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.
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