If Syndicate is to be believed, the megacorporations of tomorrow will stick microchips in our heads and use killer cyborgs to enforce brand loyalty. It’s a future where Google would send the Terminator after you for ditching Android Irn-Bru Mushroom Pasty or whatever wacky name they’ll have for their OS in 2069.
Instead of playing a man on the run for changing his smartphone contract, Syndicate wisely casts you as the cold-hearted man-machine whose idea of corporate espionage is to gun down your rival’s employees.
Although this cyberpunk vision is in keeping with the 19-year-old PC and Amiga game that inspired it, in every other way Syndicate 2012 is unrecognisable from its ancestor. Syndicate is now a first-person shooter with a taste for brutality that is surprising even in a genre known for its morality blind spot. You stomp on heads, see people recoil as bullets pierce flesh and – darkest of all – hack their brain chips and force them to shoot themselves as they wail in fear.
These hacking powers coupled with the meaty gunplay do a great job of making the player feel as if they are controlling a Terminator-like killing machine. But it’s all wasted on the solo campaign, which is a banal trudge pockmarked by joyless boss battles and a by-numbers story that thinks it might surprise players to learn that the killer cyborg-hiring corporation they work for might be a bit dodge.
The solidity of the combat and quality of the presentation may be enough for some players to overlook some of Syndicate’s more mundane aspects, but in the painfully overcrowded FPS market, it’s not unreasonable to expect more.
Thankfully, when you switch over to the online co-op Syndicate finds its swagger. The four-player missions are feisty shootouts with challenging enemies and open-ended action that’s enlivened by the need to heal comrades, steal corporate secrets or defend equipment.
Unfortunately, Syndicate’s greatest strength is under-utilized – with just nine co-op missions and no competitive multiplayer, the thrills fade fast. If only the developers dumped the solo missions entirely and spent their time beefing up the co-op action instead, the overall experience would be more unique, more interesting, and downright better.