Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
I’m playing Satellite Reign right now, so the Bullfrog subversive squad-shooter which heavily inspired it is very much on my mind. SR marks a sea-change: a game that’s been bewilderingly ignored by studios for decades is only now getting the follow-up it deserves.
Syndicate’s appeal is two-fold, but one of them perhaps doesn’t have the allure it once did in these post-GTA times. The freedom to murder civilians without consequence is old hat these days, which is a shame – not from a latent psychosis point of view, but because games’ ability to transgress is so diminished. (And when it is attempted, so often it’s simply into nastiness; boundaries not pushed, but shock factor ramped up cynically).
Syndicate, at the time, genuinely presented a world of pitch-black darkness, in an age where we were surrounded by garish colour and straightforward heroism. It means so much to so many because it really was a rite of passage: games growing up, and taking us with them. Not to mention that it was an entrypoint to cyberpunk.
Its other appeal is more timeless, and what Satellite Reign is belatedly restoring to us. Syndicate is city as strategy – managing its roads, its buildings and inhabitants in order to progress to your objectives. Its parts are simple – move tiny people across the map, shoot when you need or want to – but every time they walk on effects and consequences, and situations to manage, ripple outwards. You can avoid chaos outright, but at its best Syndicate is about controlling chaos, and turning it to your ends.
It shows its age, in appearance and especially UI/UX, but it’s a stone-cold classic, with so much still left untapped.