Retro Rewind: Syndicate Has A Long Manual

As I’ve said before, Syndicate is a real-time, small-unit tactical game with an isometric viewpoint. You get four agents who you order around to complete your objectives. Sometimes you need to be stealthy, sometimes you don’t. Missions seem to be rather straightforward, and it takes a while for them to really ramp up enough to give you something interesting to do.

In the meantime, it feels like the meat of the game is everything you have to do between missions. You can upgrade your agents and research new tools and weapons for them, like a laser gun or improved cybernetic body parts.

You pay for these things with “taxes.” Once you beat a mission, you conquer that territory for a rival syndicate, and you can take money from the populace. If you want to really get ahead, you can increase the money you get from them, but you do so at your own risk; they might become unhappy with the taxes and refuse to pay at all.

At first, you can pretty much spend your money at will, but if you do it’ll come back to bite you in the ass later, because you’ll make money at a rate that isn’t quite fast enough to recoup what you spent. It’s a delicate balancing act, and you’d better hope to god you don’t get one of your men killed and lose all his or her upgrades.

Once you get to the interesting missions, you’ll want to start messing with your agents’ IPA stats. The game allows you to increase your agents’ intelligence, perception and agility on the fly during missions using drugs, but, as with everything in this game, you’ll need to be careful with this. Improving your agent’s intelligence will be fun for a minute, but then when the drugs wear off and he becomes dumb you might regret playing around.

Syndicate is a fun game, but if there’s anything that it’s lacking, it’s a coherent story. Most missions are merely one-offs, and so the don’t really tie in with each other. Too, your enemy syndicate is essentially faceless. Who are you fighting? The other syndicate, whoever they are. It’s so impersonal.

It’s also interesting to me that the manual is so crucial to your enjoyment of the game. Syndicate is truly born of a bygone age of gaming in which you read the whole story in the manual, and the only way you’ll have any idea how to play the game is to read the instructions. I’m very glad games aren’t made that way now. I may bitch about tutorial missions, but at least those are in the game. I’d rather not have to waste another half hour or more of my life reading a game manual instead of playing the game. I’m not necessarily saying that Syndicate’s reliance on the manual is a flaw — it’s very much a product of its time — but I can say that as a gamer of today it is very frustrating.

Still, that’s no reason to write off Syndicate. It’s part of a genre that we don’t see much of in the mainstream anymore, and it’s a good example of a tactical game. And if you’re at all interested in that genre, it’s a must-play. If strategy isn’t your thing, though, Syndicate isn’t going to change your mind. It’s certainly not a transcendent title. It’s just a regular good game.

So do I care that the reboot is abandoning everything that made Syndicate what it was? Not particularly. I’m actually intrigued that the the new game will give this interesting setting a story. I’m not interested in it as a shooter, though. An RPG probably would have been better, but we’ll see.

Follow Phil on Twitter: @philrowen

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2 Comments on Retro Rewind: Syndicate Has A Long Manual


On January 25, 2012 at 10:05 pm

As someone that played DOS games back in the day, I’m not exceptionally butthurt about Syndicate 2012 being a shooter. The first game itself was practically an isometric shooter in the vein of the Crusader series, and Starbreeze has yet to make a poor game. I honestly could not care less about the story (I haven’t cared about story in a Cyberpunk game since Anachronox)and am just going to enjoy the 4 player co-op.

Although, I do tend to dislike giving EA money.


On January 26, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Command and Conquer is freeware now, I know this article was about Syndicate (which was good) but that first little paragraph mentioning CnC makes me want to go get Tiberian Dawn and shoot some NOD terrorists.

The new Syndicate looks pretty good honestly, I remember my dad playing it when I was young; I was actually 6 as well so never played it myself until many years later, but I’m not particularly upset the new one is FPS either, I feel the same as Jeremy.