Previews// Syndicate

Posted 1 Feb 2012 17:00 by
I was like you once. A sceptical man, clinging onto the past while everyone else seemed to simply accept change. And yet EA is intent on rebooting the Syndicate franchise anyway.

Damn its metaphorical eyes, canít it see what itís doing to a beloved classic? Now a first-person shooter instead of a strategy game, I walked into the co-op mode expecting a trainwreck. But boy, on this first look it seems that - so far - I was wrong.

Its presentation and design is brilliantly cyberpunk, and the objectives and environments honour the roots of the 1990s Amiga original. They range from sabotage missions, infiltrations, assassinations... basically, anything that will give your corporation an underhanded advantage in the lucrative tech research and informations market.

You play as one member of a team of four Agent operatives, who all look like something out of The Matrix and pack a serious amount of weapons and technology. Along with an array of machine guns, pistols and launchers, you can also perform cool sliding dashes and use a DART overlay which can allow you to see behind walls and identify enemy locations with their heat signatures.

The maps I played were nicely paced and had good difficulty curves with enemy AI that challenged me to fine-tune my skills at every turn.

This is not your straightforward blaster, where you can dive headfirst into a wave of SWAT-looking bad guys and nobble them in seconds. These guys are tough, and require players working in unison to survive.

Areas quickly get populated with enemies, and you can get overwhelmed very easily if youíre not careful. Each player has a health bar, and if itís depleted their bodies get overloaded and are reduced to an augmented zombie lurching around the battlefield.

Shouts of ďReboot MeĒ are likely to be as commonplace as the Gears of War ďRevive MeĒ variant that started it all.

Luckily, there is a variety of different tactics at your disposal - which is where the Left Bumper comes into play. This is your Breach button, and can be used contextually in a number of ways.

It will be your best friend. Its primary use is as a hacking device to help you progress through the mission at hand - overloading door circuits, uploading viruses, that sort of thing. But if youíre near a co-op player, you can choose to top up their health bar in a pinch by using the Breach button to heal them. In chaotic gunfights this becomes extremely important for survival.

There are many different Breach powers that can be unlocked, upgraded and assigned to a Loadout as well. You can switch between these using the D-pad. One particular power I used happens to freeze a number of enemies in a given area, while another removes the armour of a specific enemy target. I asked Starbreeze, and yes, the classic Persuadertron lives on as a Breach power - although it has a different name, Iím told.

These additional powers are handy in boss fights - in the co-opís first stage, you fight Colonel Gabron, a big chunky dude who rocks a massive railgun and will happily trot over to your initially safe location in a factory loading bay and mow you down if youíre not agile enough to split and take cover elsewhere.

While that stage was set in a typical corporate factory location - complete with clean and clinical metal walls - the level design is particularly interesting, putting co-op players on a path that leads them through tight bottleneck depots and through skylight windows. There are some pretty colourful stages though.

In Colorado, you have to investigate various laboratories to retrieve tissue samples and defend your rendezvous helicopter point from heavy artillery on your return; while Argentina has you fighting in botanical gardens to track down two defecting agents and recollect the Research they have run off with.

If the co-op is anything to go by, Neo-Syndicate shaping up to be a refreshing shooter that brings with it a touch of nostalgia and some very interesting design features. You might have noticed that a co-op demo is now available on Xbox Live - if youíve been sitting on the fence like I have, I highly recommend downloading it and giving it a spin to see what you think.

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