Ahhh...World Domination. Those two words, when combined, never fail to put a huge smile on my face. There aren't too many games that let you play around with such a wonderful concept; the most notable of which being the ever-so-quirky "Evil Genius" for the PC. However, back during the mid-90s (before MTV went on its downward spiral into Pop Music Hell and movies like Johnny Mnemonic were considered cutting-edge cinema), there was a up-and-coming game designer by the name of Peter Molyneux, who was currently riding high on the moderate success of the "Populous" series and looking for a way to cash in on the "Cyberpunk" sub-genre, which was itself riding high in a popular culture that had little to no idea what the internet actually was, much less how it worked.
Now, as with most things, I have a love-hate relationship with Cyberpunk. I love the gadgets, concepts and dystopian landscapes that are present within the genre, but there just weren't too many good plots to go with them (the only notable exception being the film "Strange Days", which I still absolutely love and adore...though I know I'll never see those "squid" receptors in my lifetime. Shame, too...those things would revolutionize the porn industry...). See, Cyberpunk usually follows a basic formula: Shadowy Corporations rule and control every aspect of human life, theres a blue-collar protagonist who either comes across some key information/special device/macguffin that EVERYBODY wants, and he and a street-smart teenage girl (which is supposedly MANDATORY), try to find a way to activate/sell/use the macguffin, all while keeping one step ahead of some generic thugs/Yakuza/professional assassins in order to strike a blow for the oppressed proletariat.
And so, there were Cyberpunk games as well, most of which followed this very same formula to the fricking letter. However, as with "Strange Days", there was an exception to the rule....and that exception was Bullfrog Productions' "SYNDICATE".
Before you ask, no, that is NOT Dr. Manhattan.
SYNDICATE was unique amongst Cyberpunk games in that you weren't some dork hacker out to stick it to "The Man". You WERE "The Man" in Syndicate; the head of a shadowy, sinister corporation out for one thing and one thing only:
Ooh...I think I just got a little bit tingly there!
SYNDICATE was my game of choice back when I was an acne-faced, 13-year-old punk whose only forays into the PC-gaming world were DOOM, Carmen Sandiego and Cyberia (which I'll review at a later time). Much like Doom, there was no real plot to the game other than "Make your own corporation, then conquer the world through assassination, racketeering and brainwashing." Of course, since you were the corporate big-wig, you don't want to get your hands dirty. Luckily, you have a cadre of specially trained (and freshly brainwashed) "agents" at your disposal. Load them up with weapons, fit them with cybernetic enhancements, then let them loose on the streets to do your bidding.
The greatest thing about Syndicate was that it gave free reign to the player: Need some more agents? Bring along a Persuadertron and brainwash yourself some recruits! Can't snipe that public official? No worries, just mow down the whole fricking crowd with a hail of gunfire! Whatever it takes to get the job done, right?
Unfortunately, there are other Shadowy organizations populating the game world, and none of them like some newbie punk muscling in on their turf. So, in order to protect their investments, they send out their own Enemy Agents to deal with your antics. In the beginning, they aren't that tough; but by the end of the game they'll pull out all the stops to crush you, up to and including rigging their agents to explode shortly after death. Of course, as the game goes on, you can access your R&D Labs to fit your agents with deadlier weapons and enhancements, such as lasers, miniguns and energy shields. Not only that, you could use drugs to further enhance the agents' speed, strength and accuracy in the field.
Since a screenshot can't do this game any justice, here's some gameplay footage I found:
All in all, Syndicate was a blast to play; although it got insanely hard near the end. There was also an expansion pack (American Revolt) which was even harder than that; allowing the player to actually call in airstrikes when things got way too hairy (and they always did). Sadly, there was only one sequel, "Syndicate Wars", which was released for the PC as well as the PsOne, as well as a watered-down port of the original game for the SNES:
Really? Deactivate Cyborgs and Disarm them? At least you can still mow down civilians...
After Syndicate Wars (which was nowhere near as good as the original), Molyneux went on to produce such games as the "Dungeon Keeper" series. After EA bought out bullfrog, he moved onto "Black & White" and the "Fable" series. It's a shame, too, because I'd love to see a re-make of Syndicate with updated Graphics and online multiplayer; where people can make their own organizations, and send their cyborg agents against one another within major cities, while everyday citizens are caught in the crossfire. Even better still, groups of people can team up and form even bigger organizations, with each player picking a specific agent for online play! The possibilities are endless, and I think it's high time this game got a facelift.