Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Game Review: Syndicate (PC)

Developed by Bullfrog Productions and published by Electronic Arts in 1993

Set in a dystopian future where the wealth and power of corporations rivals that of governments, Eurocorp perfects a new microprocessor, known as the CHIP. Inserted at the base of the neck, the chip alters the perception of the host so that they see the world as they wish to; the ultimate hallucinogenic. However, the CHIP also gives host corporation access to any memories and information present in the host's brain, including bank details and other sensitive information.

As an executive within one of these syndicates, it is up to you to take control of global CHIP production using your team of cybernetically enhanced agents and to ruthlessly crush all who might stand in your way.

Syndicate is a blend of squad-based tactical shooting, resource management and explosive action. You faces a series of fifty or so missions set across the globe, each of which requires you carry out tasks that ultimately increase your syndicate's influence, earning you increased revenues and even more difficult challenges.

The over-world section that precludes each mission allows you to set tax revenues for each of the countries that you own, as well as choose equipment load-outs and modifications to your squad. It's worth paying attention to the mission briefings as these giver you a good idea for the level of resistance you're likely to meet, as well as recommendations for pieces of equipment required to complete the mission.

Gearing up for success!

Another vital part of this section is investing funds in researching new weapons and upgrades for your agents. Each cyborg can be equipped with upgraded limbs, improving their survivability and general abilities. The tech tree is extensive enough to mean that you're unlocking new weapons and upgrades throughout most of the game and this helps keep things fresh. Once you're finished loading up, it's time to tackle the next mission.

Viewed from an isometric perspective, commands are issued to your agents using a combination of mouse and keyboard short-cuts. Clicking on the ground will instruct the selected agents to move to that location, whilst clicking on NPCs and vehicles will make your agents follow the target.

Weapons can be equipped by clicking on the corresponding slot in the inventory panel. If the square is red then this means that the weapon/item is active and ready to use. Players should be mindful that the city's law enforcement won't tolerate agents carrying weapons openly and will respond with force.

I made a bit of a mess...

One of the most interesting features of the game is the IPA system: intelligence, perception and adrenaline. Each agent has three sliders that alter movement speed (red), accuracy with weapons (blue) and autonomy to deal with hostile threats (yellow). Trying to micro-manage your squad can be a tough task, particularly when attacked from multiple hostiles so having your agents able to look after themselves is essential. Cybernetic upgrades increase the duration that you can boot agent abilities before expiring, so researching these mods early is a really good idea.

The 640 x 480 resolution meant that the graphics looked really sharp for their time and the attention to detail in all of the building tile-sets is really quite astounding. The cities are invariably grim, crumbling urban centres packed with neon signs, tenements and general squalor, filled with civilians going about the daily drudge of their lives. Bullfrog's goal with Syndicate was to simulate the feel of a living, breathing city and they succeeded given the technology of the time.

The audio effects and music are also excellent. Each weapon has unique sounds, all of which sound meaty and resonate with suitably bassy rumbles when fired. The game also makes use of dynamic music with the pace and tone changing noticeably when enemy agents are close and is a great touch.

Just another day at the office...

As for negatives, the only real annoyance I experienced was the sometimes infuriating pathing of the agents, especially when in vehicles. Agents head in a straight line towards their objective and often get stuck inside buildings or end up in places that you clearly didn't intend. Herding crowds of persuaded civilians through doors and gates can often be an exercise in frustration, particularly when you find that the one person you were meant to be escorting has got themselves stuck inside a building several streets away.

Before I started recording this longplay, I feared that the game might seem dated. However, those fears melted away as I started ripping apart enemy agents with my minigun-toting agents. Syndicate was one my favourite games growing up and it's still a hell of a lot of fun even today and comes highly recommended!

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