Earlier last week, EA released a demo to their latest shooter Syndicate. A game that is a modern, FPS take on a cherished retro isometric tactical shooter title, Syndicate has already received many criticisms about its Deus Ex like setting, its shift into the FPS realm and more, but these were all made before anyone really had a chance to play the game. Developers Starbreeze Studios are also no strangers to the shooter scene, with stand out titles such as the two Chronicles of Riddick games and The Darkness. With a developer like that behind the wheel, it’s surprising that fans still refused to have faith in the reboot, despite the fact that the original was released decades ago. However, most of us here at the eGamer office played the co-op demo online, and suffice to say, we were pretty impressed.
But let’s just slow down a bit and let everyone catch up. Syndicate is based in the future, around 2069, where corporations all vie for power, and hostile asset takeovers are the norm. In this demo, you and 3 other players take control of four agents who have been sent into a compound in order to assassinate several Generals and, in turn, damage the reputation and share price of a rival corporation. The game’s tagline “Business is War” is evidently fitting, and as soon as you step out of the vehicle you arrive in, you’ll fully realise this new take on the future. The map in question was Western Europe, and is one of the many multiplayer maps that will be available when the game releases. The whole encounter plays out in a kind of “Left4Dead” style, with you and your team mates fighting through numerous hostile sectors and eventually reaching “safe zones” which act as reloading bays and checkpoints. The map in question was designed pretty well, with numerous flanking options and choke points for the A.I to slaughter you in. And boy, given the chance, they’ll do exactly that.
The enemy A.I. in Syndicate seems to be quite brutal. They work well together, usually attacking you in pairs or small groups, making them extremely effective. Syndicate is also quite difficult, and I found attempting to tackle the map with less than the recommended four players led to challenging and almost impossible endeavours. So, in order to take out this opposable force, you’ll need a lot of awesome, futuristic weaponry, right? Well, thankfully, you’ll have enough weapons to satisfy your gunpowder craving hearts, and even in the demo there were more than a few weapons on show. Ranging from powerful shotguns, light sub-machine guns and sniper rifles, each and every weapon feels like it packs a powerful punch behind, although it wouldn’t be apparent to you when you actually shoot enemies. Enemy soldiers don’t really seem to react to your fire, and would rather take an entire magazine to the face instead of running away. Enemies take quite a few bullets to kill, which makes these ammunition sponges all the more pesky to dispatch.
Thankfully, guns and grenades aren’t the only things that make up your arsenal in Syndicate. As you may have heard, agents in Syndicate all come equipped with militarised versions of the game’s neural chip implants. Basically, the world has become so technologically centered, that everyone has neural implants that feed them information about their surroundings, homes, business, news, banking and much more. But how does this translate onto the battlefield. Well, the chip basically makes up your HUD, displaying weapon ammunition, hit indicators, highlighting important equipment and marking threats. Sounding a lot like Deus Ex? That’s okay, because when it comes to the actual gameplay, Syndicate’s use of its “tomorrow” technology is quite different.
First off, every player is able to heal a team mate, regardless of what loadout is picked. What is really handy is the fact that you can heal other players from ridiculously long distances by holding down a single button, even while you’re shooting the head off of another sniper. This really does come in handy in really tight situations, and the way the points system evenly awards points for both healing and shooting keeps players working together effectively. While your health does regenerate over time, teams that constantly watch each others health metres will probably die a lot less, a lesson I had to constant drill into Dean’s head until he finally healed me once in a while. But let’s face it, you’re going to die eventually, and when you do you’ll be forced to walk around, hunched over like you’re from Notre Dame, until another team mate “reboots” you. Basically, until someone gets close enough to revive you, you’re stuck like this, and the “Bash X to move quicker” prompt that pops up really doesn’t make a noticeable difference. In this state, enemies are still free to shoot and completely take you out of the equation until either your entire team dies or they reach the next safe point.
But that’s really the boring part of what this neural implant does. The fun parts come into play when you realise how you can “hack” into enemies’ implants and manipulate them on the fly. This act is called Breaching, and it is the crux of Syndicate’s gameplay. Using various different types of Breach, you are able to open gates that allow you to flank, disable turrets, dud grenades that are tossed at you, disable enemy armor and close enemy attack points. A more direct approach allows you to even cause bullets to explode in enemy’s guns, knocking them back and even instantly killing them. There are also passive abilities that you are able to activate, including shielding or additional damage to your entire team, as well as a universal heal function. Combine all of that with an overlay that allows you to see through walls and more, and you’ve got some explosive gameplay on your hands.
Outside of the battlefield, you are able to upgrade and enhance these abilities through leveling up. While Syndicate may not offer competitive online multiplayer, the developers really did a fine job of making sure that your progress and numerous co-op playthroughs would still reward you. After leveling up, you’re awarded with one chip point, which you can place on a skill tree that enhances your health, regeneration, Breach time and even unlocks additional Breaching capabilities and tiers. When you unlock one of these nodes, you are able to research and develop your current Breach abilities in order to make them stronger or faster, or research completely new ones to add to your arsenal. You are assigned a specific ability depending on what type of loadout you pick, but level up enough and you’ll be able to equip an additional two capabilities to utilise on the battlefield. While I wasn’t able to play enough to reach some of the really interesting ones, the smaller, lighter Tier One applications were still extremely useful and fun to use. The only small problem I have is with weapon customisation and upgrading.
Unlike the Breach chip upgrades, weapon attachments and upgrades are earned through research and development rather than simple leveling up. While other weapons are unlocked through levelling up, the attachments that you are able to equip on them come much more easily. Basically, you’re given a list of weapon specific upgrades that you are able to research, allowing you to tag one for current development and another for pending development, in case you hit mid-match and have already reached your first upgrade. While in research, any points you earn in matches fill up a bar that, when complete, unlocks that certain attachment. However, the bars in question are extremely short, and I found I could easily fully upgrade a certain weapon in less than ten matches. Even less if I played with Adam and Dean, since I was able to rack up a huge score after constantly reviving them. It takes away from the game’s progression, but I’m hoping that when the full game releases that there will be more weapons for me to focus on and really fight for.
Other than that, there is not much else I can really say at this moment about Syndicate. Matchmaking worked smoothly, although I was a bit disappointed that I wasn’t able to create a party and then take it online to fill the empty seats. While the maps were well designed, they were also very bland, offering no real visual change through each section, though I’m hoping the other eight co-op maps will each feature varying locales. One thing I can say though is that I’m extremely excited for this game’s launch. No competitive multiplayer could mean that the single-player portion of the game has been given a really good treatment, and after the mass amount of fun I had in co-op, I doubt it will be getting old anytime soon.