Underneath a steely grey sky, cars and blank faced pedestrians shuffled along the dimly lit streets. A dystopian nightmare of complicated traffic procedures lay ahead of me. I had arrived in Guildford.
As a big fan of the original game Syndicate, and the often overlooked Syndicate Wars, I was excited to see what EA had up their sleeves for a brand new Syndicate reboot. The original games had a very unique style, and also two quite brilliant intro movies. For anyone who didn’t play the 1993 original, Syndicate was an isometric game where you controlled a squad of four cybernetically altered agents, who are charged with completing a number of missions, such as stealing information, kidnapping scientists and assassinating rival Syndicate’s VIPs. Doing this allowed your corporation to exert influence over an area, and eventually take over the world.
The new Syndicate takes the basics of this, and spins it into a very modern game. Gone is the old fashioned isometric viewpoint, replaced instead with a first person perspective. The characters look has been changed too, from the very 90s sunglasses and trench coats look of the original to a futuristic cross between a character from Mass Effect and Killzone. The demo we were given to play was the four-player online cooperative mode, on a mission to find and kill a rival Syndicate’s Colonel. There were three classes of agent to choose from, Offense, Defense and Support, so for the first game I picked Defense. (I say picked, I just hit Start and that was what I got) This gave my character a pretty hefty machine gun, and we waded into battle.
One of the first things we all noticed was that this is not your typical FPS, in that you are not just a team in name only. Even on normal difficulty you do need to stick together, work as a team and make sure you don’t get flanked. And the enemies will flank you, a lot. We were frequently stunned, at first, to find that an enemy had sneaked around and somehow got himself right into the middle of our foursome. This improved once our gracious host, Dan, fiddled with the settings on the PS3s we were using and got the voice working on the rather snazzy SteelSeries gaming headsets we had been provided with. It’s definitely a game you’ll want to be playing with headsets on, and preferably with people you know, particularly if you play on Hard (see later).
Syndicate features a hacking button, being L2 on the PS3 and LB on the 360. Hacking abilities are selected by using the D-pad, but the one you’ll use the most is Heal. You can repair your squadmates’ cybernetic systems wirelessly from a considerable distance, which adds an interesting element to the game, as you can heal while keeping yourself out of trouble. You can also hack incoming grenades, allowing you to defuse them before they’ve even landed, if you’re quick enough. Later in the game, certain enemies have special armour, which is impervious to damage until you can get close enough to hack their system and shut it down. This, again, lends itself very well to team play, with several of you diverting a particularly tough bad guys attention away while another sneaks up and hacks him.
Remember the Colonel I mentioned earlier, who we were being sent to kill? He’s one of those bad guys who has the special armour, and also a terrifying mini gun which rips you to shreds in seconds. Keeping out of his way is crucial to staying alive, but with a little bit of work we soon nailed him.
As there was only one level on display, we swapped consoles to the Xbox 360 for a second playthrough, this time on Hard. Hard seriously lived up to its name. About four feet into the level two of our team were down and requiring a system reboot (the Syndicate equivalent of a revive). This quickly led to a change of tactics. With enemies swarming all over us we had to stick even closer together and keep a spare finger on that oh-so-useful Heal button. It is tough. In fact, I’d highly recommend Syndicate on Hard mode as a corporate team building exercise. I started playing the game with three strangers, but by the end of the level we were a team. Tactics were created on the fly, pairings spontaneously formed, and at the end of the level, I don’t think so many swear words have been thrown at a Colonel since the head of PETA met Colonel Sanders*. (*Note – this may not have actually happened).
I left with a very favourable impression of Syndicate. It wasn’t really what I had expected, but as a big fan of shooters where you work as a team like in Battlefield, it was right up my alley. It looks and sounds good, and I got the impression that the load of new weapons and upgrades that we didn’t have access to at this point could be really fun.
The Syndicate demo is available now on Xbox 360 & on February 1st on PSN.