Hot off the cybernetically enhanced heels of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, this similarly themed action game is like one of the failed abortions of Ripley in the fourth Alien film we all try to forget exists. Inherently flawed failed potential.
I like to think I am open minded enough to accept a few flaws, whether it be in a game or a film. I’m especially not one to complain about graphics in a game much, more concentrating on gameplay, however two major aspects of Syndicate pissed me off so much they almost rendered the game unplayable, and both are graphic-related issues. So pointless and unnecessary, which makes the whole thing even more annoying.
I was immediately irked by the horribly blurry and tiny font in the menus. The game features so much text that explains the backstory of the world and features of the game, yet it’s all barely readable. Before you ask, yes I have a HD TV. This is an unforgivable flaw of the game that almost had me eject the disc and toss the thing away.
I ended up continuing to play out of stubbornness, I did pay for the damn thing after all. But after the first few hours of play I stopped reading any of the many notifications that popped up to let me know I had obtained datafiles on the world, weapons, items, people, organisations, etc. All that effort, all that world-building by the writers wasted. Normally I would lap that info up, but Syndicate was made by people who hate legible text so I had no choice but to plunge onwards in a game I had no investment in whatsoever.
With Deus Ex, I was curious about the world envisioned, and delved into the clues fed to me. I actually gave a shit what happened to the protagonist Adam Jensen. With Syndicate, I forgot what my character’s name was, and considering he never speaks, he’s nothing but a cipher. But heck, even Gordon from Half-Life had more personality than this murderous dude!
The second graphical crime against humanity committed by Syndicate is the completely over the top ‘bloom’ effect that makes the levels shine blindingly. It is truly ridiculous how forced this effect is, making the game almost unplayable (noticing a trend here?). Jokes about JJ Abrams and his love for the infamous lens flare effect seem tame in comparison to the kaleidoscope madness Syndicate assaults your eyeballs with. Your POV is often nothing but a hazy fishbowl. Utterly ridiculous.
Compounding all this are controls that feel sloppy in some subtle way. Everytime you turn one way, the camera jiggles, as if your character is perpetually hungover.
The two biggest features controlled by either shoulder button on the controller are the ability to go into DART mode which is slo-mo Matrix vision highlighting enemies behind walls, and ‘breach’ mode which allows you to use three special hacking abilities that horribly maim or kill your enemies like a psychopath. Other than these features, it’s a pretty generic FPS that’s so linear it continually saps you of energy.
Coming across doors that won’t open for any legitimate reason in a game is stupid considering the era we’re living in. Give me a reason why I can’t go through this weak-looking door or just let me go through it!
There are moments in combat that are cool, albeit very mean-spirited which is a constant theme throughout, with two of your major hacking skills causing your enemies to commit suicide. It doesn’t help that your colleague, a dude called Merit (gravelly voiced Michael Wincott) casually kills innocent civilians without a care in the world. I don’t know if I’m getting too old for this shit or what, but when we boarded a train and he just started executing random people for no reason and my character just strolled along behind him without complaint, well it was kind of uncomfortable to put it lightly.
I suppose it’s simply world building, however that’s in contrast to the fact that if you kill innocents, your energy meter does not charge your abilities as much as if you kill enemies. So the developers are also insinuating that killing innocents is a no-no, and yet your character lives in a cutthroat world participating in such actions.
Halfway through the game I came upon a typically infuriating boss battle which seemed inherently unbalanced, with nothing enjoyable or challenging about it, just dependant on luck to coast on by. After 30 minutes trying to beat a son of a bitch called Ramon, I realised life is too short to spend on a game as annoying as this one. The boss battles are nothing but you suffering constant damage, inflicting only a smidgen in return and the whole thing just dragging on.
One thing I take away from Syndicate is that when I play a good game, heck even a mediocre one, I need to appreciate the developers more. Because the masters of the medium really do make it look easy. The syndicate behind Syndicate seemingly failed to come together as a coherent team, ultimately vomiting up a hazy indistinct image of a game. Not an actual working one.