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Syndicate is remembered as an isometric strategy- ah who am I kidding? We all know that the upcoming Syndicate from Starbreeze Studios is the latest franchise to be brought kicking and screaming into the shooter genre this generation. It’s joining the ranks of the still-to-be-released XCom (X-Com? X-COM? Who knows?), Shadowrun, and other properties that fans of said properties are angry to see turned into “just another shooter.” As a fan of the original Syndicate and shooters, I was… conflicted… going into the recently released co-operative demo on Xbox Live. Succinctly put, once you get past the fact that it’s missing the same feeling, this can definitely still be described as a “tactical” shooter, and fans of the original who can stomach this change in perspective will find an engaging and deep game.
The first thing you’ll notice upon launching into the one included co-op mission in this demo is that there is a bunch of stuff going on all over your screen. Your ammo counter is displayed right on your gun, there’s some not-too-informative icons in the lower left, enemies get outlined and placed right on your HUD, and miscellaneous other bells and whistles. It’s a little too much at first, this is a demo that would have definitely benefitted from a tutorial, video or otherwise, that helps point out all of your abilities and what they’re used for.
You and three friends play as one of four different-skinned but otherwise equal technologically advanced agents working for the eponymous company, Syndicate, to achieve certain objectives dictated by the shadowy world of near-future corporate politics. The defining aspect of this game is the DART chip that each operative, and indeed every character, has implanted in this fictional world. The DART chip allows you to manipulate certain digital equipment in the physical world, including the DART chips implanted in enemy soldiers, gate controls, turrets, et cetera. This is where the HUD gets to be a little too much to handle at first. It’s easy to not notice certain objects that you can interact with because your screen space is taken up by enemy outlines, ammo counters, partner cries for help, and so on.
Regardless, the DART chip and its implications in Sydicate’s cyber-punk world is what make this game worth playing. It grants abilities that allow you to heal your team mates, disable enemy grenades in mid-air, and stun your enemies by causing their DART chip to backfire. It can also grant you passive enhancements such as allowing you to sprint indefinitely, giving you a health boost upon a melee kill, and many other options. All of these DART chip abilities are gained through experience gathering or boss-killing, but the customization doesn’t end even there. The game gives you 5-6 guns that you can start with, and using these guns allows you to level them up and unlock attributes or weapon add-ons. There are so many upgrades, you’ll find yourself going down a certain path long before you dedicate yourself to unlocking everything, so playing with three friends means that each of you can take a different path and mold yourselves into a formidable team before too long. In fact, the only problem I have with the DART chip abilities is you don’t seem to get the chance to use them enough. The early abilities do little damage or have a very short time of effect, and they only recharge by killing enemies, and it’s a slow pace at that. Starbreeze should either leave them at their level of effectiveness and let us use them more often, or beef them up and keep the regeneration rate the same. In their current iteration, it’s hard to find a place for most of the abilities; they’re not very good as a last resort option and they don’t come around often enough to stay fresh in your mind. Given the enemies you’ll face, you might be begging for them to make a change to this system.
Simply put, Syndicate can be challenging. A lot of this is due to the overwhelming numbers your team faces throughout the level, but what’s more exciting are the attack patterns of the enemy troops you’ll face. They’ll dive into cover if you’re firing at them, they’ll use numbers to pin you down behind your own cover before rushing you, toss grenades to flush you out, and they’ll bring out the big guns (rocket launchers, sniper rifles) where appropriate. Now this isn’t to say that there are no gaps in the intelligence. One operative with a sniper rifle will be able to sit back and handle most of the included co-op mission without any severe difficulties, but in some of the other missions that look to be included with the game, not all missions will take place in big open environments that will allow you to do this, so provided that Starbreeze gives us some missions that puts us in some tighter situations, this will be a game that will demand you play with at least a friend or two.
So at the end of the day, fear not Syndicate fans. If the demo is any indication, Starbreeze has a shooter on its hands that can easily be described as tactical. For this Syndicate fan, they’ve brought enough about what I loved about the original and transformed it into a different genre, successfully. Judging from the demo level, it’s not perfect, but it’s fun.