Wot I Think: Syndicate Co-Op

By Alec Meer on February 24th, 2012 at 8:15 pm.

Alright, I’ve spent today investigating Syndicate’s four-player co-operative online mode, and while I’m obviously several decades away from reaching all the unlocks and whatnot, I’ve got a firm handle on how it all works and if I think it’s any cop. Is it as forgettable as the singleplayer? Is it anything like Syndicate? What would the world be like if Mr Mark Question of Shoreham-on-Sea hadn’t invented the question mark in 1913? Read on for answers to at least two of those questions.

If my ultimate expression after Syndicate’s singleplayer was :/, you may be :-D to hear that my response to co-op is :). It’s wrapped up in all that modern stuff like unlocks and ranks and experience points and keeping all the really great toys at arm’s length until you’ve put the hours in, and it still has about as much in common with Syndicate ’93 as Lawrence of Arabia has Back To The Future, but it’s a well put-together cocktail of team-based multiplayer and objective-based AI-bothering.

You play in teams of up to four, each player picking one of three loose classes which are then further customised depending on the power and weapon loadouts you pick. You work together to nobble all the enemies on the map and achieve a series of objectives, such as defending a friendly aircraft from enemy onslaught, collecting and escaping with server hard drives and hacking gigantic hangar roofs to close before you’re shot to buggery by the guys lurking above. The structure and events of these missions – many of which are named after levels in the original game – aren’t particularly dramatic or memorable, but it’s the working together in the face of steep and increasingly deadly enemy numbers that makes it all work.

I tend toward Support class, with an emphasis on healing powers, which means my attention is divided between taking out enemies at range with a reasonably long range-effective assault rifle and trying to replenish my allies’ health. The latter power is activated remotely, at surprisingly far distances, and crucially can be done at the same time as shooting a guy in the face. I could, if I wished, be lobbing EMPs or activating energy shields or making my enemies’ guns discharge a mini-explosion in their faces. But I left the offensive abilities to the other guys, in favour of hanging back and stopping everyone from falling over prematurely. The simultaneous dual-discipline combat only hinted at in the singleplayer comes to the fore here, as the stakes feel that much higher (screw up and you’re putting your whole team at a potentially deadly disadvantage, rather than simply facing the prospect of a loading screen) and there’s far more variety than the poxy three powers of the campaign.

As you play through the missions, you’ll rank up and gain three distinct types of upgrade. Firstly there’s your main Chip, which has a tech tree similar to the simple and thin health or damage options in the singleplayer, but throws in more variety plus the option to unlock additional tiers of Breach powers.

Then there are your weapons. Each gun in the game has its own unlock tree, with improvements such as recoil, reload time, ammo capacity and armour piercing alt-fire first bought with ‘blueprints’ gained from taking down minibosses and then ‘researched’ by using the gun in question during a mission or two.

Then there are your abilities, which I went into somewhat a mere three paragraphs ago. These have their own blueprints, their own upgrades (e.g. the healing bomb gets a wider radius, the shield absorbs more damage) and their own research time, plus you unlock new powers altogether by beating missions.

If that all sounds like a bit much, too many things to strive for at once, and lost up the dark, cynical sphincter of post-Modern Warfare multiplayer, rather surprisingly that isn’t the case. Partly that’s because this is co-op and the attendant vanquishing of computer-controlled enemies rather than pissing contest that is deathmatch, and so to some extent it’s about escalating your character ever-closer to godhood rather than being stuck on the endless treadmill of keeping up with Joneses. Mostly though, it’s because you’re genuinely building a character of your own, customised to your play-style and preferences. This is done with far more variety and satisfaction than the generic jack-of-all-gun-trades of singleplayer, despite the hamster wheel element inherent in forever chasing a rank-up, and it lends welcome purpose and character to Syndicate.

In some ways it reminds me of a chatter-free and purely co-operative Brink. The look and tone isn’t entirely dissimilar, and it definitely has that element of gradually building your own super-soldier who’ll fight as a complementary part of a (in theory) co-ordinated force. Because you’re up against scripted AI assaults, rather than the respawning waves of Brink’s pseudo-singleplayer, it winds up feeling more like your mini-war is a real event rather than an overtly game-y and endless contest for points.

Again, it’s nothing like Syndicate (apart from in occasional scripted sequences where some civilian NPCs get merciless gunned down) It’s a really solid co-op offering, blending tried and tested unlock-hunger with agreeably excessive sci-fi powers, and I’d urge to simply ignore the flaccid, boring singleplayer mode and charge straight into this instead. It might get old fast, as the missions increasingly seem interchangeable, and not including any in-game voice or text comms is colossal folly for a mode that’s built around working together, so public matches can be frustrating affairs.

Audibly tedious ones too: hearing the same barks every time someone gets shot down and needs ‘rebooting’ is tiresome, and the voices in general are almost utterly devoid of personality. But get together with some friends you can chat with via Steam or Skype or TeamSpeak or whatever and you can be a co-ordinated force of cyberpunk destruction. Alternatively, why not join RPS fan-Syndicate RP-Systems? They are good men, and thorough.

I don’t know that I’m quite willing to say it’s worth purchasing the game just for the co-op, but it’s definitely got enough going for it, in terms of both out-of-the-box frolics and long-term character-building, that if you do pick up the game you won’t feel you’ve made a terrible mistake. I know I’ll certainly be going back for more of it.

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62 Comments »

  1. mollemannen says:

    so does the singleplayer push it over the edge or is it just the co-op that counts?

    • Dhatz says:

      This is the very rare case that makes me sad I’m stuck with piracy, because the solo is mostly just hard because you get to fight lots of heavily armored supersoldiers and far not enough upgrades. but if not far it makes the battles lenghty. Since the financial part of a hypothetical equation is not concerning me, the game is worth a play because I dont have a stack fo anything particularly superior. It tries to do a lot of things right, but dont feel finished. I’m not done with the raft city mission yet, but that much is obvious.

  2. Buemba says:

    Emoticons when used by anyone other than teenage girls make me go >:(

    • Alec Meer says:

      That’s because your parents didn’t love you.

    • Buemba says:

      True, but thankfully I drink enough to forget that most of the time.

      And nothing goes together with alcohol quite as well as sitting at a mall alone looking at teenage girls use emoticons while sending messages on their cellphones.

    • Shuck says:

      “make me go >:( ”
      Turns you into… a rabbit? I’m sorry, I’m emoticon illiterate.
      Also, I’m just disappointed that none of the answers involved what the world would be like if Mr Mark Question of Shoreham-on-Sea hadn’t invented the question mark in 1913. I like to think it involves singing toasters.

    • DickSocrates says:

      You’ll grow out of your anti-emoticon phase when you stop trying to pretend to be mature and realise the only way to survive being alive is to lighten up a little. Unless of course you’re a brooding James Dean type, who posts on gaming forums.

    • Davie says:

      Shuck: Angry eyebrows! ANGRY EYEBROWS! >:( .\ /. ):<

    • Tei says:

      A alternate to emoticons is Backus Normal Form Smileys (BNF-S) . To grin you normally uses >:), in BNF-S format you write <grin>

      This is documented in the Jargon file. The secret elders of the internet, created the Tech Model Railroad Club and established this type of standards. Foo and Bar where invented back then.

    • JackShandy says:

      “Unless of course you’re a brooding James Dean type, who posts on gaming forums.”

      I can’t speak for Buemba, but I’m planning to die prematurely before the year is out.

    • MadMinstrel says:

      >:( is most obviously a chicken, seen from below, wearing a hat.

    • caddyB says:

      ლ(ಠ益ಠლ)

    • Borborygme says:

      No, >:( is an illithid with a unibrow.

    • Bobby Oxygen says:

      “I can’t speak for Buemba, but I’m planning to die prematurely before the year is out. ”

      Rebel without a pause button.

    • DrGonzo says:

      Its easier to be alive if you sell out? Quite the opposite to me. But then I don’t mind emoticons, smileyface, tongue thingy lol roarfles

    • Raniz says:

      @Tei:
      Your SGML is missing an end-tag, now everyone is grinning :s

  3. President Weasel says:

    Not a shame!

    But I still won’t buy it, because it’s just not Syndicate, damn it.
    (Not to mention, for multiplayer unlock-chasing I already have Battlefield 3. It’s a single player game I am looking for, and this ain’t it).

  4. Inigo says:

    OH GOD THE GUI HAS SHAT ALL OVER MY EYES
    IT BURNS
    IT BUUUUURRRRRNS

    • LionsPhil says:

      Someone left the debugging visualisations turned on in the release build.

      (ROBOTS SEE YOU.)

    • kami_sama says:

      It may seem too much information at once in the screenshots, but ingame it gives you the information you need when you need it, and doesn’t hinder the combat. It’s really well done IMO.

    • Screamer says:

      I think he might be talking about the main menu, not the in-game GUI…… no matter how long you squint, you never seem to be able to read it properly :/

  5. Premium User Badge CVraden says:

    What?

  6. Wild_Marker says:

    “Hey guys! I have a great commercial strategy! Let’s release a game with forggetable SinglePlayer that has only the co-op going for it, two weeks before Mass Effect 3 which has a similar coop, unlocks and all, and is probably what our customers will be picking up because they wanted the SinglePlayer anyway! Why WOULDN’T they buy Syndicate??”

    -Anonymous EA Product Planner.

    • President Weasel says:

      It’s Feb, and March is full. Any closer to ME3 is worse than now. After March you’re in a whole new financial year, and “disappointing results for EA after one of their flagship titles slipped” becomes the story.
      I’m sure if it had been ready to ship earlier they’d have tried to fit it in somewhere where their own title isn’t going to crap all over it – but when you’re EA, you do tend to have a lot of titles crapping all over the place.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      The ME3 MP is a co-op arena survival deal. This is a sequence of linear missions. They’re not really the same.

    • Brun says:

      The ME3 MP is a co-op arena survival deal. This is a sequence of linear missions. They’re not really the same.

      That doesn’t matter. EA knows that were Syndicate in direct competition with ME3, the latter would win hands down. ME is a franchise that people are familiar with. They KNOW it will have a “good” single player experience (or at least what they think is good), because it’s BioWare, and by some miracle BioWare has maintained its reputation for making good single player games post-KOTOR/BG2. Syndicate is a new franchise to EA’s target audience (Xbox 360). Their decision to release it outside of direct competition with ME3 is logical.

    • Jannissary says:

      @P. Weasel:
      Pretty sure the fiscal year starts in October (I know it does for the government, anyways)

      @Wild Marker:
      I imagine they hoped to get a better reception than this. I don’t think that ME3 and Syndicate here were really aimed at the same market, anyways, despite being superficially similar. I could be wrong, though, not having played either of these.

    • President Weasel says:

      The fiscal for the games industry is April through to March. 2011 ends in a month.

    • Harvey says:

      perhaps they pushed this one out in order to retain the rights to the IP? I’ve heard that such things happen

  7. Moni says:

    HoAL?

    • Alexander Norris says:

      It does a little scrolls-through-letters-and-symbols thing when it puts words up on screen, and was scrolling through characters to the E in HEAL.

  8. airtekh says:

    Sounds interesting enough for me to take a look at some stage.

    I like a decent co-op shooter.

  9. Koozer says:

    I’m afraid of the correctly spelt title. What’s happening??

    • ChrisP says:

      Well, it’s a reboot, so they wouldn’t call it “2yndicate”. And I guess “Synd1cate” seemed optimistic.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      I think he meant the ‘What I think’. Wot’s happening? :(

  10. Vagrant says:

    QUESTION! Is the co-op randomized in any way? (enemy spawns, for example)

    Basically, I wonder if it’s fun to play through it over and over again. One of the best co-op games I’ve ever played with my friends was Terrorist Hunt in Vegas 2, which had pseudo-random enemy spawns. On the other hand, the predictability of Alien Swarm’s mobs quickly wore itself out.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      Enemy spawns are a tiny bit randomised, but only along the lines of “there are two doors, they might come out of either.” To be honest though, it’s hard enough and frantic enough that you won’t be able to go “I’ll just camp this door.” Also, the enemies are bullet-spongey enough that you can’t really pick them all off as they come out – most of them will make it out of whatever door they’re coming out of, and that’s not mentioning enemies just spawning in another room indoors or whatever.

    • LXM says:

      Unfortunately no, each run is the same. From what I’ve played, upping the difficulty adds in more mini-bosses (and possibly more general enemies too).

  11. Alexander Norris says:

    The niceness of the co-op makes it doubly sad that Starbreeze wasted all that time and effort on the SP, and didn’t just focus on making twice the number of co-op missions. That would have made the game memorable and better.

  12. woodsey says:

    What, we don’t get to choose our own review this time? Consolised rubbish!

  13. Heliocentric says:

    “If my ultimate expression after Syndicate’s singleplayer was :/, you may be :-D to hear that my response to co-op is :)”
    Box quote!

  14. Unaco says:

    This is more encouraging. But I was really hoping for a solid and enjoyable single player shooter, with the Coop being an added bonus. I’ll maybe put this on my “when it’s cheaper” List.

  15. Moraven says:

    I hope they release a standalone co-op, much like DoW2 Last Stand. Killzone 3 is doing something similiar now also, free to play then $15 to completely unlock all of multiplayer.

    I would buy into this co op mode for $15.

  16. Vinraith says:

    Does it scale to 2 players, include bots, or is it a purely 4 player only affair?

    • Premium User Badge JB says:

      ^This? This is a good question.

      Also, “not including any in-game voice or text comms “. Sigh. It’s 2012, people.

    • Vinraith says:

      It constantly amazes me that this kind of information isn’t automatically present in any review of a co-op game. Only the blinders that come with a job in games journalism can really account for it, most people can’t just drum up three friends to play a video game any old time they like. Playing with strangers is simply never as much fun, so it’s important to know whether the game scales to the available players, tries to replace them with AI (and if so, what’s the quality of that AI?), or is simply useless and refuses to accommodate other group sizes.

      It’s literally impossible for many people to make a purchasing decision about a game like this without that information, yet it’s ludicrously difficult to find.

    • YourMessageHere says:

      To me, excluding an extra layer of meaningless in-game VoIP that nobody will use as they already have ventrillo/RW/mumble/[insert comms programme of choice here] is a positive. If you don’t, you can get one of them, and it’s time the devs can spend on something more important.

      EDIT: however, no text comms is unforgivable.

      Vinraith makes a good point. Please, RPS, don’t forget we don’t all have numerous work contacts who are also paid to play games who we can call on to make up co-op numbers. And another thing: we don’t all have super cutting edge PCs either and would appreciate some sort of information on how things run on hardware that has developed permanent layers of heat-baked dust.

  17. Bhazor says:

    “The structure and events of these missions – many of which are named after levels in the original game – aren’t particularly dramatic or memorable, but it’s the working together in the face of steep and increasingly deadly enemy numbers that makes it all work.”

    Is it just me or is this review basically just describing every co-op shooter from the last 5-10 years?

  18. ZIGS says:

    How long are the coop missions?

    • Andy`` says:

      Played through them on Normal difficulty only with friends last night, it took about 4 hours with three of us. I’m of the opinion they should have spent more time making a larger and more varied coop game and spent less time on the singleplayer. The SP’s a little fun but as a story it doesn’t make much sense, and as a game it just falls a bit flat unfortunately.

      I don’t think it scales to the number of people – I’ve played pubbie games with two, three and four players, and it only seems harder due to the lack of coordination, but the spawns and AI behaviour don’t seem any different.

      I am half expecting some DLC to come along and add new coop levels, but really they could have made at least one part of their game stellar to begin with and been better off instead of spreading their efforts so much. Seems they missed that monorail.

  19. Eskatos says:

    Thanks Maude but I think I’ll sit this one out.

  20. Harvey says:

    Just about every screenshot on this and the single-player review is choc a bloc with large numbers and seemingly immersion destroying tags. Is this the case or is it different when playing?

    • Harvey says:

      oops, looks like that was answered earlier.. and I tried to be so careful!

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  22. Kdansky says:

    So I would want to buy this for just the MP, but that’s kinda expensive, and if I wait until it’s on sale, nobody else will be playing it any more, and if they do, they will have all unlocks already, making me a liability?

    Great. :(

    • YourMessageHere says:

      One day, people will remember that the point of playing a game is playing the game, not unlocking the means to play the game.

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