Business is War.
Forget everything you know about the 1993 cult PC hit, the original Syndicate. The new Syndicate is looking to carve out a name for itself rather than live in the shadow of past success. Appropriately set to the futuristic sounds of Skrillex, Syndicate takes place in a corrupt corporate-run future, where business is war and the population is the casualty.
Like the original, there are deep-rooted themes of espionage and corruption, but that’s where developer Starbreeze Studios is drawing the line. Syndicate is a fast-paced first-person action shooter. But unlike most FPSs, the game isn’t about running and gunning your way through the game. The AI opponents are far too smart for that, which could be thanks to their brain-embedded microchips. Lucky for protagonist Miles Kilo, he’s got one too—but his give him “Breach” abilities.
Using his Breach abilities, Miles can take control over the minds of enemies, resulting in them turning against their own or committing suicide—talk about a mindfuck. Breaching is paramount to survival; otherwise, the AI can and will overwhelm you. Miles can also breach devices and other security measures. But only these lower-level breaches can be used practically at will. The others, like suicide and persuasion, are only available when his adrenaline meter is full.
Miles’ advanced Dart-6 brain chip gives him another advantage, a Batman: Arkham Asylum-esque detective mode in which the area is analyzed, important points are highlighted, and enemies can be viewed through walls to plan pre-emptive attacks and strategies. There’s no doubt that it’s useful, but it shouldn’t be abused—it can run out and won't be replenished until Miles gets into adrenaline-fueled shootouts.
The fast-paced shooting is only one highlight in Syndicate. It’s also a deep story of corporate corruption... and lies. During my “Executive Search” mission playthrough, Miles' goal is to retrieve info from West Meld Solutions. Unfortunately for a man named Gary Chang, this info is in his brain chip, which Miles must “extract” through any means possible. When Miles finally finds Chang, he isn’t willing to give up the info and instead blows his brains out. Miles gruesomely uses a device to pry it from his brain… through his ear.
The game is a bloody mess, but not in a bad way. It helps to paint a blood-red picture of just how little human life is valued. I’m not bothered by gore, but a few scenes had even me cringing… only to stare as the blood realistically trickles down the wall as it drips from an open wound in the back of an enemy’s head. This same enemy didn’t actually fall victim to my gun, but the gun of the other enemy in an interrogation room, whose brain chip I breached to have him kill everyone else in the room and then himself.
As an action-adventure FPS taking place in a future where corporate greed and augmented humans are commonplace, Syndicate has more than several similarities to Deus Ex: Human Revolution. But where Deus Ex is stealthy, slow, calm, and collected, Syndicate is fast, furious, and tackles enemies head-on—literally, by using embedded microchip-breaching technology. It’s also less of an RPG, though you can upgrade Breach abilities as you progress.
The developers at Starbreeze mentioned that there was some outcry from fans of the original Syndicate being upset that the game had been changed to a FPS from a RTS. From the time we spent with the game, it’s safe to say that this will be easily forgiven and forgotten once they get their hands on it. Syndicate releases on February 21, 2012.