Review: Syndicate (Xbox 360)
As a fan of the original Syndicate I was interested to see what Electronic Arts would do with the rights which they inherited when they purchased Bullfrog many years ago.
The original Syndicate was a strategy game which had action sections very similar to another classic title, Cannon Fodder. Most fans of that game would have been hoping for a direct remake which was true to the original. Electronic Arts had other ideas.
This particular incarnation of Syndicate is an FPS which, as we all know, is a very popular genre in 2012. Now, while I am one of those fans who would rather see a strategy game, I don’t have a problem a Syndicate FPS on paper. There was, after all, a lot of shooting going on in the original Syndicate. That being said, there was much more to the original, things which made it magical to many fans, and you’ll unfortunately find almost none of that stuff here.
You can still kill enemies, of course, it would be a pretty odd FPS if you couldn’t, but there’s a lack of choice which was present in the original. This follows the standard FPS model in which you must clear an area of enemies before you are able to move onto the next. In the original, you were given a mission and once you had completed that mission you could either move to the designated exit area, if the map had one, or you could explore the limited area before doing heading back. You weren’t forced to clear an area of enemies. In fact, there were missions in which you could avoid conflict altogether. However, entering into combat with enemies was often a gamble worth taking as if successful you could collect weapons from their bodies.
This mattered in the original as selling the weapons was a good way to make cash which could be spent on research, which is something you won’t find here, or spent on better weapons, but purchasing weapons is something else you won’t find here.
You can still murder civilians but it no longer means anything. In the original you knew you were cogs in a syndicate who justified the murder of civilians who had turned, or who threatened to turn, against your syndicate. Once again, and it’s a common theme in this review, the game doesn’t make you feel part of something bigger. You don’t even feel part of a team, because you’re not. You control one guy where you once controlled a squad of four – a squad who could be kitted out with different weapons and mods, which added a bit of variety, and a tactical element.
You can still persuade individuals to side with you but it only applies to enemy soldiers – you won’t, for example, be recruiting any scientists to your organisation. Also, there’s no lasting effect to the persuasion as enemy soldiers will only join you until there are no other enemies left in the immediate vicinity, at which point they’ll commit suicide. This is admittedly pretty cool, although a bit of variety in animation would have been nice, but it doesn’t make you feel part of something much bigger.
The original version’s implant feature has been simplified, by getting rid of research and cash, and there’s now a ‘kill specific individual – extract their chip – purchase upgrade’ system.
There are various boss battles in the game but I had the same experience with all of them. At first each of the boss battles seemed near impossible, I died quite a few times and my frustration only made it feel more difficult, then I figured out the pattern and understood the weakness, and all of a sudden the process became ridiculously easy.
The visuals are decent but I didn’t notice much variety in the scenery, but I suppose that’s at least something it shares with the original title. The best thing about Syndicate are the voices of Rosario Dawson (Sin City), Michael Wincott (Strange Days, The Crow), and Brian Cox (not the scientist!) and I suspect this is where a large part of the budget was spent.
I find it hard to recommend this version of Syndicate. It’s not a bad game but apart from the voice talent there’s nothing which sets it apart from the many sci-fi shooters out there. I’m also disappointed that EA chose to cash in on the sci-fi shooter craze of the past few years, which is where the recent Shadowrun title went wrong, instead of making better use of this IP which has so much to offer.