Yesterday a couple of us here at Capsule Computers were lucky enough to have a hands on session with Syndicate, a first person shooter from Swedish developers Starbreeze Studios – behind the Darkness and both Chronicles of Riddick games.
Being published by EA, the 2012 release sees a gap of almost twenty years from the release of the original title. At this point fans of the original Syndicate (1993) may be a tad confused. A first person shooter? Hang on a second, what happened to this?
Yes, Syndicate in it’s original form was in fact an isometric view, real time tactical shooter. In the couple of decades since it was first released, Syndicate has morphed genre, neatly landing in the incredibly well populated box of the FPS. What happened? The gaming industry of 2011 happened!
Syndicate circa 2012 (it is future set after all), now looks more like this:
So what’s the story?
A near future set sci fi tale, Syndicate brings to life a world divided and ruled by mega corporations – syndicates. These companies supply the citizens of the world with neural chips that allow access to a huge digital world, and with every aspect of modern life linked to the chips, the syndicates, not the politicians, have all the power.
Players take on the role of agent Miles Kilo, a EuroCorp agent and part of the front line of the Syndicate war. The agents are equipped with the very latest developments in chip technology, and as well as being more than a little handy with normal weapons, can ‘breach’ anything in the dataverse, including other people.
And the gameplay?
The demo allowed for a playthrough of the opening moments of a single player campaign level (four player co-op will feature in the full title), and sees Miles and a fellow agent break into the research lab/hub of a rival syndicate. After a brief introduction (“civ casualties is a non issue” ) the two split up, leaving the player in pursuit of a neural chip currently embedded in the head of scientist Gary Chang.
From the off it’s incredibly clear that the level of violence here is going to be pretty high. Unarmed scientists are fair game, gunshots have blood spraying the ground. The ability to breach ups the ante even more, allowing players to cut into the minds of a security guard to make him madly take out his colleague before turning the gun on himself. This is the ‘suicide’ breach, one of three on offer in the demo but by far the most intriguing – will the Australian censors have a field day?
Miles can also hack into inanimate objects such as security systems, and the ability slots nicely into gun fights. Gun turrets can be breached to turn them on their masters and environments tweaked to add or remove cover. Fighting through a handful of security guards, Miles eventually gets his hands on Chang. Ripping the chip out his head (more blood spray) acts as an upgrade for the players own chip, allowing one point to be spent in usual suspect areas like speed, health regeneration and combat efficiency.
Players quickly get their hands on one of the more futuristic weapons, a gun that once locked on to its target can shoot round corners and over cover to find its mark. Combined with the long range efficiency of the breaches, it adds a different dimension to the gun fights, which can also take on a more short range flavour with a range of executions available in close combat. These are fairly snappy to say the least, and are pretty efficient at taking out enemies with one button push.
The gun also opens up more of a puzzle element to the game, as secured doors that seem unreachable can be opened with a some creative use of the environment – breaching an air conditioning unit to freeze some nearby glass will make it shatter when shot, so players can target the security mechanism on the door and watch as the bullets fly through the new opening.
The HUD display is a bit on the messy side, but in it’s current state the game is still impressive. Everything handles well, and the four player co-op could be a big draw if it takes advantage of Syndicate’s sci-fi trappings. The emphasis on breaching and the general atmosphere feels similar to Deus Ex Human Revolution, but here the action is definitely the main focus – there’s a lot more adrenaline in Syndicate’s system. With plenty of visceral action and some varied gameplay ideas, it could be one to watch when it’s released next year.