Anyone who was a fan of sci-fi games (or indeed a fan of great games in general) back in ’93 will be only too familiar with the legacy that the name “Syndicate” carries with it.
Don’t worry, Starbreeze Studios are very clearly fans too. Big fans.
We recently had the opportunity to play early versions of both single and co-op parts of the game and talk to some of those behind its creation.
For me personally, and I think I speak for the rest of the team who’ve seen it, this is one of the most exciting games to emerge for 2012 in the FPS genre.
I’ll come to address some of the issues raised by “old skool” gamers (such as myself) concerning the Syndicate universe’s translation into an FPS in a moment, but first, particularly for those who may not have been gaming in ’93, I want to just tell you all about this generation’s Syndicate.
The first thing that strikes you as you enter this new, futuristic, world is the awesome hud. Every object, item, person and system is tagged visually with a data layer, so you real feel “augmented” and “informed”, it is a strangely empowering sensation and a very impressive visual feat. Little “windows” appear for most things from trash cans to dropped enemy weapons, surveillance systems and, of course, the enemy. Very cool. This impression is quickly followed by the feeling of quality in the underlying graphics across the board. Part Blade Runner, part Mirror’s Edge, it is a fantastic fusion of old and new visions of the future. Not only are the architecture and environments rock solid, but animation is also excellent and weapon effects superb. Perhaps the final piece of the “feel” puzzle is the strong “Syndicate” feel pervaded by the omni-presence throughout the game world of the 3 major organisations; Europcorp, Cayman, and Aspari which dominate the global society in which the game is set. Topping this sense off is a very strong sound-scape which contributes to what is already a very polished experience for a game still some 3 months away from going gold.
Now, you may have developed (I hope) a sense of the style of Syndicate, but let me leap in there and quickly throw a few more tricks the game has at you to round out that overall impression. The shooting itself looks, feels and sounds great, weapons feel heavy, powerful and accurate. We are promised a deep level of weapon customisation, which is always hugely welcome, and will only serve to add depth to the existing experience. With one particular weapon we used we were able to “lock on” to an enemy and then each bullet would track the target, shooting around corners / over obstacles has never felt this slick or fun! But the dynamic combat experience does not end there, and perhaps Syndicate’s greatest contribution to the genre will end up being “breaching”.
Breaching is the act of using the military grade “DART” chip in your head to overcome and control other chips, be they in a turret, door lock or indeed in an opponent’s head. This is a brilliant nod to the original game and yet also feels so fresh and new. The most impressive aspect of this “breaching” is that it occurs in real-time. Yes, real-time. Think about this for a moment. No longer must you sneak past tricky opposition to gain access to it’s control panel to hack it, oh no. Now you can “breach” it on the fly, mid combat, and you can do this to various ends. Not only is this a game changer when you breach an enemy defense system mid-fight, turning it against them, but you can also breach the enemy themselves directly causing them to deactivate their own shields, become stunned, turn against their own side or even immediately commit suicide. Of course there are cool-downs and costs associated with this, but it makes for an exceptionally intense experience. When you are shooting and breaching, sometimes at the same time, even manipulating your environment to affect cover or subvert AI defense systems you really do feel like a powerful force in control of the battlefield.
So, we have shooting with a large array of deeply customisable weapons and dynamic breaching to multiple ends, but these are by no means the only tricks in the Syndicate arsenal.
Next I want to talk about character development. This is something very close to my heart and I place it high on my list of value adds to any FPS type game. Well, not only does Syndicate bring full weapon customisation, it also brings a flexible skill like system based on upgrading your DART chip with various technologies you find in other chips you come across, most often, it seems, from the heads of significant rival figures you dispatch. Via this “research” like mechanism, another nod to it’s ’93 progenitor, you can choose to move your characters play style in a number of different directions. Some options will improve your ability to shoot, others your breaching options and still more how rugged or perceptive you are. This does seem like it will really allow you to tailor your character to suit your style and make the most of the many options you have before you in dealing with the opposition.
Before I close this preview out I want to spend a little time on the co-op element of the game. And this is where things get really exciting for a big co-op fan such as myself. Make no mistake, in Syndicate’s case co-op is no mere bolt on, it’s a whole extended game mode. Within the “co-op” experience you have a separate character which levels up and is customisable within this mode. Furthermore this co-op is fully 4-player, a further nod to the earlier Syndicate. The separation of single player and 4-player modes has allowed the team to develop 9 missions, at this stage, which really work when you have 4 skilled players in them. And boy do they work! This is some of the finest co-op I’ve yet seen with players having to work together; Sniping, breaching, healing, going in close quarters, flanking, achieving objectives, supporting and covering each other against large numbers of powerful opponents. This certainly looks like a part of the game where I will be spending a significant amount of time.
Finally, some of you fellow aged gamers out there may of course be thinking “FPS?” and I can understand that, the original Syndicate was the very opposite of FPS. Thus I would like to clarify a few points right now, before proceeding; Syndicate 2012, as I shall call it for now (although it’s set in 2069!), is an FPS through and through, but very clearly and faithfully exists in the Syndicate universe us fans hold dear in our hearts. How faithfully, OK, well some of the maps in the game are almost exact replicas of those from the ’93 game. Yes, the Starbreeze team have taken the old 2D maps and rendered them into gloriously stylish, living, breathing, multi-level, 3D buildings and areas. Not only that but they have done so in a way that still feels so very Syndicate that I can imagine myself running from the 2D world of old Syndicate and straight into the inside of a building rendered in 3D in the new one. Glorious. The chip breaching is also an obvious tribute to the original as is the research / upgrade mechanic. I guess the real question for fellow fans is “Is it a Syndicate game?” to which I can faithfully attest. “Yes”.
We very much look forward to bringing you more information on this game as we get it!
- Richard “Rax” Burley