These abilities make Syndicate more than just another shooter, but not an awful lot more. They alter the gameplay, but they don’t really shake it up in the way that FEAR’s slowmo, Deux Ex’s implants or Crysis 2’s nanosuit did, partly because the levels only allow so much freedom to experiment with your toys. This is the game’s biggest source of disappointment. We can live with an all-out action game and we don’t expect another Deus Ex, but we would like a Syndicate that gave you more scope to do more than just shoot.
What’s more, Syndicate runs rather short of stuff you haven’t seen before, and it’s hampered by some really irritating elements. Do you like needlessly prolonged boss battles? Uninspired levels that take place on top of a moving train? Dull chunks of exposition that flesh out a story that, while well-scripted and well-acted, comes straight from the games cliché cookbook? You’re in luck. Sometimes Syndicate can be brilliant, particularly when you’re facing huge numbers of enemies, using every trick in the book to break them up and bring them down. At its best, it’s seriously good fun. But would we by remiss if we didn’t mention that it also feels tired and frustrating from time to time? Yes indeed.
The good news is that all is forgiven when you get to the co-op game. Rather than rework the single-player campaign for four players, Starbreeze has created a different set of stand-alone missions that take you through a number of different locations and situations. Your DART chip capabilities are cut-back, with no slowmo, suicide or persuasion, but you can still breach some enemy hardware, and you have some new healing powers which you’ll need to keep your comrades in place or get them back on their feet.
In co-op mode, Syndicate is everything a good co-op game should be. It’s fast-paced, relatively simple and awesomely violent, with hordes of enemies to dispatch and a nice balance between cooperation (if you don’t look after each other then the whole squad goes down) and competition (kills earn experience, and there are chips to extract from key enemies to buy you extra powers). As you level up there are chip upgrades and weapon upgrades to unlock, and you gain more flexibility to outfit your character for your own play style. We’re not talking mere perks, but a game with a decent long-term draw.
The available maps have more space to roam around and try different approaches and objectives, and there’s something about playing Syndicate with four agents that just feels right. As a single-player game, Syndicate captures some of the amoral tone, gruesome humour and cyberpunk look of the original games, but it’s only with a team that the name starts to feel appropriate. While we couldn’t hand on heart recommend Syndicate just for the single-player game, it’s worth thinking about as a great co-op experience with an okay solo campaign bolted on, and we’d hope future DLC would just extend this.
Syndicate doesn’t do justice to the name, but it’s a perfectly serviceable solo shooter with an excellent co-op mode. What’s disappointing is that with some more imagination, more cybernetic toys to play with and more interesting ways in which to use them, this could have been so much more.