We were excited about Syndicate as everyone else. Well, we were excited about it when it was codenamed BOB. We were excited about it when it was Higher Functions. And we were still pretty excited about it when it became Syndicate… until we realised how much this game which held so much promise has been gutted. Unless something major happens between now and its release in late Summer, we can’t see it being anything other than an unmitigated disaster and an insult against all PC gamers.
Consider this preview on page 69 of Amiga Power – may the sun never set on its glorious pages – where we describe a game unlike the simple violence rampage that we’ve promised, instead we’re hinted at a subtle, intelligent thriller. They promise making everything exact to the real world, so your corporate agents must not be caught actually breaking laws, so hurting the share value. When footage has been released of men in coats, standing in the middle of a plaza, opening up with miniguns, I think it’s safe to say such considerations are out of the window.
Tactically speaking, promising aspects like the team-management have been stripped back entirely. Previously, it was promised that you’d be able to specialise your team according to which role the four would play – making one more technically adept. In place, we have simple cybernetics which provide bonuses in each area. Apologists may say that you can do similar things with just choosing what upgrades you take – making one character fast, while the other resilient… but that doesn’t include any of these “technical” areas and with the costing, I suspect we’re all just going to upgrade the agents pretty evenly across the board. Let’s forget technical aspects, like four-player system-link mode which have been jettisoned.
Perhaps the most tragic loss is the cutting back of the AI system in the world and the agents. You still control the agents by drugs, but it’s far more simple ability boosts and general responsiveness than the subtle game which was hinted towards. Giving them too much intelligence drugs so they come to their senses and run off? A brilliant addition to the Blade-runner universe, swapped for simple dumb slavery. Or maybe we were being lead along as fools all the while. Molyneux and Bullfrog are notorious for promising more than they could possibly deliver. When elsewhere they talk about wanting to have an aggression/pacifism system where, if you order them to take control of a car, your actual approach will vary. High aggression would simply steal the car. High pacifism and intelligence would lead to the agent running off and finding the car’s owner and getting the keys off them.
That sounds amazing. And that would have been amazing, if only Bullfrog would have stayed true to their convictions. In going for this dumbed-down travesty, we’re getting the ultimate irony. That a game about a dark future is a dark future.