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Review: Syndicate

Game: Syndicate
Recommended price: $5
Metacritic Score: 69
Completion Time: ~6 hours
Buy If You Like: Amoral cyberpunk FPS bastardizations

Style over substance ^ 100

Syndicate is a FPS reboot of the 90’s series of the same name. As someone who never played the original series, I became interested after watching the trailer and was drawn towards the dystopian cyberpunk setting as a means of getting through my Deus Ex withdraw. Indeed, at first glance Syndicate has a lot in common with Deus Ex on a thematic level, although Syndicate never really goes any farther than reestablishing the rather brilliant lore of prior games. There are no deeper ramifications to your actions, or introspection on the nature of humanity, or much beyond entertaining gunplay, so… not really like Deus Ex at all.

The premise of the game is that you are Kilo, an Agent of a syndicate named Eurocorp, who just developed a highly-advanced neural implant that grants access to various powers. In this future, industrial sabotage takes on an incredibly literal meaning, with Agents of rival syndicates tasked with infiltrating R&D departments and basically killing/stealing ALL the things. During a mission to do exactly that, a conspiracy is uncovered, reinforcements arrive, boom boom, explosions, lens flare, boss fights, the end.

That sounds facetious, but plot is not at all Syndicate’s strong point.

Not much room for deep thinking when you get an Execute prompt for hobos watching bad VR porn.

What is particular strong however, is the gunplay. Syndicate does a great job of making you feel like you are running and gunning in a Matrix-esque movie, including having access to overpowered abilities without making you feel immortal. As the plot develops, you eventually gain access to three main “Breaches”: Suicide, Backfire, and Persuade. Suicide makes the targeted enemy shoot themselves in the head or pop a grenade if they are near others. Backfire causes enemies to fall down (possibly out of cover) and take additional damage for X seconds. Persuade makes an enemy fight on your side for X seconds, before shooting themselves at the end of the timer. Each of these abilities recharge only when you kill enemies, ensuring that you don’t just hide in cover until your cooldown comes back up.

What does recharge is the sort of bullet-time mode that you can use in a more traditional Max Payne/FEAR sense to dispatch foes. In fact, this bullet-time is incredibly important because you frequently face massive waves of enemies who are more than capable of mowing you down in seconds. As you progress, the enemies get smarter, tougher, and many start becoming immune to your Breaches altogether. Along the way, you will face rival Agents as proper boss fights, including extra-long HP bar and various gimmicks. While such boss fights were really out of place in a game like Deus Ex, for some reason they felt alright in Syndicate.

In any case, if you are like me and care more about whether it’s worth $9.99 or whatever than about how much the reboot ruins the spirit of the original games, I would say it entirely depends on how much enjoy cyberpunk settings. Syndicate looks great, it has a solid five hours of mindless fun, and you can almost pretend that there is an in-depth existential plot you are just Spacebaring through the whole time. Indeed, Syndicate has a lot more in common with Hard Reset than Deus Ex in that regard. Times aren’t what they used to be though, and whereas I would recommend Hard Reset at $10, I have a tough time recommending Syndicate at any anything higher than $5… and even then, only if you really dig cyberpunk games.

Unfortunate Obsolescence

It occurs to me that we – or more specifically, I – have well and truly crossed the barrier beyond which old, amazing games go to die, unplayed and forgotten.

For example, today you can buy Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II on Steam for $1.24. I have heard many, many great things about this game over the years (and it indeed has a 91 Metacritic score), but I never got around to experiencing it. And so when I saw it up for 75% off, I decided to take a look at the game’s page. What I saw was this:

This probably looked amazing to my 14-year old self.

I just couldn’t do it. Whatever it was that this game could have added to my life experience is gone forever.

Of course, this is not just Dark Force II’s problem. Have you tried booting up Planescape: Torment lately? I wrote an awful, awful review of the game back during the height of my JRPG fandom phase a decade ago, and have always wanted to return to give the game its proper dues. But that is unlikely to ever happen. I tried, I seriously tried. Planescape always had a super zoomed-in camera compared to the Baldur’s Gate titles, and combined with the 640×480 max resolution was simply too much. I could not bring myself to get out of the morgue, the technical/compatibility issues notwithstanding.

To bastardize a phrase: the flesh is willing, but the spirit is weak.

Who though, in all honesty, is going to go back and play Fallout 1 & 2 after being introduced to the franchise via 3 or New Vegas? There are hundreds of classic games like this. Certain ones, like Chrono Trigger and the like, can survive rerelease after rerelease without changes. But these others? Not going to happen. I talked about the haunting legacy of Deus Ex in regards to its modern-day prequel, but who is going to play the original if they have not already? I understand there are mods that do amazing things to the visuals, but that presupposes a desire to go through the trouble to begin with.

Indeed, I feel the entire gaming industry is entering a bizarre new landscape with the advent of the App/Indie/F2P Age. I wrote over 60 RPG reviews back in the day, and every single one of them had a Replayability score. Now? Who cares about replayability? Story choice is fantastic, but the typical likelihood of my actually going back through New Game+ or its equivalent is somewhere between zero and no way in hell. I’m not looking for something to kill my time anymore – time is the one precious thing I ain’t got anymore. Any game that wants another roll in the hay is competing against an entire library of unplayed Steam titles, indie or no.

And that, sadly, also goes for older titles regardless of their presumed timelessness. So when I see people complain about, say, Syndicate looking like this instead of this, well… that latter game is dead and gone. I just went through an Eeyore routine with Deus Ex: Human Revolution, sure, but I would rather some remnant exist in a modern form than nothing at all.