Most helpful critical review
Just one of those games...
on March 31, 2013
Someone here described Syndicate as "generic". I can't think of a better description.
Syndicate reminds me of dozens of unremarkable games I've played, that were neither terrible, nor great. Games like SiN Episodes, Binary Domain, Singularity and Timeshift. There's a thread of something going on, but its hard to grapple with all the distractions and compromises. I always wonder why these games got made, when most likely plenty of others most didn't that could have been better.
I never played the original Syndicate games, so I have no point of reference to the original story line. The whole "giant mega evil corporation takes over the world and oppresses everyone" storyline has been told and retold a gazillion times. And the post modern twist of "and they put chips in your head to control you" has been added to plenty of those stories, especially in video games. And its not just Deus Ex (which I played all three installments several times each).
There's nothing preventing this generic story from being told well, and having it be an exciting and fun game. But these guys who built Syndicate weren't on their best form here. While the story is certainly serviceable, the gameplay is totally meaningless and unremarkable. There's one new concept here that I haven't seen before, which is the pretty morbid "suicide" power, where you make an enemy kill themselves. Its pretty original (to me at least), but I felt a bit ashamed each time I used it (in a video game shame kinda way!)
Its also one of those tragic games, where you never really know whats going on, and you never know exactly what to do. It randomly mixes cliche video game styles, such as vent crawling, remote control, time slowing, jumping, smashing, and enemy waves in a somewhat nonsensical blend. Sometimes, you know exactly what to do. Other times, you are completely stumped, as there's no real path to take.
The upgrade system is completely borked, as I never really had any idea what was happening (you pull a chip from an enemy's brain and you get a new power). The skill tree is just bizarre. And then there's the whole tutorial nonsense that appears every couple of chapters. You are stuck in a simulator, and you have NO idea what you're supposed to do...so you sit there and try a zillion things till you either give up, or randomly figure it out. Oh boy!
And finally, there's the insanity of the visual quality. Like there is none.... Bloom and blur like you've never seen before. It destroyed what was left of my middle aged eyes. I could only play if for short bits of time, and I even hacked the .CFG file to try and get the visuals to be less harsh, but to no avail. I can't believe that in the age of $100 1080p displays, that the guys at Starbreeze couldn't have at least gotten the darn graphical display quality to be solid. What a waste.
On the good side, the voice acting is terrific, especially the venerable Brian Cox, who plays the generic and cliched CEO. And there are other competent actors as well, that I'm sure showed up to the recording studio, read their lines, and never played the game. Lucky them.
In conclusion, what a waste. If each component of this game was 10-15% more thought through and polished, it would have been a solid 4 star game (like the unloved Alpha Protocol). So much for rebooting the franchise....