Syndicate: Derivative and Dull

Syndicate: Derivative and Dull

Let’s get this out of the way first: Syndicate is an entertaining, if unoriginal shooter, which never quite lives up to its’ full potential. This is the quintessential “B” game; it isn’t completely horrible, but neither does it do anything to break the rote First Person Shooter mold.
Talking about games of this caliber is difficult, so instead let’s use it as a jumping off point to discuss a few things developers need to remember when putting a project together.
The first thing you’re going to want is a story that isn’t completely derivative. Syndicate takes place in the not too distant future where corporations now have more power than the government. The player takes control of silent protagonist, Miles Kilo, who has been raised since birth to be nothing more than an arm of the corporation, Eurocorp. Through a series of events, Kilo begins to discover things about his own mysterious past and of the corporation that raised him.
Now, if any of this sounds familiar, you’re not alone! Syndicate resembles Deus Ex: Human Revolution in setting, but lacks the latter’s tone or depth. Brian Cox of Bourne Supremacy fame lends his voice and likeness to the game, and if you’ve seen any of his movies you’ll have a pretty good idea where the plot goes.
Something else Syndicate tries, but falls short of, is boss battles. The developers can’t be blamed too much for failing in this aspect; no one really gets them right anymore. Boss battles are not an extended shooting sessions with a character than has ten times the health of any normal enemy; they are, in fact, a final test.
This is how they’re supposed to work: The player is given a new power, and over the course of a level or area they are forced to use that power to advance. When the player reaches the end of the level, they must utilize the skills they learned previously in order to best the level’s “boss.” The Legend of Zelda games, and more recently one’s in the Portal series, have done this very well.
Syndicate throws three main “hacks” at you early on: Backfire, which causes the enemy’s gun to explode in their hands; Suicide, a rather self explanatory power; and Persuade, which makes the enemy fight on your side. The problem is that you aren’t taught how to use them correctly, and they end up feeling like long distance “use” buttons. Furthermore, the cool-down for everything but Backfire is so long, you’ll barely ever use the other powers.
Finally, developers need to understand how to properly utilize characterization, setting, and tone. Certain motivations are projected on Kilo, but considering you never see the man’s face until the last five minutes of the game, they seem a bit shallow and tacked on.
Corporations in Syndicate are characterized as sociopathic and unsympathetic towards basic human decency, but the world and the attitude of it’s people don’t reflect this well. At one point Kilo and his partner walk through a stopped train, casually murdering witnesses, and discussing their next course of action.
They act as though this is a relatively regular occurrence, like they might as well be having coffee during the afternoon slaughter, yet the world doesn’t reflect this.
The world is filled with enormous skyscrapers, fashion and advertising dot the landscape; yet it doesn’t seem like this world goes five minutes without something exploding. Even though “science fiction” is by its’ very definition fantastical, it commits of the cardinal sin of not feeling genuine despite its’ absurdity.
Is Syndicate worth buying? Not really, give it a rent. Is it worth playing? Sure, it’s a solid shooter if nothing else, and it serves as a competent case study for what not to do when making a video game.

Joseph Frymire
JBN Director