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A modern re-boot: Syndicate, and the move to FPS

Tuesday, 1st November 2011 09:01 GMT By Stace Harman

When Project Red Lime became Syndicate there was excitement; when Syndicate became an FPS there was befuddlement. Stace Harman goes hands on and speaks to EA to get some clarity.

Previously code-named ‘Project Red Lime, Syndicate is the third main title in the series following 1993’s original of the same name and 1996’s Syndicate Wars.

Created by Starbreeze, developers of other notable FPS titles The Darkness and The Chronicles of Riddick games.

Syndicate is intended as a “reimagining” of the series, “not a direct continuation” according to EA’s Ben O’Donnell.

Syndicate’s two main unique selling points are the DART chip and the ability to manipulate the digital environment, known as Breaching.

Published by EA, Syndicate is due out February 2012 for PC, PS3 and 360.

Nostalgia is a curious thing and preconceptions often warp our perception; all of these are informed by the bias of personal experience. Going hands-on with both a single and multiplayer mission from EA’s reimagining of 1990s cult classic Syndicate brings these concepts into stark relief.

Those gathered are split into three broad groups. Those that played the original isometric RTS see clear references here to classic iconography: the four-person team, the cybernetic enhancements, the conglomerate power struggles and the Gauss gun – though this last has changed drastically in function.

Others, who have recently immersed themselves in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, see blatant similarities to Eidos’ effort, with its cyberpunk overtones and the sinister disquiet of a narrative that offers glimpses of trading one’s humanity for augmented super-human abilities.

Finally, those with only a working knowledge of the FPS genre see squad-based gunplay, recharging shields, and weapon influences borrowed from other franchises, not least of all that afore-mentioned Gauss, which functions like the tag’em and bag’em homing gun from the Resistance series.

This mix of differing perceptions, tinged with nostalgia for some, may both help and hinder EA’s reboot of Syndicate as it looks to draw on the fiction of the original franchise but update it for a 2012 FPS. This is not something that either EA or Starbreeze seem overly concerned about, though.

“The actual number of people that played the original game and who will be playing this game is relatively small,” postulates EA Partners producer Ben O’Donnell.

“We talk about it a lot in these press situations – where we’re more likely to come across people that remember the original – but the majority of consumers who will be playing this game will probably never have played the original.

“First and foremost we’re just trying to make the best game we can. The legacy that we can draw on is a useful tool because it’s a cool fiction and a cool world and we’re aiming to please the fans of the original by taking some of those weapons from it, but if people don’t recognise those weapons as being in Syndicate then that doesn’t really matter because we’re aiming ultimately to make the weapons fun to use.”

In practise, it’s not the weapons that provide the most fun during our session – although using the homing ability of the re-purposed Gauss to solve a basic environmental puzzle does raise a smile. Instead, it’s Syndicate’s headline features that prove to be most entertaining and that look likely to be the factor that distinguish it from other shooters: the DART and Breaching.

Co-op gameplay trailer.

Through the DART bio-chip you can perceive the digital elements of the world, highlight enemies and slow time. Combat recharges this ability and it’s one that you’ll likely use frequently. Breaching is more unique, enabling you to modify the digital components of your environment on the fly: hack, run ‘n’ gun, if you will.

All of this is made possible by a military-grade version of the consumer chips that the world’s population have implanted for lifestyle and convenience reasons. Doors, retractable cover and even the chips of lower-level security forces can be breached using this upgradable ability, thus causing some reaction that is usually desirable for you and undesirable for your adversaries.

As O’Donnell sums up “There are lots of shooters out there and unless you’ve got some cool hook or something that’s going to interest people, you may as well not bother.”

During our single-player level, this manifests itself in the breaching of a laboratory console to add or remove makeshift cover and turning a security turret against its creators. However, breaching is at its most amusing, not to mention most intrinsically useful from a gameplay perspective, when it’s used against your assailants.

The ability to cause a weapon to backfire can jolt security forces out of cover, and being able to hijack an enemy’s neural implant can cause them to fight with you against their erstwhile colleagues – like a one-on-one version of the Persuadatron, another of Syndicate’s legacy weapons. Finally, the most brutal and sadistic use of breaching that we see is in indiscriminately overloading an adversary’s chip, causing the victim to put their gun against their head and pull the trigger.

Mr Chips
“A huge part of [the game] is building up your character,” says O’Donnell. “This is achieved primarily by obtaining other people’s chips and researching the tech that they have in order to upgrade your own, it’s like downloading their software and it gives you a point to spend to upgrade.”

Ripping these chips from the heads of rival agents who act as mid-level bosses furnishes you with points to spend on your own progress, a process that can be managed during a mission in single-player, but must be saved until the end of a level during multiplayer.

Single-player gameplay trailer.

There will be nine of these multiplayer levels, with an overarching narrative and mission objectives that sit outside of the single-player game. The multiplayer level that we see is a mixed bag. On the one hand, a great deal of fun is to be had from four players causing havoc by breaching both the environment and enemy forces.

However, with the demo level locked on easy difficulty there’s little need for squad tactics and each of the four players is free to play in as gung-ho a manner as they like, paying no mind to covering fire, ranged-weapon support or safety in numbers, safe in the knowledge that they’ll likely be revived by a fellow team member in the unlikely event that they are downed. Another play-through on a higher difficulty would be necessary to ascertain if there’s a requirement for a more thoughtful approach.

Overall, through this relatively brief hands-on and a conversation with O’Donnell, I’m left wondering why the decision has been made to base this FPS on the Syndicate IP. From a business perspective, using the rich fiction of Syndicate carries less inherent risk than creating an entirely new IP but I’ve simply not had long enough with the game to judge whether there are enough familiar elements for this to be considered a legitimate entry in the Syndicate canon.

The global domination element of the original games has been streamlined, with O’Donell explaining that “we weren’t trying to create a game of Risk where you take over the globe one step at a time”. Moving the focus to a single-agent experience effectively drops the team-management angle of the original and by changing the view from isometric to first-person Syndicate as been robbed of the at-a-glance familiarity that the series has always enjoyed.

Of course, as O’Donnell points out, the majority of players of 2012’s Syndicate may not be players of 1993’s Syndicate, so provided the game is an enjoyable and well made FPS the majority of its players will be happy. However, long-term fans of the series will have to decide if Starbreeze has done enough to make this more than just a FPS sparsely dressed in the trappings of their beloved franchise, and more a title worthy of the moniker of ‘Syndicate for the 21st century’.

Syndicate is due out in February 2012 on PS3, 360 and PC.

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32 Comments

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  1. Edo

    Great article.

    #1 3 years ago
  2. Stace Harman

    @1 Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. Are you looking forward to the game?

    #2 3 years ago
  3. drewbles82

    Just hope they keep the cool weapons, was it the gak, or gat gun, something like that.

    #3 3 years ago
  4. Freek

    Just wanting to make a great FPS game is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but that does beg the question: what is the point of rebooting Syndicate if you don’t care about the original in any way beyond some vague refrences to weapons and a cyberpunk world??

    #4 3 years ago
  5. Edo

    #2 Well,it’s not on my “the most anticipated games of 2012″ list yet,but it seems to be more than just another FPS shooter.I just hope that this “breaching” isn’t just a tacked on gimmick that will wear out quickly and that there’s a lot more variety to it.

    #5 3 years ago
  6. viralshag

    Even by what the guy says about very few of the original fans playing the game, it does make me wonder, like you said, why they bother using the Sydicate name at all.

    Just seems like bit of a waste.

    #6 3 years ago
  7. OrbitMonkey

    You’d think some old farts would be happy that a big publisher has decided to ressurect a 18 year old franchise…. But nooooo, they moan 0_o

    Yes its a first person shooter now… Big deal. You might as well moan about the Lord of the Rings films being shit, because the origional story was on paper.

    Its not the game you remember, because ITS NOT THAT 18 YEAR OLD GAME.

    Its NEW. Its set in that universe, giving you a new perspective and ways to explore it. And MAYBE just MAYBE it will be good…

    But feel free to piss, moan and prejudge, because the devs didn’t feel the need to completely follow the origionals design in every fucking way :/

    P.S. If Syndicate is so loved, why has it taken 18 years for a follow up? Oh because no-one asked for it? Thought so.

    #7 3 years ago
  8. Fin

    @7

    Bro, you don’t understand. Anyone who played the original Syndicate is entitled required to have their views on any future games taken into consideration.
    It’s not like EA can do what they want with whatever franchises they own, they should people who played the game 18 years ago into account. WHAT IF THE ORIGINAL FANS DON’T LIKE IT??? WHAT THEN???

    Oh yeah, it’ll still be successful because nobody actually gives a fuck what the self-important pc gamers think.
    And well they shouldn’t.

    #8 3 years ago
  9. Freek

    That’s a fairly nonsesical way to look at things. LoTR wasn’t brought into live action for so long because it wasn’t technologiclly possible to stay true to the vission and story of the books.
    When it could be done faithfully, it was done and done verry well.

    The idea that the only possible way to bring a game into 2012 is by making it into an FPS is also absurd.

    Take a loot at GTA for example, another old school top down game brought back into modern times. But without loosing it’s essense.

    Or the Fallout Series. Sure, it’s in first person now, but at it’s core it is still a turn based open ended RPG. Not a shooter.

    With books it’s the story that defines the adaptation. With games, it’s the gameplay that matters.

    With Syndicate, nobody expected it to be a top down strategy game anymore, even though Blizzard is still making those succesfully..
    But to throw everything out and make it an action FPS?? That was a super extreme nobody expected.
    Going third person, squad based and open world would be a more logical place to take the franchise.
    And judging from the troubled development this new Syndicate had my geuse would be that they started this project with noble goals but ultimatly coulden’t make that work, resulting in this rather more vague remake.

    OH and btw, the original Syndicate was also a console game. Yup, on the SNES.

    #9 3 years ago
  10. OrbitMonkey

    Well Freek i’m glad YOUR crystal ball is working just fine. I’ve not been able to judge the final product myself… Hence my open mind.

    Oh wait your making a assumption… Well you know when you make a assuumption…

    The ideas that it won’t be faithful, won’t work and that theirs no noble cause behind the reboot… Well seriously 2 out of 3 of them sound like entitled whining tbh.

    If it works. That is all that matters.

    #10 3 years ago
  11. Freek

    I love the irony in the “entiled whining” argument you keep throwing around when you’re the person being the angry guy atacking and insulting people in what used to be an interesting discussion looking at what makes a remake succesfull.

    #11 3 years ago
  12. OrbitMonkey

    Its not entitled whining, its frustrated observation ;)

    Plus i fail to see how you can judge what makes a succesful remake, BEFORE that remakes release. If you’ve got a few retail copies, bung one my way and i’ll gladly discuss with you what i think.

    #12 3 years ago
  13. Freek

    It’s verry easy to judge what makes a succesfull remake: look at past remakes and reboots and see what works.

    Fallout, GTA, Deus Ex are interesing case studies. They’re succesfull because they stayed true to the what make the original succesfull: the gameplay.
    Infact, when Deus Ex tried to simply things and apeal more to what thought a console audiance wanted the whole thing failed.
    And when they went back to it’s roots of being a more open ended, some would say complicated, game it was a huge succes again, even on PS3 and Xbox.

    Same thing with movies. When Bond and Batman rebooted they threw out all the overblown flashy nonsense and whent back to the core of what made the franchises succesfull.
    Or in short; the original was succesfull for a reason, try to keep that.

    #13 3 years ago
  14. viralshag

    Freek, are you smoking crack or something?

    Talking about reboots being successful by staying true to the “gameplay” and then mentioning Fallout and GTA is nothing short of crazy.

    If anything, you’re arguing against yourself. Fallout was rebooted into an FPS, fair enough with a lot of RPG elements but still an FPS. So to try and say that this won’t be successful, at this stage, is completely pointless. Like Orbit is trying to tell you.

    #14 3 years ago
  15. Freek

    There’s a monumental difference between having a first person view and being an FPS. The S as in shooter being the most important thing.

    Fallout is absolutly an RPG. And exceptionally faithfull to the original series, unlike Syndicate. Wich isn’t just chaching a camera angle, but changing it’s gameplay aswell.

    Camera angle and gameplay mechanics are two different things.

    #15 3 years ago
  16. viralshag

    I’m sorry, last time I checked, an FPS was a Shooter in First Person. Something I found myself doing an awful lot in Fallout. So if anything it’s a FPSRPG, just like DX:HR and I imagine just like this game will be.

    And again, to claim that DX:HR was a success and then to write this off, is really silly.

    #16 3 years ago
  17. DSB

    @15 Except for the fact that nothing really resembles the original Fallouts, you’re totally correct!

    If simply being an RPG is your bar for being a succesful heir, then “LALALA” at you, sir.

    #17 3 years ago
  18. Freek

    No, an FPS is an action game. In Fallout when you pull the trigger your stats and the dice rolls behind the scenes determine the damage you do.
    You make the choices in the story, you level up character and determine your gameplay style. It’s an RPG, not a shooter.

    It’s not silly to point to HR when looing at succesfull remakes. Deus Ex Invisible War was the simplified console game. It failed. HR was again the deep open ended Deus Ex game people wanted.

    To then point to Syndicate and thinking it will be just a good because it shares a camera angle is missing the point entirely.

    It’s not about the camera angle, it’s about the gameplay.
    When remakes work it’s when they go back to what made the original good, not by aping other games or blindely going by what is popular.

    #18 3 years ago
  19. DarkElfa

    @18, would you classify Skyrim as an FPS? I mean it’s your hand in FP mode using a weapon on enemies. Where does the line draw between FPS and RPG these days anyways.

    #19 3 years ago
  20. Freek

    The line is the same place it’s always been. What does the gameplay dictate? Are you doing damage because you picked up the sniper gun and headshotted a guy? Or are you doing damage becuase you have the right stats, hit chance percentage and levels?
    One is an action game, the other is an RPG.

    That was one of the things that threw people off with Fallout, you can pick up a huge gun, shove against an enemies head and still do next to nothing to that target. Becuase what you are carying and where you are pointing doesn’t matter as much as your stats and the dice rolls behind the scenes.

    #20 3 years ago
  21. DarkElfa

    Increasingly though, the line is getting so blurry that you can almost just pick one based on your best chance to make a hit within a demographic.

    #21 3 years ago
  22. viralshag

    “To then point to Syndicate and thinking it will be just a good because it shares a camera angle is missing the point entirely.”

    We’re not saying it’s going to be good, and we’re not saying it’s going to be bad. But we’re not dismissing the game because it’s a FPS. You’re using examples of games that have pretty much changed everything they were *before* and were still successful.

    DX:HR is nothing on what the original was. To say that HR was “deep and open ended” is something I don’t see about the game myself. What was “deep” about it? The comical story telling? the pointless upgrade system that gives you everything? Don’t get me wrong, it was a good game but it was as simple as it gets. But that’s off topic anyway.

    And @20, so what happens when you have high enough stats to one shot a guy with a head shot? It’s still an RPG? You can talk about all the dice rolling and stat look up you like, at the end of the day it is what it is, and that’s an RPG in FP with shooting. An RPGFPS.

    #22 3 years ago
  23. DSB

    @18 That’s not an accurate description of what actually happens in the new Fallouts.

    The “roll” doesn’t determine whether you hit or miss at all, it just determines the basic dispersion on your weapons. Whether you hit or miss ultimately comes down to how close you are, and how accurate your aim is, exactly like a shooter, just with more dispersion, and possibly also the values of armor penetration and damage.

    In Fallout, the roll would be an actual roll, determining hit or miss. That’s entirely different.

    #23 3 years ago
  24. Freek

    You can stand there and pretend HR wasn’t a game that gave you the choice in how you aproached each challange in multipell ways. Do you sneak into a building? Do you persuade the gaurd with pheromones? Do you gain his friendship with a side quest? Do you just go in guns blazing? Do you discover the secret passage round the back using your strenght skills wich you may or may not yet posses?

    You can pretend all those example of faithfull gameplay adaptations diden’t happen.
    You can do that, but it woulden’t be the truth.

    And you can putt words into my mouth by claiming I’m a “whining PC elitist” or that I am dismissing the game entirely. That also woulden’t be true.

    What is the first thing I post in this comment? Saying that it is probably a good game but asking “why did go with the name?”
    And then going into a fact based discussion about what made recent remakes succesfull.
    If you just want to insult people rather then discuss the topic at hand, why bother?

    And the dice rolls and stats all still happend in Fallout. You can pick a giant gun, mouse point it at somebodies head and do no damage at all. Why? Because your skill points were wrong for that gun, it was half broken and you were standing in the wrong place.
    A far cry from no-scoping someboy to death in one shot in an action based game.

    #24 3 years ago
  25. DSB

    @24 That’s just because you weren’t close enough. Again, dispersion, as opposed to rolls. One is an FPS mechanic, the other is an RPG mechanic.

    I can do the same thing in ArmA 2. Does that mean it’s a proper heir to Fallout?

    Fallout 3 was set in some happy clappy world where everybody was doing just fine after the total and utter annihilation of the planet, whereas in the original Fallouts they were mostly raving lunatics preying on eachother and trying to abuse you every chance they could.

    #25 3 years ago
  26. OrbitMonkey

    Saying it won’t succeed because they changed to camera angle & gameplay is daft Freek. Are you suggesting Syndicate can only work as a 3rd person tactical rpg?

    Now I know where your coming from, I do. If Bioware announced a fps version of mass effect, I guarantee their would be hundreds of guys saying what your saying about Syndicate.

    But I’d still say the same thing too. Yes It different to the game you hold in high regard, but to judge it’s gameplay/story elements, without actually seeing them? Big assumption.

    Try being a little.more cup half full kinda guy :)

    #26 3 years ago
  27. Freek

    That’s not what I am saying, I was giving an example of what could have been done. And what would have been a good reason to bring back Synidicate.

    I’m sure it’ll be decent, but what is the point of bringing back Synidcate in name only?
    There’s no fan basis backing it up, new people don’t care about the old school name. It’s the same as launching a new IP.

    When the logical reason for rebooting something is that you feel the original had qualifications that are still worth playing. That it is worth bringing back.

    #27 3 years ago
  28. DarkElfa

    I like pie.

    #28 3 years ago
  29. OrbitMonkey

    Ooh I like pie too!! Apple pie with lashings of custard *yum*

    #29 3 years ago
  30. IL DUCE

    Its the same basic back story and everything…games have advanced so much since friggin 93 when I was 7 years old so I’m in the group that doesn’t care that its not the same exact ancient Isometric RTS like the original (which wouldn’t have sold as well as an FPS will and we all know that), I appreciate the fact they are trying to make it similar overtones and tactics but we have known it was an FPS ever since Starbreeze was rumored to be working on it, shouldve given everyone plenty of time to accept that fact…welcome to 2011 people, get w/ the program and accept it or go boot up the original and get over it…

    #30 3 years ago
  31. IL DUCE

    #31 3 years ago
  32. DarkElfa

    @31, agreed.

    #32 3 years ago