The Syndicate campaign starts off with a confusing bullet-filled dash through a dilapidated slum ending with you, Agent Miles Kilo, crashing through a roof into the high tech lab of your Corporation/Syndicate. From there the story begins without any explanation of what you were just doing or why. Though the motives behind your actions gradually become more apparent, the first ten minutes of the game foretell many of the issues I have with the storytelling during the rest of the campaign.
While the story rumbles along at a decent pace, it consistently fails to provide more than a brief explanation of what’s happening before it whisks you off to the next gunfight. Moments where the game tries to convey a sense of gravitas fall flat, causing the story’s mostly rushed pace to slow to an interminable crawl in places. Adding to this are characters who fail to develop any kind of personality, and Syndicate’s story just doesn’t catch your interest.
Graphically, the single player experience looks nice enough, but the overblown lighting effects have a tendency to get in the way, making it amazingly difficult to identify targets or objectives around you. Some character animations look silky smooth, while others seem stiff and clunky adding to their lack of personality.
When you switch to the online Co-op, where the lighting effects are turned off, it allows you to see the game’s true colors. Under the blinding flairs and bloom, Syndicate is graphically rather bland. Textures stretch and tear, objects pop in and out of view, and at several points the frame rate drops, causing massive stuttering lag which got me killed on many occasions.
When a game lacks story and character development, one would expect that at least the gun play would be perfect, but sadly controls in Syndicate feel thick and floaty. Though gun handling improves as you progress and upgrade your hardware, it still never quite feels as tight as it should. This forces you to lean on your “Applications” in large fights. Apps allow you to hack into the chips in electronic objects and hostile soldiers, with effects ranging from local cover retracting into walls to making enemy combatants fight for you or violently commit suicide by grenade.
If used properly, combining your three apps and gun fighting can make moments of pure joy as you tear through legions of enemy soldiers. Sadly, these moments are few and far between partly because for a large part of the story, your two most helpful apps are disabled, drastically reducing the enjoyment of your game play.
While the storyline and characters fail to impress, the AI excels, in both single player and Co-op, with even basic enemies actively attacking and flanking. Boss fights are intense and tough with upgrade rewards waiting at the end of each one. The hard fight that most hostiles will give can be so much fun that many of the game’s other issues can be over looked. Brutal bloody battles will provide a stiff challenge for even the most veteran shooter fan, both on and offline.
Where the single player story lacks, the Co-op steps in to save the day. Hard fought battles with four friends will leave a smile on your face at the end of every mission. Persistent stat tracking and upgrades add replay value and a sense of accomplishment. Beware though, playing without teamwork will get you killed repeatedly, even on low difficulty settings, and many match-made partners will try to play lone wolf and get the whole team killed. Syndicate is best played with a team of friends on VOIP(Voice Over IP).
Overall, Syndicate is disappointing. It has so many great features that it could have gone far. A lack of single player story, menus and controls that feel like a bad console port, over blown lighting, and frame rate drops keep it from excellence. Great Co-op and fun game play mechanics salvage some of the fun, but sadly it’s a case of too little too late. Sixty dollars for a six hour campaign and a few Co-op missions with no competitive multiplayer whatsoever seems very overpriced. By no means should you write off Syndicate, but do wait for it to go on sale.