Syndicate Hands-On Preview: From Bullfrog To BS

There is a certain level of irony in the amount of hype, press and videos EA has been spewing out about their new iteration of Bullfrog’s 1993 classic Syndicate, in that it is very similar to some of the ‘hype’ lauded by gaming guru and Bullfrog co-founder Peter Molyneux in his heyday. And by ‘hype’ I mean bullshit. Not to discredit the man who also brought us Theme Park, Theme Hospital, and Populus, but he does have a habit of overegging what was included in his games, like the confession that the now-cancelled Project Milo demo video at 2009’s E3 was tightly scripted.

But he doesn’t even work at EA anymore, who bought Bullfog in the late 1990s and integrated the company into its massive domain (again, the irony that this game is about massive rival companies running the world is not lost). Most of the other Bullfrog developers went on to found the now defunct Mucky Foot. And yet EA did not think to call them when reviving one of their old games.

They might wish they had.

Platforms: PC, PS3 (Version Played), Xbox 360
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Genre: Science Fiction FPS
Release Date: February 21, 2012
ESRB Rating: Mature

I was a massive fan of the original isometric espionage cyber-punk game, but despite the fact that the new version was YET ANOTHER FPS, I was looking forward to it after watching the initial trailer. It probably helped that I was playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution at the same time. Deus Ex, but with more shooting – that was how it presented itself.

The demo is of the four player co-op mode that most mirrors the original (but don’t worry, there is no competitive mode in the finished game, so no need for a niggly EA Online Pass). You form part of a team of augmented cyborg agents assigned with a mission in Western Europe. The objectives are to infiltrate evil rival syndicate, Cayman Global, steal some info, shoot some bad guys and finally eliminate the heavily armored Colonel Enrico Gabron, which my team and I managed with a variety of success each time I played. The level is split up into sections, only accessible once your entire team has reached the next gate lock, so there is a strong emphasis on helping out your cyborg comrades by aiding them or ‘rebooting’ them if they are heavily damaged.

So what are the major malfunctions of this reimagining? Well, first off, despite Starbreeze’s claims that there was no point in making YET ANOTHER FPS unless they could bring something ‘original’ to the table (note to Alanis Morissette – this is irony), what the demo shows is a bland game design with a tepid, uninspiring color palette. The weapon wobble on the guns makes aiming beyond difficult, with no option to steady or zoom. The chip interaction that is meant to make the game so unique is nothing more than turning off turrets or overriding doors. Nothing about this says ‘original,’ more ‘orange anal,’ which I presume is the shade used for the opening menus.

There were also a couple of bugs I encountered that forced me to restart; one was my character kept reloading the gun repeatedly, while in my last two playthroughs the game just cut out to the end credits, despite all my team being alive and healthy.

Outwith the demo, it seemed as if some the original’s features have transcended to 2069, such as the weapon and application research, along with upgrading the chips as in Deus Ex. While I applaud these inclusions, what annoys me about these sections, and indeed all of the menus, is that Starbreeze has chosen the smallest font size imaginable. At one point I had to get up off my arse and have my nose almost touching the screen before I could read it.

So why make a classic strategy game into YET ANOTHER FPS? Beats me, but based on this, I’ll be waiting for a sequel to Deus Ex before I get my augmentation on again.

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In addition to being Warp Zoned's UK Correspondent, Andrew Rainnie is a screenwriter and filmmaker. You can email him at andrew AT warpzoned DOT com or you can, if you're inclined, visit his personal website.

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