Syndicate Wars is one of my favourite games. The opening movie, all Blade Runner dystopian nightmares: shady corporations control your thoughts, trench coated androids wage a war with white cloaked religious zealots in the streets set to a thudding techno soundtrack. It’s cyber-punk trope-city and it is glorious.
A more action focused sequel to Bullfrog’s classic Syndicate (obvs), the game focuses on you playing as either EuroCorp (the trench-coated agents) or The religious Church of the New Epoc (floaty white cloaked guys), you undertake missions that usually involve screwing over the rival faction. Taking place in huge futuristic cities, the levels are packed with detail that, yes, looks rough as balls today, but back in those 1997 days, those highways, run down slums, high rise tower blocks, bridges and church fortresses looked brilliant. You even had video screens showing actual FMV of Manga Film trailers and Bullfrog advertisements…a nice touch (and even a hidden game of Breakout because why not?). You had a little RPG-upgrade system to your agents, the rather grim procedure of replacing limbs/skeletal structure/brains with cybernetic parts (much like the Meld system in XCOM – Enemy Within) to make them stronger, better with weapons and faster.
And the weapons were all brilliant: standard Mini-Guns, Rockets and Flamers alongside the more exotic Plasma Lances, Nuclear Grenades and of course, the absolutely devastating Satellite Rain:
‘I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure’
Then there’s the games ‘signature’ weapon: The Persuadertron. A simple device that allows you to control the chip inside Civilians heads, making them follow you, pick up weapons and fight alongside you, all with a lovely warm *wooohpm* sound effect. Though alone weak, get a massive group of Civilians with guns and you got yourself a wall of cannon fodder for your enemies to cut through before they get to you. Gaining more than 10 follows at a time allows you to control enemy agents too. Nothing better than storming an enemy base and just taking control of all their agents, adding them to your pool of bodies to augment.
A lot of people decry the game for being more action based than its predecessor, not allowing for heavy tactics , but for me, or more accurately, the me of 1997, this was fine. Though limited, you do have tactic options thanks to the arsenal. Ion mines and explosive trip wires allows you to set up choke points to lure enemies down and there’s more than enough variety in the guns to go close-quarters or stand back and take your targets out from range. When played in co-op, my friend and myself used to have a great tactic: You find your targets for the mission, lay down a razor wire maze to slow them down and line up an agent with a flamer round a corner, one with a sniper rifle aiming down the entrance to the building/alley they’re down…chaos ensues.
Did I mention you end up on the Moon via an Orbital Lift? You do. And it’s great, despite being populated with massive Spider Tanks.
So by all means, a great game. For years I waited for a sequel. Dreams of how amazing the power of the PS2 would make this world seem. Then dreams of it on the Xbox, The PS3 and the 360…but it was not meant to be. Instead, those lovely guys at EA decided a reboot was in order and instead of a tactical action game where you control a team of agents, we got a so-so FPS featuring this personality sponge:
Whilst the game still featured the ‘thought controlling chip’ premise , the EuroCorp name and even kept a version of the Persuadertron (you can force enemies to fight on your side for a brief amount of time), it bore little else similar with the previous games. It came out at a time when almost everything was a CoD style FPS. Even the previously tactics based Rainbow Six series had become a dumbed-down action affair with very little tactical commands. It was like developers thought all anyone wanted to do was shoot things in a linear fashion and squad control would be too confusing for players.
Of course, this is all conjecture – I have no inside information to the world of the EA CEO’s or the decision to make this game. And yes, I’m hugely bitter about the game being turned into something that ignores the former games. But that’s exactly it – the fans of the series were being ignored. This was not for them, this game was a middle finger to fans of Syndicate and Syndicate Wars. ‘You want a sequel? Well here it is and fuck you – it’s nothing like the other two’. Why call it Syndicate? If the games weren’t popular enough to command a sequel in the same genre, the name won’t win anyone over, it’ll just annoy those who were invested, those who held hope.
Thankfully then, we have the upcoming Satellite Reign by 5 Lives Studios. A recent Kickstarter funded venture by ex-Syndicate coders that is in all but name (and even then, very close) the sequel to Syndicate Wars that I’ve been craving for 17 years.
An open world that gives you a choice on how to take down your rivals – stealth and espionage or all guns blazing – your choice. Free the population from control or control them for your own? It also promises to include all the agent customisation of the other games. If it can deliver on the promises it’s going to be everything I want it to be and certainly a hope for me that people out their are willing to try and create the sort of games that companies like EA are adverse to making. The sort of deep, tactactical gameplay that requires you to think about how to approach a situation, not just walk down a corridor shooting gallery or climb a tower to unlock a map. I know more like this do exist – hell, XCOM is exactly this sort of game and thanks to Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight more and more of them are appearing (Invisible Inc. looks like it’s going to be a great tactical stealth-em-up) but they are few and far between, so it’s only a good thing that 5 Lives understand the demand for games like this and importantly, understand what made the original Syndicate game so good.
Now, wheres the Kickstarter for a G-Police reboot?