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.