Games are for pleasure. That's the basic fact. Any game that isn't a pleasure is 'an exercise'. Syndicate in its 2012 version is an exercise.
Given that EA is reselling the original game idea under a different guise, I'm going to provide you with the overview via a review of the original. This comes from Tim Tucker's review in Amiga Power magazine
“It is the future. World government is in the hands of three hugely powerful multinational corporations, one in America, another in Europe and the third in the Far East. The European corporation develops a device known as the CHIP, which is inserted in the neck and stimulates the brain, offering the user an enhanced perception of the world far better than any drug. It also offers the corporation the chance to manipulate the public through auto-suggestion, and it soon becomes apparent that control of the CHIP means control of the people.”
Nothing's changed, so there you go.
When it first appeared in the early 1990s Syndicate
was a third-person strategy-cum-resource management game on the Amiga and PC. I enjoyed its even-then old school, 'Cyberpunk' overtones. I enjoyed the fact that it took a stab at dealing with subject matter that appeared on the surface to be adult: Corporations the size of countries; Orwellian 'hegemonies'; Technocratic power grabs.
Back then it seemed that Bullfrog (owned by EA) was attempting to raise videogames up from childish things to grown-up things. It really wasn't. Let me shake you and the new game free from that nostalgia and pretension.
The premise – while interesting, wasn't all that staggering: globalisation will reduce the power of nation states so that corporations will rule. Corporations (such as EA from whence the game came, and IBM or Commodore, on whose hardware we were probably playing the game) were bad... mostly they were bad because our dads worked for them and our dads were like, old.
Corporations would inevitably make cyborgs and robots with which to enslave their consumers... for some reason: see Terminator
and Blade Runner
and Rossum's Universal Robots
and Robert Asprin's The Cold Cash War
What the game really made its name on was the violence it used and the fact that it was fun to be in control. People forget that back in the 1993 when Bullfrog made the RTS Syndicate
, it was violent. So much so in fact, that creator Peter Molyneux (now creative head of Microsoft's Game Studios) stated:
“I did not originally set out to create a violent game, but having said that I did not want to pull any punches. Obviously it is violent... but there is nothing I would like to see more than ratings in computer games.”
Yes, in reality the game actually was, “Let's have some psychotic cyborgs to do our bidding and blow the shit out of other people who are trying to blow the shit out of us!” It could have been set in the Glasgow Ice Cream wars.
The point back 'in the day' was that we had some really horribly violent game play that used a pretty neat dynamic that didn't crash a lot.
Now, however, nostalgia and the recent, cloying need of some game commentators for games to be 'Art' with concomitant 'Art History', mean that we have to see the first Syndicate
as, well, sacred.
When it was all Trees
Here's the skinny from someone who was there: it wasn't. It was a good game. It was a good, fun, violent game. It holds fond memories. It was certainly a good way to take resource management, a flick of Cyberpunk and a smidge of classic Science Fiction and popularise them.
This new Starbreeze version sticks with the rough plot areas: corporations vying for power, in the sort of narrative range that a slightly above-average 14-year-old lad would be pleased with. It also goes for the violence. It also – due to the kind of real life, soul grindingly terrifying market forces that actually do exist - eschews something 'complex' like an RTS for the lowest common denominator in gaming: the FPS.
To provide an air of budget and possibly – god forbid 'Art' or 'Seriousness' – there are also cameo performances by real actors
. Sure, they are phoned in performances of scripts plucked from the cabinet marked “Corporate Sci-Fi” not “Monstery Sc-Fi” but they are there.
They should in no way remind you that back in the 'Day' – 1994 in this case – real actors Mark Hamill and Malcolm McDowell appeared in EA's Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger
. A sequel using actual video of actual actors – and an indication that nothing much has changed since then except that the actual actors no longer need to be in the same room at the same time now. So, hey, market forces mean that at least the studio has saved some money on cameras, light, crews, travel expenses, hotels and food.
This kind of cost saving strategy – rather than the expensive construction of uber-violent cyborgs who will inevitably develop a conscience - is the mark of a truly successful corporation. This is the kind of thing that increases shareholder value and takes profitability forward.
Back to the Futile
Back to the 2012 version of the game.
It's a bit dull. I mean, it's dull if you like FPSs. If you don't like FPSs it's excruciating no matter what narrative or acting you wrap it in.