Have You Played… Satellite Reign?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I never completed Satellite Reign, because fellow journo and one-time board game co-conspirator Matt Lees told me something that completely demolished my enjoyment of it. I won’t tell you that thing unless you come with me below the line, because I want you to know that this game is pretty good and you shouldn’t listen to me. It’s an isometric neon haze of cool cyberpunk freedom fighters who will get in and out of scrapes in supreme style, in a vast city that looks just as cool as anything Deus Ex has thought up. I recommend it. That’s all. You can go now.

Oh, you followed me below the line? Well, it’s just an Ubisoft game in disguise, isn’t it? A game of tickboxes and upgrades and sidequests – no greater purpose or direction other than clearing those little icons off the mini-map. That’s what Matt said to me, the bastard. And he was right. Suddenly, I didn’t like it anymore. It was like seeing through the style, the haze, the artistry and noticing the grubby puppeteer hunching in the shadows above it all. Ten minutes ago, I was enjoying this game immensely. Now, I realise I have played it a dozen times before in another skin. Ubi’s formula has infected a much more exciting world than they had ever created. Yuck.

That’s not a huge revelation, it probably doesn’t even put you off. Ubisoft’s sugary omni-design is good enough for a lots of us. Even I get on board if the world is right – I thought The Division was spot on, for example. But there’s something about noticing the strings that I am rarely able to come back from. I played maybe thirty minutes more of Satellite Reign, which I’ll still say is a good game – because it’s got style enough that it took someone else to break the illusion.

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28 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    Wait, the fact that it’s a game in which you do things to accomplish objectives is what put you off of it?

    What games do you even manage to play anymore?

    • Fomorian1988 says:

      The problem many people have with Ubi’s current design school is that it clutters the map with tens of activities, and each type of activity remains the same throughout the game, with none or miniscule variation. For many, it turns maps into to-do lists, with each activity (you can’t really call them quests) a different box to finish and move on to the next. The problem isn’t doing, it’s repetition.

      • subedii says:

        I’m not really sure it’s an apt comparison though.

        Personally I played and finished the game. Admittedly by the end of the game your team is kind of OP, but in general the game felt a lot more like a real-time cyberpunk heist simulator. It was all about getting your team into different facilities, evading security, and winging it when things go wrong (or just deciding that blowing open a door and legging it is just as valid an option as stealthing your way to the end of a heist).

        Even with your team at the later levels though, it was very easy for your team to get overwhelmed with endless security coming for you, and it was useful to have backup contingencies (like hacking door escape routes and well placed satchel charges before you go through with something that might trigger an alarm).

        In all I thought it was a pretty decent game. Not perfect, but pretty good, and the visual aesthetic was just plain spot on. Each district had its own subtly unique “feel” whilst still largely being cyberpunk (which unfortunately made the industrial district look about as dull as it sounds).

        • Fomorian1988 says:

          In my defence, I haven’t played Satellite Reign, so I have no idea how it compares to the regular Ubi fare. I assume it’s similar to how Horizon Zero Dawn is described – a game that does the Ubi shtick but much better and enjoyable (for people who dislike Ubi open world games).

          • haldolium says:

            I came to a somewhat similar conclusion, it’s too much checklist design.

            It’s not as bad as the overal ubification when it comes to big budget titles from Warner, SQE and of course Ubisoft, but it was sadly lacking some more in-depth charme to keep me interested.

            What I disliked a lot more about it was actual combat mechanics. I wish it would’ve been turn based instead of real time. Managed 12 hours thanks mainly to the great visual cyberpunk design, but eventually I lost interest in it before I finished it.

            /that was actually not meant as a reply here.

    • MisterFurious says:

      “Wait, the fact that it’s a game in which you do things to accomplish objectives is what put you off of it?

      What games do you even manage to play anymore?”

      What a stupid comment. That isn’t what he said. You’re oversimplifying in a failed attempt to look witty. You aren’t.

      As for the game, it looks really cool and I enjoyed the first section but it is insanely repetitive and gets old really quickly. I love the look of it but I had to force myself to finish it.

  2. Danarchist says:

    I think that’s a bit of a generalization honestly. This game isn’t re-writing the standard for awesome or anything, and I do not think it ever tried too. It is a fun isometric jaunt through all things Gibsonesque with a few interesting mechanics.
    Sure its not a game changer, but its a good game. I felt like I got my money’s worth out of it, allot of games do not give me that. Especially ubisoft games which always feel like someone talked me into a free seminar for $60.

  3. Spuzzell says:

    I’ve had enough of Ubiquity design too, it’s not that it’s intrinsically bad, just.. it’s a bit old now.

    I’m sure I’ll replay Far Cry 3 and 4 at some point, for example. For new titles however, it would put me off.

    Also, The Division was ruined for me on release with the live action short. If in that live action film each hoodie wearing baddie needed to be shot 30 times you’d have laughed in its face for being ridiculous.

    I couldn’t get past its gamey stupidity. The best thing they cold have done in my eyes to make the game bearable is put every bad guy in some form of body armour and helmet to at least preserve SOME illusion of logic.

    • EwokThisWay says:

      I had a discussion about that kind of issue a few days with a friend.
      I was praising the Mass Effect saga for the way they gave the old “damage sponges enemies” some logic in this universe.
      In Mass Effect, everyone has a Health bar that goes down pretty quickly, and then on top of it can have additionals “shield bar”, “armor bar” and “biotic barrier”.
      It makes shooting enemies over and over until they die way more logical.

      • Meatpopsicle says:

        I thought it was good two, especially when they focused on stripping down those barriers with certain powers. Though I remember on the harder difficulty on ME2 every enemy had barriers and armour or shields and armour. Made using biotics alot less fun.

  4. CartonofMilk says:

    I tried this game cause someone told me it was Syndicate’s spiritual successor. I got excited but soon realised (not even an hour in) that as good as Syndicate was 24 years ago, i didn’t care to play it again today. World has moved on and all that. Can’t really fault the game for that though.

    • Premium User Badge

      alison says:

      This is kinda what I gathered from the reviews. I love cyberpunk and I do have fond memories of Syndicate, but outside of the ambience I have no interest in playing a game with those sorts of mechanics any more ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      • Guvornator says:

        As someone who did buy it for it’s Syndicate-ness, it really is closer to a cyberpunk Commandos, as all your minions are class based and an element of stealth is required. It’s a good game. Not the best and has some rough edges, but one senses that if it gets a sequel that one will be corker.

    • Raoul Duke says:

      The thing is, if you fire up Syndicate Wars today it is, IMHO, still a vastly superior game to Satellite Reign. The designers of the latter (which from memory include one of the designers of the former) crafted a very beautiful world but left out almost all of the personality that made Syndicate and SWars great, as well as making the gameplay too tactical and cover based. The whole point in the Syndicate games is that your team are very tough cyborg murderbots, not that they are weak squishy humans who need to hide behind concrete and wait for the enemy to reload.

      That plus no destructible buildings plus weapons that just lack punch and fun factor really make Satellite Reign a disappointment for me.

  5. DrollRemark says:

    Funny, I’ve only played the intro, and I didn’t feel it pulling me into the main game enough to carry on, but I have been meaning to go back to it. Now I think about it, even though I didn’t realise it at the time, the arbitrary objectives of it post-intro did leave me a little cold. “Go to the eight places dotted across the map for no real reason, just go. Whilst you’re there, go to these other similar points. Why? Shush.”

  6. klink-mit-panzerslip says:

    I tried to play in multiplayer and it just proved to be frustating, buggy, unplayable. I dropped the ball.

  7. gabrielonuris says:

    Actually this game is terrible not because of its ubistuff (actually the missions are pretty good and straighforward); the problem with Satellite Reign is that it doesn’t work as intended. It’s a Syndicate spiritual successor which tries too hard to be like Commandos, but ended up being none: the enemies are bullet sponges, your agents breaks as if they were made of glass, the stealth is almost non existent and simple actions like walking behind a target and shoot turns into a bugged mess where your agent run in circles, get down, get up and shoot the wall.

    • Raoul Duke says:

      Yep, enemies are way too tough and there’s way too much focus on cover/stealth mechanics. There were zero stealth mechanics in Syndicate, other than “are you currently holding a huge death cannon?”

    • MisterFurious says:

      Once, my team entered a stairway door and never came out. Never.

  8. Mates says:

    I am actually about two thirds into the game right now and intend to finish it. Got it during Christmas sale and I like it a lot as it scratches my itch for cyberpunk games pretty well. It’s true that the difficulty curve is not very balanced. In the beginning I had problems with completing longer missions, now I easily solo all missions with heavily upgraded “Infiltrator” agent (who has invisibility cloak) while the rest of the team watches from the sidelines.
    As for the “Ubigame in disguise” thing, I just don’t see it. The differences are too large for me. If anything, it is a roguelike in disguise.

  9. Lieutenant_Scrotes says:

    Syndicate Wars was another of those games that blew my tiny mind when I played it on the Playstation as a child.

    When you’re used to typical console fare and you play a game with such scope for tactical improvisation it really broadens your concept of what a game can be.

    I had heard that Satellite Reign was a ‘spiritual successor’ to Syndicate Wars and was disappointed with how limited the gameplay felt compared to my (admittedly nostalgic) memories from all those years ago.

  10. Hyena Grin says:

    This was a game I really wanted to like. I wanted to like it a lot. And I could see a younger me really getting into it.

    But as an older gamer, I just found myself constantly irritated that it wasn’t turn-based (or even, if I recall correctly, pause and play).

    What I think some developers who try to go with this model don’t seem to recognize is that as soon as you take away the fine granularity of control and decision-making, all the cracks and flaws in your AI start to jump out into the forefront. If you don’t have really good AI that can handle itself in the absence of a player’s micromanagement, it’s going to frustrate players, and they are going to blame the game before they blame themselves.

    Rightly or wrongly. I guess it doesn’t matter. At some point I got distracted enough with a new game that Satellite fell off my radar.

  11. Rituro says:

    Shameless plug – I’ll be playing this on my Twitch stream tomorrow night (7pm, Pacific Time).

    Honestly, Satellite Reign exactly what I thought it would be, genre failings be damned. The seamless pacing irks me a bit — Syndicate’s mission structure still holds up based on my last GOG playthrough — and the exploit where you can freely pass through locked doors is a real immersion-breaker.

    Then again… calmly stealth-killing your way into the heart of an enemy installation only to slip up and have three dozen goons chasing you down is ” ‘Yakkity Sax’ chase”-style absurd and I love it.

  12. Jakkar says:

    It worked for me. Sometimes, a system of gameplay is what you need. My ideal games are the Dwarf Fortresses and the STALKERs, but when I’m exhausted by the world or my head isn’t treating me well, a formulaic but satisfying sandbox can be tremendously helpful, comforting, and distracting.

    Sometimes, distraction is the best you can hope for.

    That said, I loved this game as more than just a coping method – I fell in love with the technically exact gameplay and careful planning and how gloriously it can all go wrong.

    It’s an awkward child of forgotten genres, it takes some learning to master, but when it clicks, it’s a wonderful toy.

    I pray for a sequel. Particularly one with a better art style – the city is good, but the Agent player characters are just clowns covered in luminous tubelights.

  13. keefybabe says:

    Satellite Reign at least manages to hide it better than most. I remember opening one of the latest infamous games on the ps4, seeing a map full of boring busywork and collecty items, inwardly groaning and turning it off.

  14. frozbite says:

    I tried to play. I was hyped it will be spiritual successor for cyndicate and cyndicate wars… but it looked too unity type of game in its worth meaning.

  15. Kelvin says:

    You spend a lot of time having your illusions broken do you?

    Here; you read this, and I promise that I’ll try ruin every game for the rest your life with a single, long, revelation.

    Ready? =)

    Ok. Here we go.

    Games aren’t real. Stay with me. Your accomplishments in games have no extrinsic value. The only value to be found in games is in your enjoyment of them. Your enjoyment comes typically from being told a clever story, or from a sense of progression provided by mastering the mechanics of the game.

    It doesn’t matter what the mechanics are as long as they are consistent, provide a degree of difficulty, and let the player achieve greater degrees of “success” through mastering them either by practice or by trial and error.

    At some point you will have played every game. There will always be new combinations of story, art, and mechanic; but you will one day have seen every element individually. You may have already.

    At that point you will then only be able to find enjoyment in games by looking for increasingly esoteric or bizarre stories to plunge your (likely desensitized) mind into, or by increasing the difficulty required to master the mechanics to ever higher and harder levels (which may never be enough).

    If you cannot learn to enjoy the chase, then the hunt becomes meaningless as soon as you catch the biggest prey. And Satellite Reign has a very nice chase.

  16. DudeshootMankill says:

    I love Satellite reign. To me its the prime example of a pc game.

    A buttload of meaningful choices, tactical options and badass scifi gadgets and equipment. And the simulation is deep enough that you can go either way. You can go in guns blazing, no problem. You can sneak in. You can mindjack people and let them do the dangerous part. I had one playthrough where my soldier guy could lay waste to enemy bases on his own.

    And now there’s a 3x damage setting, no more bullet sponges. The shotgun is terrifying now.

    There always was tactical pause, but it was hidden away as a skill for your support guy.

    Now with glorious coop. Complete it with your buds.