The somewhat contentious reimagining of the Syndicate IP spawned a multiplayer demo for both the Xbox 360 and PS3 on January 31st. Most of the groaning centered on the belief that the beloved corporate warfare simulator would be reduced to just one more retail title forcibly shoved into the first-person shooter mold in hopes of making a buck - or perhaps would be a poor-man's copy of Deus Ex, trying to capitalize on the cyberpunk/Metal Gear Solid mash-up of that title. The fond memories I hold of the original franchise titles leave me unable to claim I did not share these fears, but after spending some time with the demo I'm happy to tell you that Syndicate has landed firmly with both boots on my pre-order list.
Dropping people into the multiplayer menu allows for some limited customization of their chosen agent and exploration of the upgrades available. Mixing and matching equipment and Breaches (abilities) makes it easy to see that customization at higher levels can easily end up devouring a good amount of a player's time. Would you prefer direct damage Breaches and some close-combat firepower, or select a loadout allowing for standoff gunfights while supporting teammates? Choice is key, as what you select can be just as important as how it aligns with the loadout of your teammates.
Syndicate plays like a FPS, but those expecting a cyberpunk Call of Duty are about to get a rude surprise. Even on Normal difficulty, enemies are well armed and intelligent. Trying to go forth and conquer all by your lonesome will result in your agent hollering for a reboot (revive) while your teammates try to avoid being shot to pieces whilst attempting to save your ignorant self. Strategy is integral.
Apparently Starbreeze is worried Syndicate will be too hard. I think, for a game built around teamwork and intelligent gameplay, the default difficulty is just right. After slogging through the level and being torn to pieces by the minigun-wielding boss of the demo (while my teammates ineffectually sprayed bullets at apparently random vectors), it was fascinating to see how different the game played while on a truly cooperative team. The same boss who seemed so indomitable before was outflanked, breached, and dispatched with alacrity.
In Syndicate, much like in the Battlegrounds of World of Warcraft, victory or defeat can hinge upon how the gear and powers of individual team members mesh into a cohesive whole. Such a crushing victory engaged my ego, which caused me to up the difficulty for the next mission whereupon I was dispatched with alacrity. I'm already hyped to upgrade my Breaches and guns and make another go of it.
So the gameplay is solid, the controls are good, the audio and visuals aren't setting my world on fire but are, at worst, inoffensive. All of this leads to my primary, and honestly only, concern about the title. The untested single player campaign looks like it may end up dancing backup to the multiplayer goodness Starbreeze has on tap for us. However, even on challenging difficulty levels, the nine multiplayer maps can only offer so much replay value.
I never thought I'd say this, but I'm earnestly hoping Starbreeze has some DLC ready to go (EA is the publisher, so this is almost a certainty) else I fear Syndicate will be a short-lived, yet entertaining, title. Though, if Syndicate sells well, I'm calling it right now that a sequel will be out next year built solely around co-op and introducing competitive, objective-based deathmatch. World of Warcraft's Battlegrounds, except in a dystopian cyberpunk setting, with guns? Yes, please.