Syndicate. (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Paul C. Schuytema
The recent trend in science fiction has been to paint the near future as a dark, dirty dystopia. Electronic Arts' science-fiction strategy game, Syndicate, is no exception. Created by Bullfrog, which brought us Populous and PowerMonger, Syndicate is a dark, bloody, Ridley Scott--esque strategy game set in 2096. You take on the role of a pseudogodfather, riding herd on a crime syndicate looking to cash in on a world made ripe for plundering by megacorporations.
The task is simple: You must conquer the globe through a series of covert assassination, bloodbath, and persuasion missions. The tools of your trade are genetically augmented cyborgs, outfitted with a neural control device which allows you to alter the brain chemistry of the agents, boosting their intelligence, perception, and adrenaline levels. While the agents battle it out on the streets of tomorrow's cities, you hover safely overhead in an ultra-modern airship.
You conquer each territory by completing a specific mission plan, and as your sphere of influence grows, so does your revenue from taxes. Revenue is important, because the only way to succeed in the series of increasingly difficult missions is to have stronger and faster agents armed with more and better firepower. The cyborg agents can be updated in any number of ways, from cybernetic limbs to enhanced computerized brains. Weapons range from simple automatic pistols to high-powered laser rifles and beyond. To have access to these toys, though, you must research the technology, and as any good technohead knows, research costs serious money.
Once the agents have been outfitted with the tools of the trade necessary for the mission, they're delivered to the scene of the mission, and you assume control. The play screen is divided into three main windows. The first gives control of the agents, either singly or as a group. You can alter the agents' chemical levels and may even choose to induce a state of controlled panic, pumping all drug levels to maximum. When pumped up, the cyborgs really fly, but when the drug wears off, they slow down considerably. The second window is an overhead sensor display which shows the direction of the object or person that is your mission objective and indicates the location of civilians, police, and rival cyborgs. The main window shows a skewed 3-D overhead view of the city, rendered in crisp, brooding Super VGA. The attention to details--such as working levitation cars, magnetic-levitation trains, and neon billboards--is impressive, but the cities are just a touch too clean and sharp-edged for such a bleak future.
You control the movement of the agents, as well as which weapons they shoulder and whom they fire upon. Often missions become bloodbaths, with rival agents and police officers descending from all corners. The AI is decent, although not brilliant. I do like the way the civilians run away when you level your sights on them.
Syndicate is a lot of fun. The game is easy to learn, but the missions are challenging enough to keep the interest level high. While scenarios are centered on offensive firepower, you've got to develop a unique defensive strategy for each mission. You may, for instance, need to split your agents, hiding one behind a corner to rush in and flank the enemies. As you battle, weapons run dry pretty quickly, but you can always use the rather nasty tactic of cop hunting. One shot will take a policeman out, and your agent can then retrieve a fully loaded shotgun to pursue more important targets. This isn't a game to use as a morality lesson for the kids--it's bloody, it requires you to be ruthless, and some people may take issue with the use of drugs to control your agents. But it's a ball to play.