In the dystopian future of Syndicate, where massive corporations have replaced governments and turned their populations into their chip-monitored workforces, business is war. That’s true enough for Miles Kilo, one of their countless, faceless enforcers, who has “volunteered” to test the new DART 6 biochip—initially by being tied to a chair and beaten. (The chip is powered by adrenaline, if that helps.) But for the player, this business is also a pleasure. From the stark and saturated landscapes of corporate headquarters in L.A. and the unchipped squalor of “downzone” New York, to the floating city raft of La Ballena, and through the inventive combination of weapons like stun batons, penetrating lasers, and dual-mode sniper/assault rifles and hacker abilities that allow you to Backfire enemy systems, Persuade them to fight with you, or to out-and-out commit Suicide, Syndicate is a blast. This is what politicians mean when they refer to the power of the free market: If it weren’t for the occasionally game-breaking lag in multiplayer or the random freezes that occur when there are too many chain-guns firing at once, I’d probably still be playing it right now.
As a single-player first-person shooter, Syndicate isn’t all that original. The R2 button brings up the Dash overlay, which highlights all visible enemy targets and switches into a slow-motion bullet-time, while the L2 button uses your abilities to hack enemies; using these two skills in combination with one another builds a rampage meter, which in turn more quickly replenishes the adrenaline that these techniques require. It’s as if the makers of the arcade-shooter Bulletstorm (or Vanquish) were making their own version of Deus Ex, both in terms of aesthetic and gameplay, and both in the best possible way. Yes, there are some small concerns about the use of the directional pad to toggle between alternate fire and your three abilities, but for a largely original property (this Syndicate is nothing like its more strategic predecessor from the ’80s), all of the kinks seem to have been ironed out.
What the single-player campaign lacks in breathtaking set pieces and the variety of settings found in other modern FPS games, it makes up for in challengingly but fairly scripted boss encounters.
This is especially true—save for some unacceptable lag—of the co-op mode, which is so enjoyable it makes you forget about the lack of PvP options. As in most modern multiplayer games, the lobby is filled with endless stats and weapons, abilities, and chips—which increase your base health, ammo, adrenaline, etc.—to upgrade. There’s even a board filled with contracts that you can complete to get additional experience points, depending on the number of colleagues in your particular syndicate. Unlike Syndicate’s brethren, though, the online play is divided into nine four-player maps that emphasize teamwork rather than camping; you compete by slaughtering chains of enemies, and can gain points just as efficiently by healing—or otherwise augmenting your friends—as you can by hacking and crashing your opponents.
And you’ll need to heal your allies: Whereas the one-hit kills of a sniper or rocket launcher, let alone the slow burn of a thermite rifle, can be frustrating in a solo campaign—mainly because of the middling load times—in a co-op campaign, they merely knock your character into a reboot mode, in which you must attempt to crawl to an active ally who can resurrect you. In many ways, this is better than respawning, which takes the edge off of dying; it also makes cover even more of a necessity, and makes the “Last Man Standing” alert a nail-biting event. Still, even with three difficulty levels extending the play, the lack of AI and predetermined enemy spawn points leaves something to be desired; likewise, the game doesn’t offer you computerized allies, so you’d best play now while the game is fresh. (Left 4 Dead remains a benchmark for co-op play.)
That said, Syndicate is positively addictive, and what the single-player campaign lacks in breathtaking set pieces and the variety of settings found in other modern FPS games (like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3), it makes up for in challengingly but fairly scripted boss encounters, a chillingly bleak and convincing setting, and a variety of foes that range from shielded, fast-moving UAVs (flying drones) to riot-shielded soldiers and heavy-weapon toting Lieutenants (the game’s equivalent of mini-bosses, which also include Sergeants and Generals). Performance audits at the end of each level offer adequate incentives for solo replay, while global leaderboards for both you and your syndicate encourage you to keep dipping into the multiplayer long after you’ve mastered it.