Syndicate Preview: Need a Reboot?

Starbreeze's game concerns and delights in equal measure.

You come to Syndicate with expectations. It's unavoidable. Your eyes can't help but flit over the screen, desperate to find nostalgia that's survived unscathed. Occasionally they succeed. The fabled Eurocorp corporation, that jagged and efficient-looking world map, the spotlight street lamps and the cold and business-like mission run-downs all trickle cold fire through your synapses.

After a fashion, however, bright eyes grow dim. You feel a slight heat in your head while your emotion chip boots up, your brain fuzzes over and consequently (thankfully) teardrops do not fall. You just kill, and kill again. During my hours with Syndicate's co-op mode I certainly felt Bullfrog twitches (once I saw a comrade's flapping coat and said out loud "Syndicate coat!") yet each time my mood was swiftly stabilised.

Co-op missions may be loosely based (very loosely) on the original game - but at no point does pressing RB let you see your surroundings in Rosetint Vision™ where everything's isometric, the explosions are the greatest thing 1993 has ever seen and, if you listen hard enough, you can hear your Mum shouting that your tea's ready.

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Violence is always best when accompanied by the computerised voice of an uninterested bossy lady.

There are, however, other expectations with Syndicate. This is, after all, a Starbreeze game. The Riddick games and The Darkness carried feelings of body awareness, solidity and gut-punching firepower quite unlike any other first person shooter - and it's certifiably this strength that will rouse former agents from their thwarted reverie. There's a tangible feeling of weight as you thump around the map and slide into cover, while the recoil and noise of the weaponry can't help but tighten orifices inappropriate to describe on a family website. When you get behind the terrifying girth of the minigun and start cleaving enemies in two it's practically a religious experience.

Co-op sees your team of corporate super-soldiers infiltrating enemy strongholds - to assassinate, to steal and seek business advantages. It's essentially a cyberpunk variation on the climax to The Secret of My Success - only in this case during the climactic buy-out Michael J Fox would stab a chip out of his Uncle's brain so he can become 25% quicker at opening locked doors.

Take the Mozambique mission as an example. Having selected weapon load-outs and breach apps your gang pitches up on a floating sea platform - a high-walled fortress with a gang of enemies up on the parapets intent on seeing you off. Enemies don't spawn in the traditional sense, but instead rush towards you from scripted opening doorways - and your team makes its way from battle to battle by first mentally breaching a gate, and then a summoned bridge.

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Syndicate's blood splats are truly a thing to behold. Oodles of claret.

Communal breaching gets the job done quicker - and it's an ability that's essentially a Swiss Army Knife for brains. Breaching takes down turrets, defuses hurled grenades, opens doors, weakens bosses and heals allies who've taken one two many bullets and are staggering around - invariably chirping "I need a reboot!", "I need a reboot here!" and other reboot-based repartee. What's more, you can take two specialist Breach apps into the fray - letting you, for example, magic up a backfire in a foe's weapon or perform a group heal on the rest of the squad.

In futuro-Mozambique your first objective is to power down a nearby turret, which in turn lets your dropship land. Your foursome are then to delve deeper into the starkly designed weapon laboratories below, each replete with walkways to shoot enemies from and oodles of glass to smash, and then each steal a hard-drive full of company secrets. Each hard-drive is the size of a briefcase (perhaps in another rare nod to 1993) so the ascent back to the dropship must be conducted with only one free hand - though seeing as your pistol can split torsos it's hardly a chore.

Missions, overall, play out as a sequence of mini-objectives - their successful completion peppered with new teams of enemies ploughing into your area, mini-boss sergeants to take down and a climactic battle against a big bad. There's actually a strong tang of Brink here, albeit a tang that's keen on flushing out constant supplies of solo campaign bad-guys rather than keeping the form of an MP bout. In fact, an objective from a later Chinese level sees you guarding a UGV bot through the subway in a manner that's entirely Container City - or indeed TF2 Goldrush.

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Long range combat mingles with close quarters - so your co-op team needs to be balanced in terms of weapons.

So apart from the overarching fear that Syndicate under-achieving will remove any residual hope of someone crafting a more authentic remake, is there anything to worry about here? Well, one would certainly hope that the single player campaign has a little more personality than the co-op - it's hard to feel attached to the characters, levels are rather stark and to anyone recently schooled in Deus Ex: Human Revolution the art-style is a little bland. Meanwhile, the fact that a brief health and damage boost can be accessed by engaging your 'X-Ray Specs' DART overlay does seem a bit of a gyp, because suddenly your finest moments of action must be viewed in rubbish Predator-o-vision.

More on Syndicate

When your aggressive business manoeuvres bring a boss out to play, a team with poor tactics or a team that hasn't organised itself into a neat set of (almost MMO-like) tanks, healers and scooty-snipe warriors could well be in trouble. Syndicate can be merciless, and isn't too fussed about leaving your character prostrate on the floor screaming blue murder about the need for a reboot for minutes on end. A lone survivor pursued by a single-minded boss will be far more occupied with not being pulverised than saving his fallen brethren, so come release it might be advisable to have a good book close by to help fill in the down-time.

The Bullfrog catalogue sit in pride of place amidst the cobwebs of this dark recess and (alongside Theme Park's torrid freemium outing on iOS) at one point the powers that be decided that it was Syndicate's time to shine. As such, much rests on the franchise's hoary old shoulders. Can a solid, interesting shooter with nostalgic ties honestly reel in the punters, especially a mere two weeks before the onslaught of the publisher's favoured son Mass Effect 3? Let's just hope EA have their persuadertrons warming up...

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