Satellite Reign: Early Access Impressions

Spritual Syndicate sequel/remake Satellite Reign arrived on Steam Early Access last week. Can it possibly live up to its hallowed Bullfrog cyberpunk squad shooter legacy? I jacked in to find out.

The bad news: we’re running out of things that we want spiritual sequels to! Everything we ever wanted is coming true! CRISIS IN VIDEOGAMELAND.

The good news: Syndicate remake (of a sort) Satellite Reign is hot.

The middling news: I don’t have too much to say that Jim didn’t already write a couple of months ago. The initial Early Access version of 5 Lives’ squad-based, semi-open-world shooterette is broadly similar to the backers’ build from October. Many missing features, plenty of bugs, performance issues, placeholder this and that everywhere.

Experiencing first-hand just how well it’s already brought its concept to life has delighted me, though. This cyberpunk city is there, it seems huge and busy, and trekking through it is as difficult as I want to make it. It’s not Syndicate, because Syndicate never did anything on this scale: instead, it’s what Syndicate felt like back in DOStimes.

Two things particularly stand out. One is the look of the thing – this is your Blade Runner city, darkness shot through with dramatically-sized neon advertising and the blood-red glow of hardline authority. It feels like a city on the near-horizon, not of the distant future, and is strewn with enough incidental detail to make it convincingly worn down and grubby as well as high-tech. It’s big, too: even though at present it’s just a section of a city, it feels like crossing a city, not like being penned into a arbitrary zone.

The essentially tininess of the Syndicate camera is preserved, so your squad of enhanced agents seem insignificant and fragile against the great, uncaring backdrop of the city. It’s a CCTV’s eye-view of the world, the player naturally taking on the role of, if not quite dispassionate observer, then at least icy-gazed overseer who cares only about the objective, not the people.

The second thing is that your four agents have distinct roles. One does stealth and access to rooftop ziplines; another can hack terminals, ATMs and people; another heals or gees up the team with, effectively, a slo-mo drug; another is really very good at shooting stuff. Thus, the city becomes a puzzlebox rather than a bird’s eye GTA.

Send him here, hack open that door; turn him invisible, sneak him in there, take out that camera, knife that guard. Alternatively, pour your points and your playstyle into all-out assault, turn up at the front gate and unleash iron-skinned, slow-motion hell. Hell begats hell, however, so either get in and get out very quickly or prepare for a long siege.

There are ripples of possibility from every attempted incursion, and right now I’m enjoying watching them spread. The game is in a rickety state right now, no doubt about that, but nothing like enough to destroy what’s working so very well here.

The big question is how this will all play out on a wider, and longer-lasting stage. Car stuff is super-buggy at present, augmentations and weapon upgrades aren’t in there yet, so there’s no way to tell how bigger stuff will affect the delicate balance of combat, and right now missions (selected in an order of your choice from a rudimentary and placeholder menu) don’t entail anything more than getting inside somewhere. The fun is how you get inside, of course, but I suspect it’s going to need a better pay-off if it’s to be done regularly.

There’s a long way to go for sure, and don’t anticipate spending more than a few hours with the current build, but it’s that rare and precious Early Access thing – a game that gets its fundamentals right, right out of the gate, and I’m actively keen to watch it grow, rather than being frustrated by everything that isn’t there.

Most of all, this: Satellite Reign is on course to be the Syndicate we need, not simply the Syndicate we wanted. Please don’t let anything go wrong.

Satellite Reign is available on Steam Early Access now.

47 Comments

  1. almostDead says:

    You forgot your disclaimer.

  2. unitled says:

    I have played it *a little*; the game is clearly not in a finished state right now, but what I played was more than enough to convince me this is going to be just what I wanted when it is delivered. It looks gorgeous as well, something I wasn’t necessarily expecting.

    I’m on a massive Cyberpunk drive at the moment being mostly obsessed with Netrunner, so I’m really eager to get my hands on Satellite Reign!

  3. sicemma says:

    Bought this today and after a few hours messing around – this is shaping up really damn well. I think one of their interviews mentioned that they wanted to make Syndicate (wars) as people remembered it being, not as it actually was. At least as far as I’m concerned they’ve nailed that exactly.

    And yeah, it’s so thin at the moment that it’s impossible to recommend as something to actually sit down and play – it’s not even so much “alpha” as “demo of an alpha”. But man. That’s a good demo.

    • Guvornator says:

      Aha, I persuaded you did I? You Fool, you fell into my trap! Mwahahahhahaha!

      It’s good, though, isn’t it.

      • sicemma says:

        Yeah, I found it crossed to just under my impulse buy threshold – looks like I really cut that close now that Steam are region locking games down hard. Thanks!

  4. Guvornator says:

    “augmentations and weapon upgrades aren’t in there yet, so there’s no way to tell how bigger stuff will affect the delicate balance of combat, and right now missions (selected in an order of your choice from a rudimentary and placeholder menu) don’t entail anything more than getting inside somewhere”

    When you say weapons upgrades aren’t in there, what do you mean? Because I’ve been able to research and equip different weapons (you have to be by the beacons to change your loadout). Likewise while just going into places does end the missions, who you send in there effects what you get out, which is usually something to research.

    Have they fixed the save games?

    • Axyl says:

      As of today (Wednesday 17th, 5pm GMT) no, the save / load game options still have massive issues with them, but devs say a fix for this is top priority and a patch is due any day. :)

      • sicemma says:

        Big new patch notes just now –

        NOTE: Lots of fixes have been put in place for the save game in this release. This does mean that previous saves will not work with the new version of the game.

        Mac: There’s a known issue with some mac’s that we haven’t been able to recreate/fix yet where it doesn’t run in medium or fantastic quality, for now select “Older PC Quality” then in the options menu enable the settings suitable for your mac.

        Bug fixes and gameplay changes:

        Atm suspicion values fixed (no longer going into negatives)
        Fix Infiltrators sword attack animations
        Fix Infiltrators sword attack energy drain
        Infiltrators sword attack charge distance increased to 15m
        Melee kick distance reduced to 3m
        Add District + Location Bonuses info in resource panel
        Fix guard station not giving bonuses
        Fix assassination bonus not working
        Fix cctv slowdown not working (District level)
        Decreased base cctv suspicion time to 3.5
        Fix bug where cctv suspicion was climbing at half rate
        Increased time for cctv cameras to stay suspicious before cooling down
        Fix skills saving and loading
        Fix not being able to run or sprint if the agent is already walking
        Added vertical scale markers to status bars.
        Added more user interface sound effects
        Update quest logs to show all previous entries. (Collapsing individual entries still to come)
        Fix not being able to spawn soldier with load and save bug.
        Fix Load and Save of parked cars, fix traffic breaking after load game
        Fix Brain Dead Civilians
        Fix Cowering Civilians
        Add Jobs and BasicInteraction to save System
        Load And Save popus up a success/fail window
        Fix Stuttering Enemies and repeated vocals
        Stop Enemies seeing you through walls on occasion
        Fix agents refusing to Move after reviving in cover
        Fix 30 second pause when destroying some cover
        Fix item association with facilities not saving and loading
        Consolidated doctors and scientists into 1 “Researchers” category
        Issue agent commands on mouse down rather than mouse up.
        Orient Players to vertical when exiting car on a slope
        Fix hijacked civs not using cover
        Fixed at least one cause of getting stuck in cars

        Thanks again for all the input, videos and bug reports! They really help us figure out what some of the big problems are and how to fix them. :D
        – Chris

  5. Gap Gen says:

    I’m not sure that devs have understood that when we ask for spiritual sequels, what we want is a modernised version of that game but taking out all the gun violence and replacing it with a journey of enlightenment through our very soul. This looks nice and all, but I’m not seeing the face of God or Noble Eightfold Path in the feature list.

    • Emeraude says:

      That’s because you’re still unawakened.

      Soon you’ll be able to see the infrastructural signs hiding, in-between the code.

      • Hedgeclipper says:

        I no longer see blond, redhead, brunette, just strange glowing green icons…

    • B.rake says:

      Spiritual Syndicate, the upcoming game in which you control a gang of buddist monks, priests, rabbis and gurus as they travel the streets of futuristic cities using Tolletrons and Chopraguns to forcibly spread peace and enlightenment.

  6. padger says:

    Backed this. Not going to play it until “release”.

    /wise old me

    • B.rake says:

      Same, though glad to hear its coming along nicely. Doubt I have anything to contribute to the alpha- my Syndicate bona-fides are: made it through a small chunk of western Europe :\

  7. Shaun Green says:

    I feel pretty much the same way about the game as it stands: excited by the possibility of what is not yet there.

    I could not for the life of me figure out how to use the zipline for that first mission, though. Of course I needed to use that one specific agent! (In the end I just went round the other side and used the unlocked and unguarded door. And I thought security was supposed to be hot in Our Dystopian Future.)

    • Guvornator says:

      You can’t use it until your Assassin has 1 skill point in Master Thief, though, which will probably come after the first mission anyway. That plus a point in Cloak is very useful, although it’s a bit of a bugger that he can’t hack as well.

      • Axyl says:

        Biggest issue i had with the Assassin was the one-hit melee kill ability didn’t seem to work for me.

        I must have tried it multiple times, at least 10, both from Stealth and not, and it didn’t fire for me. Not once.

        But, pre-alpha is pre-alpha and like pretty much everyone else here has said, the foundation of the game is strong. Really strong.

        Time will tell, I guess, but I’m incredibly optimistic about this one so far. :)

  8. Orageon says:

    Agent roles reminds me also a bit about Commandos, which I loved (1 & 2 at least). I like this approach although the best would be that you can customize your agents speciality/class at will, so that you could, for a mission, take 4 gunners and ignore royally any kind of ziplines/stealth.
    But that would mean multiple means of approach to anything in the city almost… a l immersive sim, which seems too big to tackle.
    Still looks good overall !

    • Emeraude says:

      Yeah, the more I see of it, the more I’m reminded of Commando/Desperado. Somewhat more than of Syndicate even, for now.

      Not that it’s a bad thing. I love all those games.

  9. Chris Cunningham says:

    > Car stuff is super-buggy at present

    Ah, a faithful recreation then!

    • Gap Gen says:

      Like a huge dune buggy, running over your enemies? Sweet.

    • B.rake says:

      In the future, cars go where their moods take them. “Recursive Loop” is a common car mood.

  10. Foosnark says:

    This is going to be better than Shadowrun Returns, isn’t it? Please?

    (I mean, I enjoyed the stories in SR and the Berlin campaign but didn’t want to replay them, and never came across user-generated content that I wanted to keep playing for more than a few minutes.)

    • Guvornator says:

      They’re not really comparable. But yes, it is.

      • sicemma says:

        Yeah, “holy shit I wish they’d done the new Shadowrun like this” was somewhere in the first few minutes of my thoughts playing.

    • icemann says:

      You weren’t playing the right UGC then. There is some excellent content out there.

  11. Wowbagger says:

    “a bird’s eye GTA.” You mean like Grand theft auto was originally? Us olden’s do remember such things you know.

  12. Jakkar says:

    Could anyone who has poked at this tell me not how it compares to Syndicate, but how it compares to Syndicate Wars – combat flow, atmosphere, speed of gameplay?

  13. LogicalDash says:

    “Satellite Reign” is a way cooler title than “Syndicate”.

  14. Darth Gangrel says:

    “The bad news: we’re running out of things that we want spiritual sequels to! Everything we ever wanted is coming true!” No, not everything, I could name several games I’d like spiritual sequels to that will probably never happen, but these sure are “spirited” times.

    Okay, Grump Mode activated, the games I love that will probably never get a sequel, spiritual or otherwise: Clive Barker’s Undying, Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines, Knights of the Old Republic and Dark Messiah Might and Magic. I’d probably be able to come up with more games, but all these improbable spiritual sequels are depleting my Grump levels.

  15. NotToBeLiked says:

    Slightly upset at the 4 classes that seem mandatory… It’s interesting that you can specialize agents, but having all of them in each mission does seem to make into more of a puzzle game. Would be far better that you can choose to take 4 stealth agents in and try to get the job done completely unseen, or that you can take in 4 Terminators and shoot up everything, or any combination that you see fit.. It might “break” the game when people come up with ideas that are out of the box, but games these days need a bit more of that kind of breakable, instead of the plain broken games…

    • Emeraude says:

      Now that you put it that way, yeah, I’d hate the game to be to Syndicate what Human Revolution was to Deus Ex.

      One great thing (if not *the* great thing) about Syndicate was the emergent aspect. You were just given an objective, tools, and could go as subtle or crazy as you wanted.
      I’d hate it for that aspect to be replaced by sets of pre-scripted events.

  16. B.rake says:

    (Oooh, and slo-mo drugs, any Dredd 3D fans present?)

    • Shadowcat says:

      If you mean the recent film, it’s hard to answer. The film was otherwise very good (excellent, as Dredd films go), but the “3D” was an abomination. I subjected myself to it solely because no one nearby was showing the film in 2D — which is the only format in which I’d could ever recommend it to anyone.

      • B.rake says:

        Ooops, thought the title was Dredd 3D (Now with 3DFX VOODOO ENABLED GRAPHICAL ACCELERATION!). Isn’t the 2D version just The Raid? I’ve found nearly all my 3D filmgoing experiences abominable, though don’t recall Dredd being particularly offensive- the druggy sequences were quite pretty.

        • Shadowcat says:

          Dredd’s 3D was the worst I’ve experienced, because they seemed to use a remarkably short depth of field, so that looking *anywhere* other than exactly where they wanted you to look was almost headache-inducing. It was the nail in the coffin of 3D for me. I already hated it, but that was the point at which I decided enough was enough.

          I’ve seen a couple of festival films in 3D since then (still hated it, but really wanted to see the films on a big screen), and was also convinced to see “Gravity” in 3D which turned out to be the first and only film I’ve seen for which I felt the 3D was not detrimental to the experience. I attribute that, in significant part, to the highly atypical setting and distances involved, so while it was a pleasant surprise, it didn’t make me any less keen for the 3D trend to die a rapid death.

  17. Raoul Duke says:

    I love everything I read about this…

    …except… this malarkey about agents having classes. Why why why why why? Why, dammit? They should be faceless drones who do what I say, not independent humans with special skills. And I hate games which require me to manage characters in a rock-paper-scissors(-shotgun) type way. Just let me build a squad that works for me, god dammit.

    It seems to fly in the face of their whole philosophy too – they are huge on emergent gameplay, yet they force us to use a squad of specific ‘classes’.

    • Guvornator says:

      So far that’s not how I’ve been playing the game. The classes just add to the Swiss Army knife of options you have at your disposal.

      • sicemma says:

        Hah same, I thought there was just one guy who started with a sniper rifle and that was as far as it went.

  18. thekelvingreen says:

    The bad news: we’re running out of things that we want spiritual sequels to!

    I want Turrican.

  19. airmikee says:

    “The bad news: we’re running out of things that we want spiritual sequels to!”

    Still nothing to succeed Homeworld, still nothing to succeed the Mechwarrior games with a proper campaign mode (MWO is great, but nothing but deathmatches gets old), still nothing to truly succeed Alpha Centauri, and still nothing to succeed Emperor:Battle for Dune. I’m sure there’s more, but those are just the ones I look at on a daily basis as they sit in their jewel cases on the shelf.

  20. Johnny Go-Time says:

    This is the one where I was about to join the Kickstarter then said to myself, “No, it’s time to stop spending so much on Kickstarter.”

    :~(

  21. Overflight says:

    They had me at Black Annex Club: