I won’t be starting this with a lie. Before picking up Syndicate for review, I had never heard of this game. In fact, I had never heard of the original source material with the same name. It’s not that I wasn’t alive at the time; I was alive and gaming, for sure. Nevertheless, like many of you my education on this title rests solely on the Wikipedia entry that I bet many of you have perused. No big deal, it’s impossible that we all know every inch of every game ever played. But now seems like a fitting time to be (re)introduced to the universe of Syndicate.
In the narrative, Syndicate takes place in a future dominated by several all-powerful multi-national conglomerates. You play as Agent Kilo, a corporate operative enlisted into cyber-assassination with a rival corporation. Unlike the endless fodder of corporate foot soldiers, Kilo is equipped with the latest technology and powers to make you an elite killing machine. Through 20 levels of single player madness, Kilo experiences a variety of plot twists, boss battles, and three very well-acted core characters. More on these characters in a bit.
At its core, Syndicate is a first-person shooter close in play style to one of the games in the F.E.A.R. series. The fighting is rapid-fire and your character is designed to take a bit of damage before keeling over into the fetal position. The similarities to F.E.A.R. become apparent when you turn on your DART chip. This simple flick of the RB button (on the Xbox), slows down your enemies, allows you to regenerate a bit of health, reveals hidden enemies, and environmental secrets. For the most part, you’ll use the DART to slow down enemies and to create a plan of attack against your next slew of suitors.
For the most part, the DART mode works smoothly. Playing on normal difficulty, I probably depended on the feature more than necessary. While regular enemies are pretty easy to take down in regular mode, DART is essential when battling one of the game’s several bosses. The slow-motion isn’t as drastic as that seen in F.E.A.R.; but the games are similar enough to provoke a sense of deja vu.
I was a bit disappointed by the repetitive enemies throughout most of the levels. Fortunately, the boss battles provide the variety I was craving. The boss battles aren’t crushingly difficult to pass, but are hard enough to test your mettle. They encourage you to be patient with your abilities, quick with your reflexes, and aware of your surroundings. While some of the solutions were obvious, others took multiple deaths before the correct method became apparent. In particular, the final boss battle was a blast to play – hard enough to feel like an end without making me want to throw the controller into the wall. It was just a shame that the enemies weren’t as interesting.
Hand-in-hand with the boss battles was the tremendous voicework provided by three stellar talents. While the 007 games have proven that not all Hollywood voice talent knows how to deliver the goods, Syndicate is something quite different. Rosario Dawson stars as your supportive scientist pal with some secrets to tell. She’s more revolutionary than love interest (something so rare in games these days) and knows how to emote with just the sound of her voice. She’s countered by Brian Cox (the Shakespearean badass best known from Braveheart and X2) as the CEO and head villain. Cox is a top-tier actor and perfectly cast as the conniving villain. I’m not sure what his price tag is, but would recommend him highly to any developers looking for a top notch bad guy.
Finally, my favorite performance came from Michael Wincott. Best known as a bad guy in The Crow and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Wincott is the quintessential evil henchmen. His gravelly voice is perfect for video games and kept me on my toes as Jules Merit. I wish this game was longer so that I could spend more time listening to him intimidate my ass.
Besides the fantastic voice-acting and challenging boss battles, Syndicate is an otherwise generic sci-fi shooter. I don’t mean that as a slight, because it is obvious that a lot of care went into the creation of this game. I think most gamers will have a good time here. Just don’t go into this experience seeking something innovative, original, or different. Syndicate is a good game that will entertain and challenge you over a nice weekend. Make sure to keep your expectations in check and you’ll have a good time walking in Kilo’s footsteps.
Full Disclosure: CraveOnline received one advanced copy of Syndicate for the Xbox 360 for review. By the time we received our copy, the review embargo had already lifted. Before starting our review, we completed 100% of the game on normal difficulty.