There is an old saying out there that goes something like this:
“If you are going to remake an old game, don’t balls it up.”
When I saw the first trailers for Starbreeze’s Syndicate, I felt a funny feeling in my abdomen that approached my brain at lightning speed. It was excitement and joy. The images of an old classic, remade into a Deus Ex-style shooter with real-time hacking and glorious weapons. There was even a four-man-team co-op mode that made you have to work together.
In short, this promised to be amazing. I played the Co-Op demo and I felt that the excitement would never end. The feeling was about to pop out of the top of my head when I remembered that games always look better in hindsight and nostalgia. Would this really be a trip back to glorious memory town, or was Starbreeze about to take a dump on my early gaming years?
Syndicate is divided into two very separate experiences. On the one hand you have the single player campaign mode and on the other, the co-operative, mission-based gameplay. With the exception of the aesthetics and weapons, the two are very, very different types of game.
In the single player, you are in the role of Agent Kilo, a born and raised killer, working for a nation-sized corporation called Eurocorp. As an agent, you are basically a cross between a hitman, security agent and hacker, fighting against the agents of other Syndicates and Corporations for control of technology and information. Being an ungodly killing machine, you can fall for miles without stubbing your toe, twist a man’s head around without breaking a sweat and break chains with your bare hands. You are involved in a twisting (predictable) plot of deception, betrayal and revenge, leading to questions to who Kilo really is and what is he fighting for.
The problem is that even with predictable plot points, it should be clear who Kilo is. He is a murderous cyber ninja with all the social graces of a mutant starfish. There is very little character development and although the voice acting is good, the shallow and short story seems to waste those talents. The only mute in the game (Kilo) is the one who could have really benefited from a voice, and given the world revolves around corporate politics, some interaction would have been amazing, especially to show how certain twists in the plot had affected him. I felt about as much connection to the main character as I did to the guy I just murdered and violently defiled. You can’t feel emotionally sympathetic to a man who levels up by stabbing a device into somebodies ear and horrifically pulls a computer chip out of their mangled, dead brain.
The hacking aspect of the game is fairly limited too. You are given three major functions; the first is to cause a person to pop a grenade in the middle of his buddies, the second to get said target to turn on his friends then commit suicide if no one is left and the third is to make the target’s weapons backfire, leaving them vulnerable for a brief amount of time.
Once the hilarity of watching some armoured cock-farmer commit murder/suicide has worn off, I found myself not using hacks at all, aside from the contextual ‘breaching’ to control turrets and fight bosses. I could have gone through the whole game with just my pants-wetting, fire-laser and been fine.
Add to this that the campaign mode only lasts a good 6 hours for anyone with a decent history in FPS games, and even then the campaign leaves a lot to be desired. On the up side however, the music (mostly dubstep remixes of the old Syndicate theme) is very heart-pumping, and the original score is likewise perfect for the setting. Aesthetically, the game is everything you could want, however the repetition is unfortunately all too apparent. The game takes place in only three moderately memorable places: a transport hub with some backstage factory lines, a run down slum in the middle of the game and then a high-tech, high-rise tower for a couple of chapters. It was all very bland, and suffers a lot from the J.J. Abrams school of eye-scorching bloom effect.
The co-op mode is by far superior to the campaign in which you play one of four agents. This mode is actually much closer to the original game than the campaign and takes a very singular approach to the missions, each one its own self-contained excursion. There are a lot more hacking options, such as giving the team shielding, healing and damage buffs, each one selected by your loadout. By the time I had my hardened, bastard-smashing defender up to spec, I felt a sense of achievement and actually appreciated my team rather than spamming mic obscenities at them for being chip-hoarding, gutter-sluts.
You also have to increase your guns and equipment by chip-ripping hardened enemies, stealing blueprints and then acquiring points through gameplay. This way of levelling up also nets you talent points to further customise your agent; causing them to suffer less damage or increase their accuracy.
What caused me to feel disappointed is that the missions were just too disjointed. There was no story, except for a minor briefing at the beginning. I had no feeling of camaraderie short of gameplay mechanics and it would have been nice to see the missions flow into one another. It was like playing the VR missions in Metal Gear Solid all over again, because although you may get good points, it is just the same old bullshit after a while with no real feeling that you have advanced your character as a part of any kind of story.
To me, it seemed as if the the two halves of the game are like toast and butter. When taken alone, there are some outstanding flaws (such as the mission-based co-op could have used a full storyline but keeping the mechanics – or the dreadfully short and bland campaign that had excellent aesthetics), but if they had just come together, they could have been so much better. A buttery slice of toast seemed to be well within the grasps of the developers, but for whatever reason, they just couldn’t put the two together.
I felt underwhelmed with the whole event and increasingly disappointed. Much like a housewife who has a mechanically uneventful sex life, I can’t help but look further afield to upcoming games like Mass Effect 3 and Borderlands 2 to satisfy my needs. As I stated in my XBLA Waffle post about remakes, we need to move forward instead of remaking the old greats.
Now it’s time to go clean Starbreeze’s fecal matter off the year 1993 and prepare myself for more wub-wubing.
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