I came to rely on Syndicate’s best feature to win all my fights. Press Q and Kilo’s view switches, giving him a grey and orange vision of a sloweddown world. This DART overlay mode makes accurate targeting possible – a real problem when the PC version of the game is cursed with horrible mouse smoothing issues that make your reticule feel like it’s moving full seconds after your hand. It also reduces damage taken and increases the damage you dish out during gunfights.
DART overlay is the glue that allows you to chain together the kind of rampage the chip’s skills don’t encourage. With liberal application of Miles’ cyberpunk-eye-view, I made Syndicate’s firefights passable, if not consistently thrilling, against FPS competitors. The best battle moments come towards the end of the game: comfortable with all my talents, and aware – if not pleased – with Kilo’s easy mortality, I was able to chain together kills, breaches, suicides and slow-motion neck snaps to make combat enjoyable.
Syndicate is rarely willing to let you have such fun. I was drip-fed the three lethal DART 6 skills and, just as I got used to their application, two were snatched back halfway through the game, leaving me with Backlash – the most boring of the three – for a few stages. Later, jammer enemies restrict the use of Miles’ chip, forcing you to turn to direct weapons fire. Why give players these powers if your intention is to take them away shortly after?
Even control of Miles is whipped away from you at regular intervals, as the game marionettes him through a set of pre-canned animations. The most galling of these had my character incredulously staring at every single appendage he owned as he was strapped into a machine. It feels like you’re inhabiting the brain of a particularly dextrous and brutal baby, discovering his hands and legs for the first time.
There’s more freedom to be had in the cooperative mode. This plonks you in as one of four Syndicate agents sorting out various corporate messes across the globe. Players conform to one of three archetypes – assault, defence and support – but loadouts can be customised with different weapons and abilities.
Those in turn can be upgraded with repeat playthroughs of the generous number of missions on offer. The range of abilities make more sense in Syndicate’s multiplayer: as a support class, I was able to buff my teammates with shields before a boss, healing them en masse as he knocked through their extra armour. There’s a level of tactical challenge during this co-op mode that the singleplayer is lacking, and it will offer more longevity than that eight-hour campaign ever could.
Syndicate feels, well, troubled. Mechanically it’s nothing like its lauded predecessor, but the tone has changed too. 1993’s Syndicate embraced the shadows of its brutal dystopian darkness; 2012’s version tries to wash them out with crooked morality and oversaturated bloom effects. The result is a game that doesn’t understand itself, providing you with an unexceptional shooting experience that feels as naive and muddled as its protagonist.
Syndicate’s confused storyline gives way to passable shooting overlaid with a pointless layer of hacking frippery.