Syndicate ReviewPublisher: Electronic Arts
UK Price (as reviewed): £29.99 Incl. VAT
US Price (as reviewed): $59.99 Excl. Taxp
Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a good game, wasn't it? Its view of a technologically-driven future felt poignant and possible, while also empowering players as they navigated a story full of complex ideologies.
The stylistically similar Syndicate, on the other hand, opens with a QuickTime event. It follows this up with a button-mashing task, then over the next three levels rushes to give you an over simplified set of abilities and a tree-less tech tree before you get bored. It doesn't get much better from there either; if Deus Ex was an essay on transhumanism, Syndicate is an online meme with a tautological caption and a picture of a dead civilian - "Bad man is bad, LOLZ".
The shared history and concept (both are new versions of PC classics, both are about the dangers of corporations and technology without limits) makes Deus Ex a dangerous touchstone for Syndicate, highlighting all the worst excesses Syndicate falls victim to. Despite having similar starting points, the games end up polar opposites, Deus Ex winning acclaim for giving fans what they want, Syndicate earning scowls for reinventing the series for the worse.
So, if you were a fan of the old Syndicate, don't expect to find anything to get nostalgic over here. Developer Starbreeze has taken the isometric strategy game and all its implicit evils and turned it into a shooter that's as subtle as a town crier with Tourettes. The story plays close to the broad themes of the original game - mega-corporations have replaced governments and wars are fought for market advantage - but the details have shifted. The brutalist level design and utilitarian UI has been replaced with cities all chrome and silver, littered with the thwomp of J-Pop and the neon of TRON. New Syndicate is at once a prettier, more modern and less sophisticated type of game.
And it's a shooter, standing distinct from most other shooters only in how it relabels the 'Use' key as a 'Breach' button, for remote hacking of your environment and the use of your three special abilities. The fact that it's context sensitive and that the context is always bright and glowing cuts out any of the subtlety here too, with Breaching rolled out as the solve-all mechanic for the entire game.
Enemies wearing armour? Breach it. Grenade at your feet? Breach it. Tired of fighting bosses who teleport around randomly while taking more bullets than a suicidal bodyguard? Breach it.
Even people themselves can be breached too, by virtue of everyone having microchips in their brains which let them interface with the future-Internet, though you can only breach these in three ways. Backfire, Suicide and Persuade are the tools of the day, wounding, killing or charming foes to your side respectively, with each ability powered by adrenaline as a contrivance for the sake of balancing.
While it's a little disappointing that these three abilities are the only real superpowers your brain-implant makes available to you, especially when compared to the arsenal in Deus Ex, it's more of a shame that they are rolled out so suddenly. An hour into the game you'll be battling through a generic train level, acutely aware that you've seen everything the campaign has to offer.