The original Syndicate was governed by Peter Molyneux – the master of empty promises. Although we can’t be certain we’re pretty sure he promised that all our wildest dreams would come true and all future bowel movements would smell like freshly baked cinnamon rolls if we bought it. Thankfully Starbreeze haven’t fallen into his footsteps and hyped up this Syndicate reboot. A wise move, as it’s one of those games that would have been amazing if only a little more time had been spent on it. I guess we can blame EA for wanting it out the door before Mass Effect 3 for that.

Comparisons with Deus Ex: Human Revolution are inevitable, so let’s get those out of the way first. Not only does Syndicate have a similar a premise involving cybernetically enhanced agents warring against rival corporations, but also a very similar appearance. Syndicate is a wholly linear experience, however – there are no hubs, places to buy and sell weapons, optional missions or moral choices. You do get to crawl through air ducts now and then, but you’re never given the choice of how to approach a situation. You’re forced to crawl through them as it’s the only way to go. A linear nature does give Syndicate a more action-oriented focus though with numerous, and often unexpected, set-pieces.

The first mission smoothly breaks you in and then as soon as the second mission you’re presented with a new skill to play around with. One of the benefits of having a head full of hardware is the ability to hack into an array of electrical equipment and also mess with other agents’ minds, forcing them to commit suicide and turn on their teammates. Gun turrets can be reprogrammed too, while roof hatches can be closed to prevent sniper fire. The real beauty is whereas in any other game you have to walk up to a switch to press it, here your wireless breaching abilities let you do so from yards away thus giving the game a faster pace than most. A fancy looking overlay also assists in locating targets.

We were expecting new skills to be dished out at regular intervals but three are all you get, all of which are unlocked in the first half of the game. Thankfully there are new weapons to use later on including a rather nifty flame thrower and a rifle that conducts bolts of electricity. The gauss gun from the original makes a welcome comeback, giving the ability to fire around corners. One of the few puzzles on offer involves having to freeze and smash a window and then use the gauss gun to break a lock that’s on the outside of a door.

If Starbreeze have learned something from the Deus Ex team, it’s not to outsource your boss battles to another company who haven’t even been shown the rest of the game. Syndicate’s bosses are something of a highlight – they’ll give you good hiding until you figure out how to dispatch them with relative ease.

But while Syndicate starts out on a high, with locations varying from a nightclub to a fancy shopping mall, it goes out with a fizzle rather than a bang. The last couple of levels are almost devoid of creativity, involving little more than holding your ground and attacking waves of enemies that swarm out of elevators. At least the single player doesn’t drag – about five hours is all it takes – and it’s certainly a feast for the eyes, with some very clever and stylish lighting effects and typically solid EA presentation.

As unlikely as it sounds, the online co-op mode has a structure similar to Left 4 Dead. The nine levels are unique to this mode, each lasting around 15 minutes, and there’s an emphasis on constantly pushing forward. Each mission also has three or four ‘safe houses’ with boxes of extra ammo, and the mission can’t progress until all four squad members are inside the area, to prevent any players being left behind.

If a teammate takes too much damage they fall to the ground and require ‘rebooting’ – if all four players meet their maker, then it’s back to the last checkpoint. The first few missions are a cakewalk but later flamethrower troops appear who can sap a health bar in seconds. Before matches weapon sets and perks (known here as Apps) can be chosen, including the ability to heal the whole of your squad at once, while new weapons and improved skills and be researched by collecting blueprints.

The fact that enemies always appear in the same location can make replaying previous missions rather repetitive Samey mission objectives don’t help either – during no less than three levels it’s vital that at least one player remains at a landing pad to protect a chopper while other teammates retrieve and return artefacts from a nearby base. Challenges, leaderboards and the chance to form your own syndicate are all present but they aren’t very exciting incentives to keep playing. This leaves only some of the harder achievements such as the one for defusing 837 grenades before they explode. Quite where that number came from we’ll never know.

Although we enjoyed the first few hours of the campaign and shutting down syndicates online for the afternoon or so that co-op mode takes to finish, Starbreeze’s Syndicate is akin to starring at a rainbow out a window while at work – little more than a pretty distraction.

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