By CHONG JINN XIUNGbytz@thestar.com.my
In the future, corporate wars will not be fought in the boardroom.
IF you are expecting the new Syndicate game to be anything like the old 1993 top-down strategy game, you will be sorely disappointed.
The game has been turned into a first-person shooter by the capable hands of Swedish game studio, Starbreeze, which gave us fun titles such as The Darkness and The Chronicles of Riddick.
Will Starbreeze be able to breathe new life into this classic title? Read on to find out.
It's just business
Syndicate is set in the distant future where mega-corporations, known as syndicates, control the world. They wage open warfare against each other using biochip enhanced agents who perform clandestine operations ranging from espionage to assassinations.
Unfortunately it's a thinly woven and generic story that's hardly engaging which makes the single-player campaign a tad dull.
You step into the boots of Miles Kilo, a Eurocorp syndicate agent that has been outfitted with the latest Dart-6 computer chip that allows him to breach machines and even manipulate other chipped enemies.
Given the brutal and cutthroat methods of your corporate overlord, it's not difficult to see the plot twist miles away.
A key part of the game is Kilo's upgraded neural chip which allows him to remotely hack electronics around him to unlock doors or in combat situations to overload a gas tank to take out enemies.
As most humans in the Syndicate world have implanted chips, Kilo can manipulate them to do some pretty sick stuff. We found the suicide and persuade abilites to be the most entertaining to use as we made helpless guards blow themselves up or open fire on their allies.
You can also hack weapons to cause them to backfire to make your enemies vulnerable. Admittedly it is less useful but it recharges faster than the other two killer abilities.
Hacking isn't just a tacked on feature - the game requires you to use it to take on some bosses and armoured enemies.
One moment that stood out in particular had us playing a deadly game of catch with a rival agent using a homing rocket as a ball.
Kilo's enhanced chip also allows him to go into tactical mode - similar to Batman's detective mode, it allows him to see through walls, highlight enemies and slow down time.
The usage of these abilities together with your weapons are crucial to your success in Syndicate as enemies are quite crafty in using cover and some can even negate your breaching abilities.
However, enemies spawn at the same locations each time you reload a saved game after your character dies - this makes the game easier and somewhat boring.
Syndicate paints a slick yet dark and moody futuristic environment with lots of neon lights and towering sky scrapers.
The initial level takes you through the slums in the lower part of New York and this is a stark contrast to the clean industrial look of a rival syndicate's factory and labs that you infiltrate in the following mission.
Thankfully, not all the levels are set in the dark and the daylight missions expands the colour palette and keep things interesting.
Weapons in general have a satisfying punchy feeling - assault rifles recoil when shot in full automatic mode and futuristic laser guns emit high pitch whines as they burn holes through your enemies.
For a game set in the future, weapons feel rather conventional. Most of the weapons you use fall under the classic pistol, machine gun, assault rifle and shotgun categories.
It's disappointing that futuristic weapons like the gauss rifle which shoots homing bullets and high-powered coil laser rifle are rare to come by as very few enemies carry them throughout the game.
It's a shame that you can't customise or upgrade your guns in the campaign. Syndicate keeps things interesting by allowing to incrementally upgrade your Dart 6 chip's abilities by forcefully taking chips from certain some enemies to boost your abilities, accuracy and health.
Needless to say the whole extraction process is pretty gory as Kilo will jab a sharp tool into a victims skull to get the chip out.
Like most standard FPS, Kilo can only carry two weapons and his health regenerates once he takes cover. Nothing new here.
Unlike Starbreeze's past games, Syndicate is an incredibly linear experience. There is only one way to get through a level - you don't even need a giant arrow to point the way for you.
The single-player campaign is about seven to eight hours which is pretty short for an FPS. You can replay levels to get a higher score but that's hardly a good incentive to keep playing.
You can engage in all sorts of shenanigans in the co-op multiplayer mode. It feels much more open than the campaign as there are multiple ways to complete a mission.
It is easily the better half of the game as you can customise your agent to suit your style. There is no strict class restriction and you can upgrade your basic weapons with all kind of perks.
The game's AI does not scale according to the number of players, so a full party of four is advised as the enemies can be brutal.
It'll take a lot of teamwork to survive as the game starts piling on the tougher enemies in the later part.
Most of the missions are pretty standard fetch quests but it's fun to play with a group of strangers working on a common goal.
We had a lot of high hopes for Syndicate but were disappointed with a lacklustre story that didn't have much character development.
The game has its moments and the action can get quite intense especially when you have to rely on your hacking skills to survive.
However, the game is over too fast and didn't leave any lasting memories.
The multiplayer mode, on the other hand, is the highlight of the game. It offers the user customisation and abilities that the main campaign lacks, and on top of that it's quite challenging. It'll force players to work together to survive.
All in all, Syndicate may not be Starbreeze's finest game but it is still an FPS that most sci-fi fan would enjoy.
Pros: Slick, futuristic visuals; unique breaching abilities; fun multiplayer mode.
Cons: Generic story; very linear levels; enemies respawn at the same spots.
First-person shooter for PlayStation3, Xbox 360,PC
PC SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: Windows 7 (2GB RAM)/Vista (3GB RAM)/ XP (2GB RAM), 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (E4600)/ Athlon 64 X2 processor, ATI 4650/ nVidia GeForce 8800GT, 10.5GB HDD space, DirectX compatible sound card.
PRICE: RM189 (PS3, Xbox 360), RM139 (PC)
Review unit courtesy of Gamers Dotcom Sdn Bhd, (03) 7876-3818