Syndicate (2012) Preview

Remember the past, look forward to the future.

Remember when you took cover from heavy enemy fire and made sure to supply med kits to your wounded comrades. Or when you fought against a team of highly skilled players and barely won with one point because your teammate saved your life by shouting, “Second floor, coffee shop, camping in the left corner!” Or how you and your team stayed up for hours studying maps to mark flanking routes and defensive positions, just to have the upper hand on the battlefield. This is teamwork, communication, and strategizing. This is playing cooperatively.

Cooperative play exists, but few games devote attention to the multiplayer mode, focusing rather on the campaign or PvP. Syndicate in 1993, however, was known for its squad-based gameplay, and playing cooperatively was crucial if you and your team wanted to survive. Syndicate is a classic and the developers of the upcoming title had no intention of remaking it. Instead, they wanted players to dive into the shoes of the agents and a first-person perspective meshed with the brutal elements that made up the original Syndicate inspiring the change from real-time tactics to a first-person shooter. Fans of the original might be worried, since most first-person shooters rely on running around and killing without any strategy involved, which wasn’t what Syndicate was about. Thankfully, it still isn’t.

This 2012 reboot of Syndicate features two modes: single-player campaign and co-operative campaign. Sounds simple enough, but what lies beneath is a complex progression system, 40- to 50-hours worth of upgrading 18 weapons to the max and a challenging 4-player cooperative campaign. There are nine co-op missions, and each mission consists of three rounds, with a tough boss fight waiting in the third round. The missions are separate from the campaign and are inspired by the original; for example, you will be playing Atlantic Accelerator but in first-person view.

You fight through each mission not only to complete objectives and kill everything in sight, but also to earn upgrades. Progressing in Syndicate is elaborate. Tokens act as currency and you earn them by killing bosses, healing teammates, breaching, and completing missions. You spend them on enhancements, like upgrading your chip, where you have options like carrying an extra application slot for breaching or strengthening your armor. Don’t expect for upgrades to be handed to you from the start. For every boss you take down, you rip (quite literally) their chip out of their head and steal a weapon blueprint. You then have the choice to research blueprints, and after completing the requirements for them, you unlock a new weapon.

The chip planted in your head is called a DART 6 bio-chip, which grants you access to the digital world, so you can hack into systems, bots, and even enemies within a certain range. What drives Syndicate apart from other shooters is that not only do you have a weapon to attack enemies with, but you also have the option to breach their armor and plant a virus, which drains their health or even persuade one of them to release a detonated grenade to destroy themselves along with any enemy surrounding them.

The squad-based gameplay has not been left behind from the original. You are encouraged to work as a team, as you are constantly outnumbered, you battle multiple bosses simultaneously, and you are spawn-trapped at times if you and your team fail to move forward. Enemies also take cover, evade, and flank. They become more aggressive as you continue to complete missions.

You too, have some moves of your own where you can jump over obstacles and slide into cover. The gameplay is fast-paced and you are immediately thrown into the middle of a firefight once the mission starts. There also isn’t any “easy” difficulty. You start on normal and that feels like hard difficulty. The challenging gameplay is what separates the lone wolves from the pack. If you move forward or stay behind without your team, you die and cripple your team, making failure a very common occurrence.

Syndicate, while making sure to leave the classic in the past, still brings some of its elements into the modern era, offering a narrative-driven single-player campaign as well as a very in-depth cooperative mode. If fans of the classic are still worried and hope that Syndicate remains the same despite the change in genre, I can’t help but quote executive producer Jeff Gamon from my interview with him: “It’s not an RTS and it’s not going to be. Unless they can embrace the fact that it is still Syndicate, but from a different viewpoint, then they are not going to enjoy this. Many of them absolutely will.”

A cooperative demo will be available late January for XBL and PSN, while the full game releases on February 21st.