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PREVIEW: Syndicate (2012) True Sequel Or Generic Shooter?

Friday, 16 December 2011

Few months ago it was officially announced that Starbreeze Studios - who developed "The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay" (Gamespot 9.3/PC) and "The Darkness" (Gamespot 8.5/Xbox360) - are working to release new game to the old Syndicate franchise. It will be out on early 2012 for Xbox360, Playstation 3 and PC platforms and released by Electronic Arts.

But the question is, does it earn Syndicate title? Lets take a look on some info we know about the new Syndicate title so far and compare it to the original. The original Syndicate (1993) and it's sequel Syndicate Wars (1996) were developed by Bullfrog (also creators of Dungeon Keeper). I never had chance to play original more than little bit, but I played it's sequel Syndicate Wars a lot. Actually, despite being far from perfect it was very entertaining game regardless critics shot it down for not living up to the original. The gameplay between those two was at least quite close to each other, as was the very basic idea of the game.

Original Syndicate games (1993, 1996) for PC were mainly very action based top-down view strategy games - that could be more accurately described as RTS (real-time strategy) - taking place in futuristic Sci-Fi world. You took place to control four Syndicate agents to complete bunch of single stand-alone missions. Especially Syndicate Wars though was very much action based as stated. I don't really know how strategic you could call it - maybe in some degree - planning what route you take to reach your goal, what weapons to use, do you need to place bombs and where or persuade human (brainwash) to work as your personal "shield".

(Syndicate, 1993)

They were pretty standard top-down RTS games indeed, with tons of single missions, and lots of mouse clicking. Almost all actions were executed by mouseclicks. Go here, shoot this, use that. etc. What In my opinion made them unique was great game theme - very much inspired by Blade Runner movie - at least it looks like it. In "Wars" you could bomb down buildings, which would add another strategic element. Using human shields was brutally fun, especially since brainwashed citizen could pick up weapons from the dead thus becoming your personal army. Cops could come along and mess operation up when in firefight between crooks and Syndicates etc. You could also develop different weapons and items in your very own workshop, which would be working while you're on a mission. You'd be able to also decide where to focus your development to. Just basically many memorable and fun moments with great game theme. Bullfrog knew how to make entertaining games indeed.

(Syndicate Wars, 1996)

Now how is the new Syndicate developed by Starbreeze? I let my first "hell no" moment was when I first read that it's going to be multi-platform shooter - which will most likely mean that the last remnants of strategic element since Syndicate Wars will be ripped off - making it from Action based RTS to pure First Person Shooter. It could be entertaining FPS - or it could be just another generic FPS - but really aren't we flooded with FPS's coming out lately already? I wouldn't want this to be reason for me to bash up the new Syndicate before even knowing much about it but come on. X-Com is already coming out as FPS, now that might be more heresy than Syndicate but still. It's just quite disappointing - I would had loved another graphically modernized, but top-down Syndicate game staying true to it's cult roots.

Now that I've said that let's look some how the game actually turns out to be. How's the plot? Well new Syndicate story is focused in year 2069, taking place in Machiavellian world. This world is dark futuristic place, which has no government of any kind running things. The areas are controlled my different clans of Syndicates who are competing about market shares, and gang territories. There are three mega corporations running things and competing with each other: Eurocorp, Cayman Global and Aspari - and worst of all, none is questioning their actions.

In this world everything is digitally connected including people. Most human have an implant attached to their brain. For example through DART 6 bio-chip, players can slow down time, and breach the digital world around them. Sounds like we've heard this feature before? The new Syndicate is said to blend fast-paced, futuristic, action shooter settings and story with "innovative chip breach gameplay instantly immersing player into the unique digital world."

A few already known chip breaches include firstly "The Suicide Hack", which will make enemy put gun in his mouth and pull the trigger. Secondly slowing time. And thirdly Allegiance, which will turn your enemy against it own allies, letting it shoot few of his own agents before killing himself. To use chip breaches you need to collect IPA (could be compared to "Magicka" of fantasy games I suppose) which is being done by making kills and using breach effectively.

Cool, but doesn't these breach powers sound bit like Deus Ex: Human Revolution's (And bunch of others games before that). I'm sorry to say but it doesn't sound very original to me. I get the idea that "chip breach technology" is something alike to Deus Ex: HR's Augmentation system, perhaps taken bit more far - and hopefully so! Does "story" mean the simple cut scenery we've seen so many times in recent Action-Adventure games without much of a dynamic gameplay? Hope not. And "fast-paced action shooter" blend with the previous mentioned things just screams for - if not "generic", at least "seen that one before" like no tomorrow.

There will be chipped and non-chipped opponents around making it a bit tactical how to fight each of those as you cannot use breach powers towards non-chipped ones. The game area is divided at least to two zones: "Up Zone" and "Down Zone". Reading from between the lines I understood that Up Zone is the high class area of the game and also has different robots and machines to fight, while Down Zone is low class area, where "agents" of the any of the big corporations, which you control, are seen as monsters. Thus you will not get very warm welcome in Down Zone areas.

(Shoot'em too..)

What can save this game and make it unique? Well certainly Syndicate can score some points home in case they manage to make game world really authentic and atmospheric. Remember Syndicate Wars had a great dark futuristic Sci-Fi feeling (and it didn't need fancy 3D either to achieve that). Some originality to the story and dynamic happenings, different ways to finish your goal thus making you think your options, and surprising game events. Please do not tune down bloodshed, gore and dark atmosphere down to nothing to make it another "teen-FPS". The developers have been rather careful about the comments of violence in game comparing to the previous. They state that yes some fights between Syndicates take place in civilians area and they eventually "get in the line of fire, but you aren't encouraged to kill them." Give me "Persuadetron" please!

(Four player Co-Op mode might be cool feature)

So will this new Syndicate have anything to do with the original? While much is yet unrevealed it seems a bit uncertain that it would have more than just slight resemblance. Starbreeze on the other hand promises it to have feeling and "soul" connected to the old Syndicate, but they are rather careful in their statements, giving out rather round answers:

"We're creating a challenging FPS game which will appeal to the modern day FPS fans, as well as to the fans of the previous Syndicate games". Personally I think that sounds like impossible combination. In addition Jeff Gamon from EA Partners tells that fans of the old games will recognize many areas from the previous Syndicate titles, but will experience them in a new way. The game will also offer four player co-op mode, which includes missions converted from the previous titles. That's actually first cool thing I've noticed this far. One thing that stands out is also the promises that the game will be challenging and difficult, much more than the other competitive games on market. That's a fresh thing to say at least:

"We think our AI is best of breed. It's very light on scripting. It's a very challenging, hardcore shooter game. It's very traditional in that sense. It's tough. It's really tough. It's challenging."

Will it be candy for modern FPS fans and poison for the fans of the previous Syndicate games, or something else? We'll see, this far I'm not overly excited about this release. It could be good game on it's own right (or not), but there's not just much info that would back up "originality", and converting Action-RTS into "heavily action based" third person FPS doesn't just sound overly promising.

My prediction: it will be decent shooter, loved by a some and hated by some - mainly disliked by the old fans and ignored by those getting bored of too many games like this coming out, and after half year many won't remember the game. Hopefully I'll be proven wrong.

Pre-Order Syndicate (2012):

Syndicate (2012) Trailer


  1. Hey!

    Great post, very informative though rather lengthy. I'm inspired to check this game out, thanks!

    If you get a chance, check out my gaming review site.

  2. Hi and thanks. Well I'm not too hyped about new Syndicate. Just been so many shooters coming out lately, and so many old classics of different gametype turned into shooters also. However I might check it out just for sake to see if it has any interesting elements from original Syndicate world.. :-) Yes, I checked your site, nice. That Arkam City review almost makes me want to try that game out although not biggest fan of super-hero games. The open world idea of that game sounds quite catchy..

  3. In classical syndicate you controlled corporation, u made decisions on how to spend youre finanses wisely,choose what is best for youre agents,squad customization,raising taxes on controlled territories.Every map was real warzone and a challenge for youre agents.The game had it all.People don't understand these kind of games anymore, they just want to sit back,relax, shoot some dumb AI down and blow things up, thats why Syndicate 2012 is going to be a decent shooter with no originality whatsoever

  4. Well I agree, sort of. I like to play many types of games. Sometimes I like dose of a shooter (and I think most of them coming out nowadays are boring, but there's been good ones too), sometimes something more deep and strategic (which most often means old games since they don't make much of these anymore). In my opinion the main problem is that games that you (Anonymous) mentioned in your post.. well they don't just do them anymore, or at least they are very rare. That's what bothers me the most. Now on the Syndicate 2012 part it sounds the same case than about upcoming X-Com. You probably know the original X-Com games and what they were known of? The new one carries X-Com title yet it's to be a standard shooter -- how about changing game name if it doesn't have anything to do with original setting? Well, in case I hear a good word about new Syndicate and get it cheap, I might try it out. But it sure ain't gonna feed hunger for another strategic game where you control all the finances and so on -- sadly.

  5. Lets take some examples of shooters I've liked: Well I definetely liked Fallout 3 alot, Fallout: New Vegas was decently good also. Deus Ex: Human Revolution in my eyes succeeded in its dark futurustic setting, i did really enjoy that game. Some older shooters? Well System Shock 2, a great game, for example. Above mentioned aren't the most forward shooters though, Fallout 3 & NV has Rpg elements, System Shock 2 has them a bit too but it's more of a Horror/FPS I think. But definetely not the most straight forward one. I like those, but I would had probably dropped dead of excitement if someone had done Fallout 3 as a true sequel for FO 1 and 2 with top-down old style mouse-clicking RPG, with bit crunched up graphics. In fact I wouldn't even had mind if the graphics engine wasn't updated much. Just another -- plain -- awesome -- classic -- Fallout. Not denying Fallout 3 is great game what it stands for and good example of better first person shooter blending with rpg and adventure, but I would had never picked it over if Fallout 3 was made truely with same style than its prequels.

  6. I saw the video you have published here. It sounds nice but quite hard to play it, for me. There are variety of guns and weapons.

  7. thanks