Who knew violence could be so... sexy?
Starbreeze's upcoming Syndicate reboot is the beautiful blonde girl in the club. Even surrounded by dozens of other games at a preview event last week, it commanded my attention. Although a FPS, it managed to look unlike any other game on show. Controller in hand, I couldn't help but be impressed by how stylish it looked, how smoothly it played, and how polished everything was.
I can't wait to get a second date with Syndicate, but I'm afraid that behind the beauty, there's might be no brains.
The demo starts with a bang. Literally. Your partner casually walks up to enemies and shoots their heads, point blank. His nonchalance reminds you that, hey, you're not a good guy, and your cause isn't exactly holy.
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This ten-minute hands-on segment confirmed nearly everything I had thought the game would be. The debut trailer was a sexy, musical celebration of violence, and the game is no different. There's no shortage of brutality: within minutes, you're snapping a guy's neck, forcing someone to blow their brains out, and brutally drilling into a scientist's head. While the work you do is disgusting, there's a feeling of clinical cleanliness to it all--perhaps due to the persistent augmented UI that overlays everything in the environment. You see humans not as people, but as targets--and objects are merely tools to accomplish your goals.
Given you have a chip in your head, it shouldn't be too surprising that the game is very linear, and very scripted. While the game invites comparisons to Deus Ex: Human Revolution, thanks to its setting and visual stylings, the two games feel nothing alike. Whereas Deus Ex presented players with the ability to play as they wish, there's very little room for flexibility in Syndicate. Given the series' heritage, that will undoubtedly be disappointing. From what I've played, Syndicate is "just" a shooter--albeit a very sexy one.
For example, breaching into a person's brain is a surprisingly painless affair. You look at them, and hold the trigger button. The first time I performed this, a cinematic sequence started, showing how I bypass the chip's security and override my victim's sense of self-control. There was no mini-game, or QTEs, or anything--I just held down the button. You don't have any control over the people you breach either; they will just do what they're supposed to do. According to an EA representative, this mechanic doesn't actually get any more complex later on in the game.
While I expected more strategy from a game called Syndicate, it's hard to argue against how the game plays. This is great-feeling FPS, with interesting-enough weapons and abilities to make it stand out. In an era of endless military-themed modern combat shooters, it's nice to get a sci-fi shooter. You can integrate breach into combat, on things other than other humans. You can take over turrets, for example. You must breach into remote drones in order to disable their shields before taking them down. Weapons are also thoroughly enjoyable to control, with unique primary and secondary fire modes that make the game less Call of Duty and more Ratchet & Clank. While Syndicate may not be a thinking man's shooter, the gunfights feel terrific.
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Is Syndicate marriage material? At this early point, I'm guessing not. But Syndicate looks and feels so good that I'm going to need another date... and soon. Syndicate will be available on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 this February.