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Wot I Think: Syndicate Co-Op

Conquering the Atlantic Accelerator

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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