Syndicate is a dark sci-fi first person shooter out now on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. It's based around the fiction of Bullfrog's classic 1993 isometric strategy game of the same name, in which the developed world of 2069 is divided into regions controlled by corrupt mega-corporations known as Syndicates. Having displaced traditional governments, they battle for market control using bio-engineered enforcers known as Agents, who protect their corporate masters' interests by acquiring rivals' technology and hunting their senior executives using futuristic weaponry and technology.
The Syndicates have revolutionised how consumers interact with the digital world through neural chip implants that enable users to access data and control technology. These chips have been adopted by around two thirds of the globe's population, while the have-nots scramble for survival in ruined ghettos beneath glistening skyscrapers. You take on the role of Eurocorp agent Miles Kilo, who's equipped with a new DART 6 prototype chip offering him a range of special powers, and is tasked with recovering a rogue scientist whom your Syndicate doesn't want selling its secrets.
Key to completing your goals is the ability to breach (hack) electronic systems, including opponents' chips. Breaching lets you activate environmental switches, disable enemy shields and solve simple puzzles. You can also use your DART 6 chip to stun foes, make them suicidal, and have them temporarily start fighting for you, as well as to slow down time and activate a thermal vision mode which lets you see through walls.
Sometimes you just need good old-fashioned guns to get the job done though, and Syndicate certainly doesn't skimp in this department, serving up beefy assault rifles, rapid-fire shotguns, rocket launchers, and even a gun which fires around corners. Precise aiming and clever use of cover are needed to overcome the game's smart enemy artificial intelligence, which catches lazy players out by flanking, attacking from higher ground, or showering grenades on their position.
Playing on any setting above easy mode represents quite a challenge, which is more a result of clever design than a criticism, but the same compliment can't be extended to some of the game's boss fights. On these occasions, your opponents can feel vastly overpowered, leaving no margin for error. It probably took us 50 attempts to beat the final boss.
Aside from the single player campaign, the game offers an online co-operative mode that supports up to four players and tells the story of a new Syndicate on the rise. It features nine fresh missions, some set in the same locales as the main game, and all of the regular bells and whistles you'd expect from a modern shooter such as experience-based levelling, weapon and ability unlocks. It's a fun, well executed offering that extends the life of the game, but be warned: the missions don't scale depending on the player count, so unless you're a masochist or just massively skilled, you'll need to find three friends to play with if you're going to succeed.
The game's visuals dazzle regularly with slick sci-fi design, as giant TV screens bombard you with adverts and futuristic digital info overlays provide you with status updates. Radiant neon nightclubs, shiny company headquarters in the clouds, and sun-drenched, sprawling military vessels are all presented with a level of eye-watering sparkle, while there's a thumping, atmospheric dubstep soundtrack, and voice-acting from Hollywood talent Rosario Dawson and Brian Cox adds weight to the audio.
Syndicate's newly re-imagined sci-fi dystopia offers solid, challenging gunplay, impeccable production values and some clever, engaging narrative in a very cool world. While it's a shame that many of the interesting story elements are hidden away as supplementary text you can access, and that a lack of in-game dialogue can prove detaching at times, it's a universe we'd love to see another game explore further, and the cliffhanger ending suggests we just might get the chance to.
- Satisfying gunplay and imaginative weaponry.
- Gorgeous sci-fi world.
- Online co-op is great fun.
- Boss design could be stronger.
- Difficulty level might be off-putting for some.
- Good ideas need a little more expanding.