This past Saturday, I braved the cold and made the “epic” journey from West London to Guildford. A long journey, sure, but the opportunity to play Starbreeze Studios’ remake of the 1993 classic Syndicate at EA HQ made it worthwhile.
Transformed into a first-person shooter, I was eager to see how the remake was shaping up, despite not being the biggest fan of genre. As I stepped into the playtest room, I was greeted by fellow journalists already playing on the Xbox 360 version of the game, and another three anxiously awaiting their fourth team member (me) on its PlayStation 3 counterpart.
The campaign mode wasn’t ready for us to take a look at yet, but EA kindly let us get hands on with one map (Western Europe) from the four player co-op portion of the game. Upon picking up the pad and looking at the screen, the first thing that struck me was how slick the menus were. Not only did they look great, but were incredibly easy to navigate too.
Before heading into battle, we were tasked with picking our style and weapons, requiring us to choose from support, offense and defense. I chose support (a style I didn’t relinquish), which equipped me with a long range sniper rifle and revolver. Ready to go, we ended up with two of us on support, one on defense and one on offense. Nice and balanced, I’m sure you’ll agree.
After entering the game and having a quick look around, the graphics were as you would expect from a current generation first-person shooter, nice and sharp, featuring some impressive character models, environments and effects. However, as is the case with most games in the genre, animation suffered a little when jumping and picking up weapons. Controls were nice and simple for the most part, mostly staying in line with the “standard” scheme for first-person shooters. The few changes that were included, were only there to accomodate certain mechanics unqiue to Syndicate.
After blasting through the game on the normal difficulty, we felt that the game was perhaps too easy, so we decided to make the move to hard. The decision might have been a little premature, as trust me when I say this, it was hard! We found ourselves failing within a few minutes, and everything that seemed simple moments ago proved to be a much bigger challenge. We found ourselves re-evaluating our strategy, which meant actually coming up with one! Linked up via headsets and microphones, we could hear our squad and started acting like an actual team. We started informing each other about potential threats and designating tasks to specific members. From this point on we were able to advance quite well, that is until we came up against the “boss” character. We came across him and it was fail after fail, with the team trying to learn from previous mistakes and tweak our strategy.
Whilst Syndicate includes many mechanics you would see in the other first-person shooters, it has one that sets it apart from the rest, and that is the quite wonderful “breach”. On the map that we played, the “boss” along with some of the standard enemies wore certain types of armour that had to be breached before they could be bombarded with bullets. There is a catch though, as breaching can only be performed within a certain distance, which means you have to get close to the enemy before you do so. Once near enough the enemy, you simply hold L2 (PlayStation 3 version) and wait until the breach metere reaches 100%. However, some enemies have armour that has multiple layers, which your team will need to think hard about your breaching and attacking strategy. It is a wonderful move by Starbreeze, as it mixes the gameplay up nicely, so you’re not just constantly blasting away at enemies. Plenty of games have bosses that go down in stages, but the way it works in Syndicate is a bit different, it required some proper teamwork and strategy from us, so when we finally took him down it felt extremely rewarding. This was even true after the sixth time we defeated him, so much so that it became tradition for one of us to pick up his weapon and shoot it into the air when he went down!
I should point out that breaching doesn’t just apply to enemies, it also allows you to open doors, get inside security systems and heal your team mates. Similar to breaching enemy armour, you must be in within a certain distance to perform these actions. Healing is an incredibly vital part of the game, especially in co-op, as the more damage your comrades take, the longer it takes for you to heal them. Behind all of these different mechanics, you the ability to upgrade your own armour and weapons by earning tokens during the battles. You can gain access to some great abilities like team heal, which allows you to heal all of your buddies at once when you’re close enough to them.
Going by what I played this past weekend, Syndicate has the potential to become a hugely popular online co-op game. Its ability to bring four players together and forge a team will make for hours upon hours of fun, especially if it is supported with more maps after release. Unfortunately, as I haven’t seen the campaign yet, it is hard to say just how successful Syndicate will become overall, but I can say that if you love a bit online co-op with friends, then this could be right up your virtual street.
Remember to check out the Syndicate demo that is out this coming week (January 31st on Xbox LIVE and February 1st on PlayStation Network), it will include the same map I had the privilege of playing.
Sydicate will be released on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 & Windows PC on February 24th in Europe and February 21st in North America.