Coming up later this spring is an intriguing game from Starbreeze and film director Josef Fares called Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons. We got a brief look at this Steam, Xbox Live Arcade, and PlayStation Network title last ye...
Syndicate developer Starbreeze has finally lifted the lid on the project once known as P13. It's a 505 Games-published title for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, titled Brothers - a Tale of Two Sons.
Electronic Arts has admitted that the attempted Syndicate reboot didn't pay off as intended, but that hasn't stopped the publisher from wanting to bring back more old game names. After all, there's still so many things that i...
Starbreeze, developer of such fine games as Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena, The Darkness and the recently released Syndicate, has announced that their next title, Cold Mercury, will attempt to tackle ...
Lock and/or load for "Multiplayer Monday" today on Mash Tactics. King Foom is looking for recruits for a co-op campaign through Syndicate, and skilled hands (or absurd creations) to challenge in SoulCalibur V. As always, play...
Feb 21 //
Syndicate (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])Developer: Starbreeze StudiosPublisher: Electronic ArtsReleased: February 21, 2012 MSRP: $59.99
Syndicate's narrative campaign has players waking up handcuffed to a chair while a masked stooge merrily rearranges your face with his fist. The reason for being there is vague but it doesn't really matter, as it's not long before you've broken free and begun a sociopathic murder spree that may or may not extend to screaming pedestrians. This is what Syndicate's campaign is like from beginning to end -- inconsequential sequences, as vague as they are pointless. Then the killing.
This wouldn't be a bad thing, if not for the fact that Syndicate wants you to believe it's more than that. Much of the story is littered with moments of exposition in which inscrutable characters say mysterious things, hoping against hope that you'll actually believe something important is happening. The sad truth is, nothing important ever happens. Characters speak obtusely and make ambiguous allusions to more interesting horizons, not because they're hinting at some jaw-dropping revelation later (one never comes) but because they truly have nothing of value to say.
In fact, the game's six- to seven-hour narrative can be summed up in a sentence: You work as an agent for a corporation that unsurprisingly turns out to be the bad guy. Everything within that scenario is simply an attempt to copy standout moments from other games, such as Deus Ex, while the protagonist desperately attempts to mimic Andrew Ryan. By the time the game reaches its infuriatingly amorphous conclusion, one would be hard-pressed to name a single plot point that wasn't an overplayed trope.
Fortunately, there's plenty of violence in between the vapid story bits, and it's slightly more engaging than the writing. As a cyborg agent, players are armed with a new technological advancement, the DART 6 chip. This chip grants our silent protagonist a range of physical enhancements, as well as the ability to "breach" machinery and the human psyche. This breach mechanic is Syndicate's ace in the hole, though it also turns out to be its crutch.
Breaching is performed by pressing a single button while looking at the desired object. If one looks at a computer, it can be hacked to open doors or take over automatic gun turrets. Breaching is essential for breaking the shields of various enemies, and it can even disarm grenades. As players progress, they also unlock special breach abilities to demolish an opposing force. Backfire makes opponents' weapons explode, knocking them back and dealing damage. Suicide will cause an enemy to hold a live grenade in his hand, taking himself and any bystanders out of the battle. Meanwhile, Persuade can force a foe to turn his gun on his comrades before putting a hole in his own head.
The agent also has access to DART Vision, which slows time and renders enemies in orange against black environments to make them easy targets. DART Vision can also see through walls, giving one a tactical advantage in any situation, although it needs frequent recharging so players can't DART their way through the entire game.
Possessing the ability to see through walls and cause mayhem among a rival syndicate's forces is certainly gratifying the first time one does it, but that's the problem -- it's done too many times, and the initial glee soon wears off. Not only that, but Syndicate never capitalizes on its ideas to create unique scenarios for their implementation.
You cannot, for example, see through walls and find enemies before you meet them in order to soften the targets. Opponents usually only spawn after you've entered a wide-open combat zone, which totally undermines the point of DART Vision and limits the application of breach abilities. Truly empowering uses of the agent's talents are almost always scripted, not improvised on a player's behalf. The core combat is solid, but repetitive, offering old-fashioned FPS gunplay with the occasional chance to make an opponent blow himself up. The powers at an agent's disposal are the powers that a psychological predator would have, yet combat is so in-your-face and ordinary that they feel like cheap gimmicks. Simply put, the game has not been designed around any of its unique gameplay additions. It's a bog-standard shooter with some tech-magic thrown in. There are other shooters on the market that have done the whole "mess with an enemy's mind" schtick in a far more involved, satisfying way, which makes one ask -- why didn't Starbreeze steal some gameplay from those games alongside their narrative ideas?
Syndicate quickly becomes formulaic, as players trudge through a corridor, enter a combat zone, trudge through another corridor, and repeat the process. Every now and then, an interesting weapon with homing bullets or laser fire will turn up, but it's nothing that hasn't been seen before. The breaching ceases to become entertaining after a while, having been relied upon for so long with little variation, while opportunities to breach machines and turn them against the opposition are few and far between.
There is nothing wrong with Syndicate's single-player mode, but there's nothing right either. It's just okay, incapable of raising much more than indifference. It's solid, playable, and capable of chewing up a few hours, but it's not compelling in the least. It goes through the motions, marching from A to B and playing it safe the whole way, occasionally stopping to try and convince you that you should care about the elementary and highly cynical plot details.
The mediocre campaign is, however, half of the experience, and co-op makes things a little more interesting. Up to four players can join forces and take on nine missions at various difficulty levels. Not only do the environments sport more variety than the campaign, but so does the gameplay, with far more breach abilities and customization opportunities. Players can build their own agent, selecting weapon loadouts and abilities that are far more varied than in the campaign. Virus, for example, can sap health over time and ignore armor. Meanwhile, the Shield power generates armor for the entire squad. Agents can earn research points, which are invested into developing new weapon modifications and powers, essentially building their own specialized class that suits their play style. Ultimately there's just so much more to do, to the point where the campaign should've just been scrapped to add more resources to the co-op.
Teamwork is quite important, and while the first mission is fairly straightforward, things get significantly tougher fairly quickly. There are opposing generals capable of chewing into a player's health bar within seconds, requiring teams to draw fire, heal each other, and breach shields as a unified group. The contextual commands make this gameplay fairly fluid and easy to pull off successfully, although the sheer weight of opposition means things never feel too easy. Enemies are fairly adept at taking cover and flanking, while later encounters pit squads against fellow agents, capable of healing each other and dishing out breaches of their own. Once taken down, these foes can have their chips forcibly and bloodily ripped from their heads in exchange for extra research points.
Syndicate's co-op mode is a significant step up, and clearly the main draw, but that doesn't save it from falling into many of the campaign's pitfalls. For a start, the range of scenarios isn't varied at all, taking the form of a linear series of corridors to be fought through, a handful of "get item A and place it in receptacle B" fetch quests, or brief escort objectives. The new abilities, for all their variety, still fall under similar categories while the commonplace FPS combat never feels built around them. While teamwork is important, the breach mechanic is so rudimentary and repeated without deviation that it quickly becomes as mundane as everything else.
This is not to say that Syndicate is not enjoyable, because it is. It's just so very typical and ordinary that hiding behind shallow gimmickry fails to compensate. Having played through each mission, I can't say I've any great desire to go back and play more. The four hours and thirty-eight minutes it took to beat them were fun while they lasted, yet utterly dispensable and easily forgotten.
It is almost fitting that Syndicate's world revolves around cold steel cities and heartless corporations, because cold and heartless is certainly the feeling one gets after playing. Its sterile environments are clean and spartan by deliberate design, but serve the unintended purpose of personifying Starbreeze's modern reboot to its core. It's a gorgeous game, very easy on the eyes despite the overzealous use of lighting and bloom, but beyond the pretty visuals lies an empty void where its soul should be.
By all means, go out and enjoy Syndicate. You more than likely shall, because it will provide a solid dose of transient entertainment. It is a game you will never need to play, but you won't feel like you wasted your life if you do. It's a videogame about guns that pretends to be something deeper while striving for nothing more. If you keep that in mind, and you're happy to play along, you'll get what you paid for.
But you won't get anything else.
Starbreeze Studios certainly turned heads when it unveiled its progress on a brand-new Syndicate game, although attached to many of those heads were scowling faces sporting sneers of disgust. Syndicate is yet another classic ...
Syndicate's launch is a mere five days away and I'm still no closer to deciding whether or not I want to actually pick it up, but I'm certainly interested. This trailer hasn't helped me make up my mind, but it was pretty coo...
Electronic Arts and Starbreeze Studios have revealed some familiar names included in the voice cast of Syndicate. First up is Rosario Dawson, who is described as playing a "rising star" in the syndicate EuroCorp.
"She's an in...
Today will be a very special 'New Release Showcase' with The Darkness II. King Foom has committed to completely finishing the game in one go. Darkness II's solo campaign has been clocked in at around six hours, but how long w...
Feb 07 //
Conrad Zimmerman The Darkness II (PC, PS3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])Developer: Digital ExtremesPublisher: 2K GamesReleased: February 7, 2012MSRP: $59.99
This is a case of an unremarkable story being handled remarkably well. The surface-level plot line in which Jackie fights against this new enemy doesn't keep its secrets long and quickly becomes little more than one bloody conflict after another. Meanwhile, a second story thread slowly develops which changes Jackie's goals dramatically in the game's final act towards a rather predictable conclusion.
Were that all The Darkness II had going for it, things would be dire. But the presentation is more than up to the task of keeping things interesting. Pacing is very deliberate in attempting to keep the player on their toes. While some developers are content to throw in a scripted explosion sequence or two as a mid-level surprise, Digital Extremes will completely change the emotional tone on a dime, nail it and then throw the player right back into the fray when they're done. Little touches here and there plant seeds to reward observant players and demonstrate that there are greater aspirations than the standard licensed game.
Effective use of cel-shading gives a feel evocative of the comic books from which these games originate and makes it surprisingly easy to get sucked in. The effect does wonders to keep a game all about being in the dark remain vibrant and lends itself well in a practical sense to the gameplay as everything is easily distinguishable. It also sounds quite nice. In combat, guns are noisy, screams are bloodcurdling and Mike Patton feels bigger than life as the voice of The Darkness. Voice acting overall is stellar and while the plot may not be particularly original, the dialogue is pretty good and made all the better by some top-notch performances.
It's a fairly short solo campaign, clocking in at around six hours, and fun from beginning to end with a very strong emphasis on killing people. Even at the outset controlling Jackie feels like a bit of a power trip with his tentacles in play. Mapped to the bumpers, the right tentacle bashes either vertically or horizontally while the left allows Jackie to grab objects or enemies and throw them. In concert with firearms in his hands, he's lethal at any range. Killing enemies and eating their hearts gives Jackie dark essence which may be spent on new and improved abilities with bonus essence awarded for more violent kills.
These abilities are both fun and useful. Grabs can become executions and reward a kill with health, ammo or even a shield made of pure dark essence (as well as some stomach-churning animations). Gun channeling buffs your guns with more damage, infinite ammo and rapid-fire for a few seconds and can eventually do the aiming for you. The bashing tentacle can fling enemies or sprout blades for a big damage boost.
When upgrading, abilities are organized in a wheel with each quarter having its own skill tree relating to different types of powers. A steady flow of dark essence ensures upgrades are always there for the taking, but the game's length is such that it would be quite challenging to unlock much more than two trees to the point at which their more valuable powers become available, providing replay value in attempting different configurations of powers or achieving Jackie's full potential in the "New Game +" mode.
Also supplementing the solo campaign is the multiplayer "Vendettas" mode. Playable with up to four people (or solo, if you like), each controls one of Jackie's four supernatural enforcers. These characters are each centered around one of Jackie's Darkness powers which they can use as well as support abilities that contribute to the team. Like Jackie, they collect dark essence from kills and spend it upgrading their own unique ability wheels. Unlike Jackie, they aren't a whole hell of a lot of fun to play. With only one real power at their disposal each, the lack of variety makes the combat significantly less interesting.
At around two hours, the Vendettas campaign is worth playing through, offering a different set of missions which run concurrent to Jackie's story and add some additional flavor, but could easily be dismissed. Greater challenges can be found in The Hit List missions, arena-style boss fights where the odds are much less in your favor. These are really difficult, to the point where it feels necessary to have more people helping to keep some of the heat off (or, you know, just Jackie).
The Darkness II succeeds far more than it fails. The single-player experience features some genuine emotion in its narrative, something games which don't feature skull-extricating tentacles rarely manage to accomplish. And while the Vendettas cooperative multiplayer content feels lackluster by comparison, it's not bad either and serves to pad out this short but otherwise delightful game.
The Darkness was a rather solid first-person shooter and a good example of a license being properly handled. Developed by Starbreeze Studios, it featured some bold gameplay choices that didn't always pan out but man...
A new trailer for Syndicate went up today, detailing the "DART 6" abilities that players will have at their disposal. The video details a lot of the stuff that yesterday's demo simply didn't have, making me feel much more co...
While even EA's single-player games have found excuses to slip in an online pass, the co-op fueled Syndicate is confirmed to NOT use one at all. According to EA, it's all about encouraging gamers to play it ... what an innova...
As anyone interested in Starbreeze's Syndicate will know by now, a demo for the FPS was released on the PlayStation Network and Xbox LIVE yesterday. It allows players to try out a level called "Western Europe" with up t...
Jan 31 //
Jim Sterling The action is fairly typical of the genre. It feels weighty, but rather uninspired. There's a shallow scoring system to provide a hint of competition between players, but there's really nothing you've not seen before. You just trudge forward and shoot at enemies as they wander erratically around the map, occasionally waiting in a checkpoint room to resupply, before trudging forward and shooting some more.
Some players have since been saying they enjoy the tactical element of the game, but I'm not seeing it yet. So far the only "tactical" element is breaching -- one player breaches a target to weaken it, while the others provide support. This contextual command is also used for healing and reviving players. It's a cute little add-on, but it's hardly "tactical."
This is, of course, merely one co-op level, and I'm informed by those who have played more levels that it's one of the weakest. I sincerely hope there's more to it than this, because the sample gameplay isn't exciting. In fact, it reminds me very much of last year's mediocre Codemasters offering, Bodycount. If the demo is indicative of the overall experience, then Syndicate is looking very much like just another forgettable first-person shooter.
I sincerely hope the demo isn't indicative of the overall experience, and that somebody in marketing just made a very poor choice of level.
Boy, that Syndicate sure is a first-person shooter!
That is my initial thought after giving Syndicate's co-op demo a spin. When I say that, I don't mean to imply I'm one of those folk who hate a game just because it's bears t...
A four-player co-op demo for Starbreeze's Syndicate shall be available for your downloading amusement on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network today. The demo shall showcase one of the game's nine levels.
The Xbox Live vers...
The illustrious Max Scoville and I recently had the chance to check out a few of the four-player, co-op missions in Starbreeze Studio's upcoming cyberpunk shooter Syndicate. While you can check out Max's impressions here, du...
This latest trailer for Syndicate is pretty damn exciting. It's a sparse overview of the title's cooperative mode which lets you team up with three other operatives on assignments deemed to difficult for a lone agent to...
In news that should shock nobody by now, Starbreeze's upcoming Syndicate reboot has been refused classification in Australia, making it illegal to sell in the country. The game's violent content has been cited as the reason, ...
Nov 15 //
Syndicate (Xbox 360 [previewed], PlayStation 3, PC)Developer: Starbreeze StudiosPublisher: Electronic ArtsRelease: February 21, 2012
The world of Syndicate is a dystopian future set in the year 2069. Corporations have become extremely powerful, and essentially rule as a governing body through mercenary-like gangs called Syndicates. In co-op, players are cast as a member from an up and coming syndicate with their eyes set on taking down the largest syndicate in the world, Eurocorp.
Syndicate's four-player co-op is its own campaign and runs on a mission structure similar to that of Spec-Ops mode from Call of Duty. What separates Syndicate a bit from the pack is the breach hacking mechanics. Through a chip in each person brain, humans in the world of Syndicate perform everyday tasks such as banking, making calls, and other activities without the need of any device. As a syndicate member employed by powerful corporations, you and your crew sport high end militarized chips that allow you to heal each other, whittle down enemy armor, and hack an enemy's mind to make them fight with you or kill themselves.
You have different types of breaching options, all of which are specific to the different type of character classes you can use. There is the standard breach where you hold down the Left Bumper on the Xbox 360 controller to heal a teammate or sabotage an enemy. There is also a virus breach that allows you to infect enemy turrets and equipment. The final breach type I used was the force breach that acts just like the standard breach except it doesn't require you to hold down the left bumper but the success rate varies.
During missions, players will run and gun through increasingly difficult enemies as they go through each level, creating a high level of dependence on each other. Lone gunning is not a viable option. I really like cooperative modes that force teamwork through dependence, but in my time with Syndicate I often felt like the difficulty was more cheap than challenging.
In the beginning of the mission we played there was a good amount of enemies, forcing us to constantly heal one another. Very quickly though, we ran into enemies with absurdly large amounts of health. To take down these heavies we needed to breach their armor to whittle it down. But getting in close enough to breach put me in dangerously close range of their shotguns, not to mention that you can't shoot back while breaching. Adding to the frustration was the painfully long breach times and the fact that you have to breach past multiple layers of armor. I'm all for a challenge, and a challenge it was, but it more often felt like an unfair handicap.
Apart from breaching, there are more passive tools to help you combat the odds, specifically your Dart overlay. Like Detective mode from Rocksteady's Batman games, Dart in Syndicate lets you see past walls and highlights enemies for you. Its usage is limited by a gauge that depletes when activated, but it does refill fairly quickly.
I enjoyed some of my time with Syndicate's co-op. Cheap deaths aside, I found myself really getting into the game once I got into the swing of breaching, healing, hacking turrets and flanking enemies with the help of Dart. Syndicate doesn't stray far from the formula established by past co-op survival/mission modes, and it works well enough here. On the flip side of that coin, the design shows signs of laziness.
Dependence on your allies on only exists because health is relatively finite, and enemies have vast amounts of it. Breaching a heavily armored opponent is a cool idea, but why do I have to be so close to him? Throw in the needlessly long breach times, and a rinse repeat feel to take down one enemy and its clear Syndacite needs work. Of course this demo was about half a mission and we have yet to see how the class customization comes into play. Still, my hopes are sadly curbed with how the game is shaping up so far.
Reboots are nothing new to the videogame industry. This, arguably, common place occurrence seemed to take a turn for the weird when Take-Two announced the re-imaging of the PC strategy title X-Com into a first-person shooter....
Starbreeze's reimagining of the classic strategy game, Syndicate, might have ruffled some feathers with its switch to a first person perspective, but EA isn't writing off a proper remake. Speaking with Eurogamer, EA executive...
Sep 29 //
Conrad Zimmerman Syndicate (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)Developer: Starbreeze StudiosPublisher: Electronic ArtsRelease: February 21, 2012 (US) / February 24, 2012 (EU)
Syndicate is set in a cyberpunk-inspired world where corporations have risen above the rule of law to infiltrate the populace in a truly terrifying way. By making available neural implants that allow the user access to the world's digital infrastructure they remove all the worry from people's lives. In exchange for this, the Syndicates gain valuable insight into how the minds of their consumers work, enabling them to exert more control over the populace. Locked in a battle for global dominance and using these tools, the corporations have escalated their business conflicts to all-out war.
Where the previous Syndicate titles took a very global approach, being strategy games at heart, this new game gives a much more personal touch to the world by putting you at eye-level with it. The demo I played involved an operation where I was to retrieve an implant from a scientist within a rival company's facility, a very similar sort of asset acquisition one might have simply instructed an agent to perform in past titles with a few mouse clicks.
As I am a badass, cybernetically-enhanced killing machine, I am obviously equipped with a bullet-time ability which slows enemies and also shows enemy locations through walls. Natch. In addition, I have the ability to hack anything which has a connection to the global information network. This of course means all manner of door locks, turrets and so forth. But remember the bit about the populace getting those chips in their heads that connect them to the network?
Yup, the popular "persuadotron" element returns in the form of hacking enemy characters. You can choose from a few different ways to influence a person whose brain you've hacked. Suicide is one option but you can also use the "Persuade" command to make someone fight at your side temporarily and maybe take a few others down with him. Regardless of what you do when you've superseded someone's free will, their screams of fear and torment are visceral and satisfying.
What's in your head is plenty of fun, but let's not count out what's in the hands as my demo also included the return of the most memorable weapon in the Syndicate series, the Gauss Gun. This is a dramatically different machine than players will remember, with a lock-on system that guides bullets along an arc, allowing you to shoot over and around cover to hit a target. It's quite entertaining to use, as you can target an enemy with a quick tap of the button and then spray rounds into the air and watch as they fly toward their mark.
Visually, Syndicate looks merely adequate at a passing glance. The characters and environments themselves aren't anything to write home about but in combat scenarios, the blood really starts pumping, often into the air as a fine mist. It's unapologetic about the violence as a clear, stylistic choice and that helps to make it pop despite the otherwise unexceptional visuals.
As a fan of the cyberpunk genre of fiction, I'm always happy to see another game take on the conventions. While my brief experience with Syndicate didn't reveal too much in the way of plot, I have a lot of confidence in the abilities of Richard Morgan to pen a good sci-fi tale and the dialog from characters was delivered with aplomb.
Syndicate is not likely to blow minds, especially releasing as it is behind the similarly-themed Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It is worth paying attention to, however. It's clear from my experience that Starbreeze has a deep respect for Syndicate and want to do right by the title while still providing a game experience which will please more than just the small minority of fans who would miss the antiquated play of the original games. And they may have pulled it off. We'll know for sure when Syndicate releases in February.
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Some details on the long-rumored Syndicate reboot were put up on EA's Origin store in the form of a product description, and naturally NeoGAF has snatched it up before it was taken down again. It's a shooter, but we already k...