Review: 'Syndicate' visuals hamper the fun

Lens flare and extreme lighting proves frustrating and diminishes enjoyment of playing "Syndicate."

Story highlights

  • 'Syndicate' is a reboot from a 1993 tactical shooter and strategy game
  • The DART-6 chip adds to health, recharging, shields and other benefits to complete missions
  • Enemies are numerous, so players will get plenty of practice with weapons
"Syndicate" tries to remake a '90s title into a modern-day, first-person shooter and as far as gameplay mechanics go, it succeeds. But, visually, the game falls so short that it ends up being far from an enjoyable experience.
The new game from Starbreeze Studios and Electronic Arts is a reboot of a 1993 title that was more of a tactical shooter and strategy game than a first-person shooter.
This version drops you into a future where corporations, not countries, control the world, and most of Earth's population has been implanted with chips in their brains. Players act as techno-agents -- with super-charged chips designed to make them incredible warriors
This DART-6 chip technology is implanted in the brain of your character, Miles Kilo. Kilo is tasked with sniffing out corporate espionage and dealing with it -- permanently. The DART-6 makes Kilo more powerful and so fast that the world around him appears to be moving slower.
He also gets additional enhancements early in the game that unleash three different powerful attacks -- suicide, backfire and persuade. Each of these abilities allows Kilo to tap into an enemy's chip and force them to do something against their will.
The "suicide" ability causes a brain chip to explode, possibly injuring surrounding people. "Backfire" shorts out an opponent's weapon temporarily and makes them vulnerable to damage. And "persuade" gets enemies to switch sides and help out Kilo, before blowing their own brains out.
Kilo also gets upgrades by stealing important chips from other people's skulls. The technique is rather disturbing, as the technology is removed through the ear or eye. It's done after the people are already dead, so at least there's that.
These upgrades add to Kilo's health and recharge his power, shields and other skills and tools you'll need to complete your missions.
From a shooter perspective, the action is solid with a wide range of weapons to collect and use. From a simple pistol to the powerful chain gun with infinite ammo, each weapon causes unique, and sometimes very visceral, damage. The chain gun literally cuts enemies in half. If you don't have a strong stomach, don't examine the bodies too closely.
The enemies are numerous, so players will get plenty of practice with their weapons and abilities. Some strategy is needed in most scenarios, but on more than one occasion, the bad guys just kept coming down a hallway without any personal regard while I continued to mow them down.
The boss battles were lengthy and difficult, requiring quite a bit of dodging, restocking and flat-out hiding. Kilo seems extraordinarily fragile for all his offensive firepower, so you will die often.
Civilians aren't immune to all the bullets flying around, but from a game-play perspective, it was hard to determine whether I should care. There's no morality system that punishes or rewards player actions. I tried not to play like a psychopath, but the lines between good and bad get blurred on the way to the game's conclusion.
And speaking of blurred ...
The visual elements of "Syndicate" are, by far its most troubling.
Yes, it is supposed to be a far-flung future, reminiscent of "Deus Ex" or even "Tron." But the way it's rendered was visually painful.
Lens flare and extreme lighting made the game hard to enjoy. Even after adjusting the gamma and blackness controls, transitions from scene to scene often resulted in blinding brightness or darkness so intense that, when I turned away, I couldn't make out individual items on a desk. I spent more time in the video options menu than worrying about what skills I wanted to upgrade.
Glitchy animation didn't help the visual experience, either. Onscreen characters would develop a case of the shakes that made it look like they were going through techno-DTs. On more than one occasion, enemy soldiers would appear to go down, only to spontaneously reappear shooting in the same location.
Detail in the environments was impressive, but most of it was just for show. Walls and barriers would show bullet marks but not take any real damage.
The multiplayer mode teams up two to four players on fairly typical missions.
Cooperation is vital as the enemies appears single-minded in their desire to destroy you. It doesn't detract from the overall game, but it is important to get with people who know what they are doing. Those "solo" team members are just going to get themselves -- and you -- killed.
Overall, "Syndicate" has solid, fun combat that requires creativity to overcome. But that's hampered by its visual style and glitchiness.
If you can get past that, don't treat it as a reboot of the game you may have liked in the '90s. Treat it as something new, and you'll probably enjoy it more.
"Syndicate" is available now in North America and February 24 in Europe on Windows PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It is rated M for Mature because of blood and gore, intense violence, strong language and suggestive themes. This review was done using a review copy for the Xbox 360.