slouches either when it comes to warfare, as soldiers sport the latest armor and weaponry available to take down the opposition. And then there are the slums. Dirty, grimy and plainly poor, it’s where those who didn’t get the chips reside. Graffiti decorates the brick and concrete walls, and trash is all over the place. Freedom fighters sport cheap weapons, and guerilla style tech, but don’t pose much of a threat to the agents unless they attack in force. The setting overall does a pretty great job of dividing the line between the rich and poor.
Characters are also well done and rounded, and contribute to the further development of the story. Individuals like Eurocorp’s Dr. Lily Drawl and CEO Jach Denham (who also carry the likeness of the voice actors, the former being Rosario Dawson and latter Brian Cox) are deep and intriguing, offering different outlooks and perspectives to the war of the Syndicates. Agent Jules Merit, despite being the stereotypic grunt of the game, offers engaging insight to the perspective of a cold-hearted killer, and turns of to be one of the best characters. The only exception to the case is the player character himself, Miles Kilo. By being voiceless, Kilo never develops into something other than an agent. And even though he has one of the quickest changes-of-heart I have ever seen in a videogame, it doesn’t help build up his character. He’s mostly just a mindless drone following orders.
But the story isn’t the only thing carrying the title as the game plays like a dream. Made with Starbreeze’s proprietary engine, the game is a refreshing and relentless take on the FPS genre. The game is no typical shooting gallery, as enemies will take you down in a matter of seconds if played like a run and gun. Instead, the player must rely on the Dart-6 chip and its many functions to survive. In addition to the standard Dart Overlay that allows the player slow down time, highlight enemies behind cover, augment weapon damage, and the ability to breach certain electronics, players can also acquire new hacks as they progress through the game. These include the ability to cause a weapon to backfire and stun its wielder, persuade enemies to fight for Kilo, or even make them commit suicide in brutal fashion. It’s a spectacular mechanic that grants a variety of combat options to the player and keeps the combat from ever going stale. Not to mention, it’s fun to watch.
The abilities aren’t the only thing that’s going to protect Kilo from harm. The game features a nice selection of guns and grenades that control, feel and sound great. There’s the standard pistols, shotguns, assault rifles and rocket launchers; and then there’s more advanced weaponry, such as a the COIL, a rifle that shoots out a powerful beam that demolishes foes, and a EMW-56, a Gauss Gun that can shoot around corners after locking on its enemies. Most weapons also have an alternative method of fire, adding nice alternatives to an already extensive selection of guns. Grenades come in many flavors as well. There are your common fragmentation grenades, EMP grenades that affect Dart-6 and chip abilities, and EMP mines.
The player will also be upgrading Kilo as they progress the campaign. By extracting chips from people’s heads (utilizing a wicked sharp object that he jabs through their ears), Kilo can upgrade himself in order to become a much more efficient killing machine. By investing points, players can upgrade Kilo’s health, purchase a regenerating shield, extended the time of the dark overlay. By investing the points wisely, Kilo can literally become a one-man army.
While being a great game, it ultimately has some shortcomings. For starters, the game is pretty linear. In comparison to other Starbreeze titles like The Chronicles of Riddick and The Darkness, which featured extensive use of backtracking and exploration, Syndicate is a much more straightforward affair, as you navigate Kilo from one point to another, usually clearing objectives as you go. It would have been nice if explore, as the setting could have offered interesting possibilities.
The game also features some random difficulty spikes. Although not necessarily terrible as it adds challenge to the game, I found it odd how one moment I felt like a powerful death-dealing agent, and then in another I felt so under powered. I had to switch tactics on the fly, and instead of encountering enemies head on, I had to resort to less savory tactics to survive. I didn’t find running circles around pillars while an enemy chased me to be very agent-like.
Another problem I had was that sometimes it was difficult to breach into machines and objects on the move. Enemies like floating turrets can only be killed by disabling their shields, and yet it was hard for me to do so, because one out of four times the game wouldn’t register the click of the button as I tried to breach. Maybe it’s just me.
Overall, Syndicate is a very good game; chock full of exciting and explosive moments. It features a nice story, interesting characters and a few cool mechanics that keep it from being an average FPS experience. If you love FPS and adore cyberpunk worlds, Starbreeze’s Syndicate is the way to go.