Earth Made Of (Bulletproof) Glass

Does Starbreeze's reboot of Syndicate sell out the original series?
Author: Aram Lecis
Published: March 18, 2012
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The enemy soldier surveyed the room one last time, but all his comrades were dead. Unable to overcome the powerful persuasion I had put him under, he took care of the only remaining target he hadů himself. My smile was short-lived though. A figure crashed through the ceiling; Another Agentů Tetsuo. The first pulsating beats of the Skrillex remix of the original Syndicate theme song raise to a crescendo. I flip on my DART overlay and the world is bathed in teal and orange as time slows to a crawl. Taking cover, I fire off a few rounds to keep Tetsuo at bay while I used my enhanced neural pathways to hack into his reactive armor. For those of you that listened to your parents and stayed away from drugs, this is what it is like to suck in a ballon full of nitrous oxide a few minutes after an enormous bong hit when you've popped some ecstasy an hour earlier.

That moment is the high point of the single player campaign in the new Syndicate game from Starbreeze Studios. Unfortunately that moment happens about a third of the way through the game when there are still about 4 hours to play. Those of you hoping for a recreation of the Bullfrog classic should know up front that the single player only shares the idea of Agents and corporate warfare with the original series. By no means does that make this a bad game, and to be fair the multiplayer that we will cover later borrows a few more tenets from the seminal 1993 release. Starbreeze has long excelled at immersive first-person action and well crafted environments (Chronicles of Riddick, The Darkness) and they fuse that with cyberpunk to create a fantastic dystopian society.

The year is 2069 and corporations have taken over, well, everything. You are Miles Kilo, Agent for EuroCorp, one of the most powerful corporations and the original manufacturer of "the chip", a sub-cranial implant that connects you to, well, everything. Those pathetic few who aren't chipped stay on the streets in the "Downzone", while the elite like in a Fifth Element-type world where cars fly high in the sky and upgrades can change your whole life. All the profits flying around aren't enough for the megalomaniac CEOs, and high-level warfare is common between rivals, with scientists and technology the ultimate prizes.

At its heart, Syndicate is a fairly straightforward FPS with a technologified version of Bullet Time and your standard cover and melee systems. Of course, being an Agent does have a few advantages, so you also have access to a trio of "beaching" powers that you can think of as a sort of hacking. By holding down the left trigger when targeting an enemy, you can choose to cause their weapons to backfire (injuring them and knocking them to the ground so they are more vulnerable), force them to commit suicide by unpinning a grenade (great in crowds), or persuade them to join your side and attack their former allies (after which they kill themselves! Bonus!). The same action also serves to lower shields or interact with the occasional environmental object. It's a simple system that tosses another layer of cyberpunk on the proceedings, yet I'd like to have seen it be fleshed out more.

Boss fights are set-pieces against other agents who tend to be able to absorb exponentially more punishment than your standard goon and who often have a few neural powers of their own. These fights can be a huge spike in difficulty, and if there was any frustration to be felt in the game, it was here. Beating a boss usually lets you pull the chip out of their brain, giving you access to a new upgrade. Most upgrades focus on boosting health or damage, and the lack of unique powers makes the "RPG" aspect very, VERY light. Loading up on health and armor upgrades will let you soak up so much damage that you'll be almost invulnerable, so its best to focus your efforts there.
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