2069 and the world has been revolutionised by the arrival of the DART chip, a device embedded in the brains of users that gives them access to a wealth of data, 24 hours a day. The DART chip made previous country boundaries obselte, with the world now controlled by a number of massive companies, known as Syndicates. But as data becomes the new currency and corporations vie for power, bio-engineered agents become the last defence in a new kind of war.
is ostensibly a reboot of the classic franchise created by Bullfrog
in 1993 and the setting will be somewhat familiar to fans of the original – at least the use of a chip which could potentially control people. But the game itself is markedly different, not only in that is favours the first person perspective rather than an isometric viewpoint but also in every aspect of its gameplay.
Players will take on the role of an Agent called Kilo, newly created to serve the corporate might of EuroCorp. What starts out as a routine mission soon becomes something much more complicated as a trail of lies and betrayal lead Kilo to question the nature of the company he works for.
places you in a beautifully realised near future world where lens flares and utilitarian surfaces rule the environments. It could easily have just been another generic shooter but it’s the use of the DART 6 chip that sets this title apart. It projects a series of finely designed overlays into the world, labelling items in the environment and give you a head up on mission objectives and enemy positions.
With the DART 6 chip comes the ability to ‘breach’ your enemies – essentially hacking into their brain to cause a variety of effects. The main powers are Backfire (which causes their weapon to malfunction, staggering them and making the vulnerable), Persuade (which makes them attack their allies for a time) and the rather deliberately nasty Suicide (which makes them pull out a grenade and self death).
Breaching costs energy, which is earned by killing enemies and the more advanced abilities (like Persuade) take more energy than simple ones. In addition, you can access the DART overlay – a mode which slows down time and drains detail from the world, while highlighting enemy positions. You’ll also find a large roster of weapons that help to make the most of these skills, including the ability to fire single bullets (which penetrate some cover) and use different gun sights.
encourages the use of all of your abilities at once, Backfire for example is best used in conjunction with shooting as attacks cause more damage while your enemy is staggered and some foes require unique breaching actions – such as hacking their armour before you can take them out. There are even objects in the world which can be interacted with on the fly to create environmental hazards to complicate the battle.
In practise, these elements all serve to make the combat in Syndicate
a unique and singularly engaging affair, forcing you to think about more than just lining up the next headshot and complicating the normal interactions with the game world in a way that values tactics over ballistics. Add in some pretty sumptuous, Bladerunner-esque visuals and a particularly bloodthirsty tone (including the forced removal of chips through the frontal lobe) and you’ve got a package which confidently forges its own divergent path from the original games.
But while these shooting mechanics are unique and the aesthetics appealing, there’s something a touch underwhelming about Syndicate
. Perhaps it’s the fundamentally repetitive nature of the combat or the dull environmental puzzles. The levels are certainly attractive but they’re overwhelmingly linear and the upgrade tree is… well more of a line. Every possible upgrade is visible from the start and the game decides when you are allowed to buy more.
Then there are the boss fights, which tend to throw the considered shooting of the rest of the game out the window in favour of shooting an enemy in the face as much as possible or assaulting the player with tricky breach puzzles where insta-death is the price for failure.
Thankfully, the co-op experience is just wall to wall, chip enabled, mayhem, throwing four players into a self contained narrative that sees a team of Agents helping their Syndicate
to become top of the food chain. By shooting everything. The breaching mechanics are put to good use here, giving players the opportunity to heal team mates and you can unlock new skills which are actually useful. Enemies in co-op are seriously tough, with team work required to survive, let alone succeed and levels have some token non-linearity, giving you the opportunity to catch foes in a vicious cross fire. Playing with dunces will quickly lead to frustration though.
is attractive, agreeably violent and features gameplay with a little more depth than the bullet + face = win norm. But the single player is surprisingly short and soon becomes alternatively repetitive and frustrating though that’s mostly redeemed by a suitably frantic multiplayer mode.