On its surface, Satellite Reign represents everything a Syndicate fan could want, from the darkened city streets patrolled by corporate military, to having four fully customizable agents to control. Except this time, instead of furthering the goals of a power-hungry megacorporation, you're working to take down their rule. Unfortunately, the poor gameplay stacks the odds so heavily against you that it takes forever to progress. The game loses its sense of excitement, and ends up being a chore to play.
Syndicate first released in the early 90s, putting players as the head of a megacorporation in a dystopian cyberpunk future, bent on global domination. The game developed a cult following, and got a sequel in 1996 before becoming all but forgotten until it was used as a theme for a so-so shooter in 2012. Since then, fans have been eager for a true follow-up. In comes Satellite Reign, a crowdfunded successor to the Syndicate series.
Things start off well enough, as players step onto the city streets and assemble their team. Each agent has a special set of skills, like hacking or cloaking, and it's up to the player to maximize their use through skill upgrades, equipment, and cybernetic augmentation. The Blade Runner-like city looks fantastic, with towering buildings, surveillance cameras, and giant animated billboards. Soon, you're using ziplines and paying off lakeys to get into restricted areas. Then things start to go downhill, and fast.
Unlike the original Syndicate games, which divided missions up into different territories like a corporate power monger's version of Risk, Satellite Reign takes place in one large open city. It's up to the player to complete a series of tasks to undermine the corporate control. New missions appear almost as soon as one is completed, leading to a chain of events where you acquire money and technology. However, even though Satellite Reign presents itself as an open-world game, there isn't a whole lot to do outside of these missions. You can hack ATMs to gain a steady income, but that's about the only objective with a permanent impact. Other activities, like sabotaging power relays and switching off security cameras, only work temporarily, and everything will return to normal after the timer runs out.
You can hijack citizens through their neural network implants and use them as bodies for your cloning lab, but you can't steal a car to wreak havoc. Breaking into a guarded facility, killing everyone, and stealing its valuables leaves no big impact. Destroyed cameras return, and the city pretty much resets to a default state every time you load the game.
Lots of Options, But Only One Works
Perhaps all that wouldn't be so bad if the game had a more functional stealth system. Until you steal and research enough technology to outfit all your agents, stealth is a paramount part of the game, and it works horribly. It's difficult to tell what a guard's cone of vision is. You'd think it would be restricted to their flashlight beams when they're on low alert, but you'd be mistaken. They can sense (not see) agents from a ways off and will come running to investigate.
Similarly, the lights from surveillance cameras can be subtle, making it very easy for agents to be sighted. Once spotted, it's difficult to get away, especially in a "red zone" like a corporate facility, since backup comes pouring in from everywhere and there are few places to hide. The real pain comes from how most missions involve breaking in somewhere, stealing stuff, and getting out safely as guards descend upon you. Confrontations often end in shootouts, which the computer usually wins through sheer numbers rather than tactics. If you're lucky, you'll get a lot of soldiers that will run straight into your guns in some misguided effort to flank you. If you're unlucky, your agents will spend half their time shooting into a wall and step out from cover. All the while, your Wanted meter builds up, and a seemingly endless army will come to get you.
Stealth problems are exacerbated by little game quirks, like how the map can't be fully rotated. It'll turn for a bit then stop, making it harder to get a full sense of an area's layout and plan a route. Then there's the matter of how you can't save while agents are in a red zone, meaning that you need to complete even the most complicated, hours long, missions in one sitting or start all over when you reload the game. The game would have worked out a lot better if there were a way to pause and issue commands, but as is, there's little time to coordinate your agents.
All taken together, getting through Satellite Reign can be a painful and slow process until you can amass enough tech, skill and firepower to repel waves of soldiers. It wants to be a game that gives you different choices, but the stealth gameplay wears thin so quickly that the game just gets boring.
This review is based on the PC release. Satellite Reign is available now for $29.99.
- Great looking city
- Lots of options for approaching missions
- Great upgrade options and gear
- Stealth gameplay doesn't work well
- Can't fully rotate map
- Unimpressive AI
- Not much to do outside of missions
- Can't save in certain areas
Steven Wong posted a new article, Satellite Reign Review: Needs Upgrading
It's really not a good game.
It's a fun game not without it's flaws.
It's not that bad, it's a fun little thing. But yeah the progression is really slow and you die a lot, interface needs work too
This is probably the first Steven Wong review I've disagreed with whoelheartedly. I feel like it's being quite unfair.
The game is not without it's flaws (like being very tough at the beginning) but I'm having a god damn blast with it.
It feels like Syndicate and Commandos had a love child and dosed it up on 'roids.
The game doesn't give you much in the way of a tutorial for most of the controls and abilities which is unfortunate. You basically have a message log that updates with new descriptions of things you can do as you progress. If you actually take the time to read these though everything starts to make sense.
Can't say I agree with the enemies being able to 'sense' you either. They have a line of sight, you just can't see it displayed (which I prefer, fuck that noise). They basically see in a cone-shaped angle directly in front of them and it extends quite a bit beyond their flashlights. It is fairly easy to run away and hide though as at that distance the guard doesn't know what he actually saw right away.
Soundtrack and art direction are top-notch too and feel very much like Syndicate Wars.
I will say I am disappointed about being unable to use vehicles though. That was one of my favourite things from Syndicate/Syndicate Wars.
Perhaps the game could do with a pause feature too, as I imagine the frustration some people have expressed with being outnumbered quickly once a stealth mission attempt goes awry is due to the ensuing chaos and confusion in trying to correctly equip your agents and give them commands while you are being fired at.
This is something that takes a bit of practice and muscel memory in using the keyboard commands as opposed to the mouse, which is very fiddly in this regard.
I can kind of understand why they didn't include this feature but perhaps it would be better to have had it.
I agree wholeheartedly with the review and I got bored to tears from the complete lack of story and direction / motivation. Also the city feels completely dead. Like Mr. Wong points out, it resets all the time. I would emphatically advise against buying this game, it looks good but that's it. Back to JA2 for me. :(
I hope you weren't expecting a game like Jagged Alliance because the original Syndicate and Syndicate Wars were never that.
I was expecting something cool. I got a boring half hearted open world instead.
Can't say I agree.