Wednesday, 2 July 2014


Post-Launch Review
Syndicate (PC)
Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Released: February 2012
Played: story complete in 6 hours


As an enhanced Agent equipped with new prototype tech, working for one of the world's most powerful mega-corporations, Miles Kilo is assigned to take down a rival syndicate's biochip scientist to ensure EuroCorp's dominance of the market. But the assignment reveals an unexpected betrayal from within EuroCorp which could send the syndicates to war...

At Launch

Syndicate received positive reviews, earning average scores of 75% (though notably five points lower on PC). Reviewers praised the breach mechanic and combat, but criticized the boss battles, mission and level structure, conclusion, and excessive bloom effects.

Post Launch

Some quick Googling doesn't show much in the way of patches, save for some forum posts claiming Starbreeze was waiting for an OK to work on patches, while EA was waiting for patches to release - sounds like some kind of miscommunication resulted in no patches.

I never played any of the previous Syndicate games, so this series reboot is my first experience with the franchise. Which is too bad, because from what I hear, this game is a bit of a disappointment compared to the original.

The first thing I noticed was the bloom. Syndicate has the strongest and the most bloom I've ever seen in a video game. It's ridiculous. The glow blocks out visual details and sometimes even gets in the way of combat. And there's no way to turn it down or disable it in-game, you'll have to manually edit config files. I didn't get many screenshots, and this is far from the worst example, but just look at it.

This is what Syndicate's bloom feels like
The storyline and conclusion are pretty generic. Evil megacorporations, underground rebellion, anti-tech church, etc. There are some interesting bits, but none of them are properly explored. The motivations of the protagonists aren't even fleshed out. The person you're after wants to make the corps care about the unchipped population, and it has something to do with a new chip, but I have no idea how the new chip is supposed to accomplish that goal. And apparently I missed the goal of the resistance leader because I read the Wikipedia summary and went "oh, THAT'S what he's trying to do". We aren't told why the corps should care about the unchipped, and there's little evidence to show that the unchipped are being treated unfairly - all that's really said about the unchipped is that they don't have access to the corporate network.

One thing I do like, though, is that Kilo and his mentor Merit are not good people, and Syndicate doesn't try to hide it. In your first mission you're told that civilian casualties and collateral damage are acceptable. Merit casually shoots unarmed civilians in his way, maybe to take out witnesses, or maybe just because. You don't have to kill noncombatants, but you're not punished for doing so.

And there are a few interesting worldbuilding touches here and there. The news report of Kilo's attack on Aspari blames terrorists, suggesting that Aspari would rather the public believe that violent extremists are loose on the streets than let anyone know that the corp failed to prevent corporate espionage. Although there are negatives here too - using the DART chip's special mode allegedly lets you view the dataspace, but functionally all it does is let you see guys through walls. It would've been more interesting if you could see cables in the walls and data streams in the air.

The upgrade system is cool, though, and oddly enough it communicates the value of interconnectedness better than any of the plot points or world info. You get a big grid of upgrades and can choose from any of them when you have points to spend, but each connected grid point gives you a cumulative permanent health bonus, so it can be worthwhile to spend points on upgrades that don't seem as immediately appealing if the connections are worth a big health boost.

Gameplay is fun. Solid shooty bits with some neat abilities. Manipulating the environment during combat is really cool, though there could be more options. The way the combat abilities work is interesting, rewarding you for accuracy and speed. During light combat the abilities give you easier ways to deal with enemies, but in high-stress fights you have to monitor both your enemy and your hack (if you want a spike), and cannon fodder can interfere with targeting the priority enemy (like drones getting in the way of that gunship cannon you need to disable). There are also jammer guys, which really threw me off the first time since I'd gotten so used to spamming abilities. Some boss battles are quite hard, especially when the enemy has a gauss rifle that can shoot around corners. That can actually get more frustrating than fun.

There is one combat flaw, though. Breaching opportunities feel like they're meant to be used tactically, but combat moves so quickly that you don't really have time to stop and think about the optimal approach. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that the original Syndicate was a tactical shooter strategy game, which kind of gives the impression of a half-hearted homage.

Recommendation: don't play it.

Syndicate's slick gameplay and interesting upgrade system almost made me recommend it, but in the end the rest of the game is just too generic and blindingly bloom-saturated. If you enjoy FPS combat there's some fun stuff here. If you play games for the story, however, you won't find much of interest.


  1. The original Syndicate was an isometric real time strategy game, not a tactical shooter. I'm not sure there has ever been a Syndicate game that was FPS prior to this.

    I wished there was no power system on the hacking, as it made one of the best things about the game usable only sparingly.

    And oh my god, if I have to bash X to open up another door or grate I'm going to strangle someone at Starbreeze.

    All in all though, I came to the same conclusion you did. Pass on it.

    1. Whoops. I actually looked up the original so I could mention it in the review, but I still wrote shooter for some reason. Thanks for the correction.