The only time when hacking is okay.
The end of the world has been talked about quite often lately. All of us have thought about what we would do if 90% of the population became flesh-eating monsters or if Mother Nature decided she didn’t like Earth anymore. So what if our ultimate downfall were mega-corporations having complete control over humanity through deception and bribery, and we all became drones?
Syndicate shows just what corporate espionage is about through a story-driven campaign. Set in 2069, you take on the role of Miles Kilo, an agent for one of the biggest corporations. You fight against other agents to disrupt their plans for market dominance until you become possessed by your own personal vendetta. The storyline doesn’t break any new ground, but is different than most shooters. The campaign is short, however, taking about six hours to complete on normal difficulty.
What sets this shooter apart from others is the bio-chip, Dart 6, that is implanted in your brain and allows you to breach systems, slow down time, and see through barriers. You are given three abilities to use throughout single-player, one of which is called Persuade: You inject a virus into an enemy that brainwashes him to fight for you until hostiles are eliminated and then turns his gun upon himself.
There are many brutal scenes throughout the game, especially when you use the melee option. If an enemy falls to his knees, you can execute him and watch as you bash his head in with your foot. Specific guns have special executions as well, like shooting the mid-section of an enemy with a mini-gun and seeing his body twist in half. It’s a cruel, cruel world in 2069.
Progressing through each mission, you must usually hack into an enemy’s armor once or multiple times until you can cause damage with bullet fire or with an application. This process, though, quickly becomes repetitive: Hack armor, shoot, hack armor, shoot, hack armor, and repeat until the threat falls to the ground.
Boss fights are thankfully not as redundant. Each one has a unique ability that makes you guess what he or she will do next. Some teleport while enemy AI come out to attack you. Another boss fight involves going against agents that heal each other, so you must think how you can use your bio-chip abilities to your advantage.
The gameplay’s difficulty encourages you to take your time because this isn’t the typical run-'n'-gun shooter. If you are the type to rush through it, you won’t get far without dying multiple times. My one gripe with this, though, is the cover system. There is the option to slide into “cover” after sprinting to evade enemy fire, but in a typical firefight where you move from one cover to another, it doesn’t help you progress any further. This might be intentional to motivate the player to keep moving, but when shields are down, there are limited options for recovery time. Most often than not, you'll take damage despite being behind a barrel, a wall, or a crate.
The campaign, while short and tedious at times, is a buffer to prepare you for cooperative mode, which is strictly catered to squad-based gameplay and it will separate the Rambo-fanatics from the team players. There are nine missions in all, but don’t be fooled by the short number. You need a solid team to complete each mission, as the difficulty plays like it’s set on hard when playing on normal.
Enemy AI often crowd you and your team from different angles, especially from above. Drones hover and sport shields, which require hacking to eliminate them. The environment can also be used as your disposal, like lifting barriers for cover or breaching enemy turrets to direct their fire at hostiles. Hacking is easily done as long as you’re within a certain range of the enemy or even your teammates. If your teammate is down, you can run up to them to reboot their shields, and then run back to cover while holding down the command button to continue the rebooting.
Unlike in the campaign where you receive only three applications to use, your weapon assortment is limited, and the skill tree for your agent lacks depth, the progression system in cooperative is extensive. There are 25 different features for your bio-chip, 12 applications to earn and 18 weapons total. Your chip, applications, and weapons can all be upgraded, but it does cost you.
Tokens are earned by “chip-ripping” bosses and by completion. After you select what upgrade you want, you must research the blueprint in order to unlock its ability. You can do so by using that application and weapon throughout missions and completing the requirements for it. So not only do you have to find the upgrades, but you must earn them too, which is a nice incentive to continue playing. More tokens are also given if you dare to play every mission on a harder difficulty. It’s also a must if you desire to upgrade your agent to the max.
If you’re concerned that Syndicate lacks a PvP mode, cooperative does satisfy that competitive feel that you would normally only get from playing an online versus mode. While playing through missions, your stats are tracked and are compared to your teammates. There are also challenges and contracts to fuel the competition and leaderboards to showcase all of that hard-earned work.
Syndicate, although originating from the classic nearly two decades ago, deserves to be seen as a game of its own. The option to breach enemy armor and the environment adds a different dynamic to gun-on-gun gameplay. You are given options as to how you want to eliminate an enemy other than with firing your weapon, making gameplay less dull. Cooperative actually strives to encourage teamwork, which is seemingly left on the backburner in most games. While Syndicate’s campaign lacks emphasis, playing the cooperative mode more than satisfies anyone’s needs for challenging squad-based gameplay.