Reboots make me nervous, pure and simple. There's almost something more risky about taking a once-beloved concept and transposing it into unfamiliar surroundings than simply creating something original. Given the popularity of FPS gaming these days and the absence of the isometric viewpoint from triple-A development though it was almost a foregone conclusion that Syndicate would not return in its original form.
Indeed it seems like a concept that would (and in fact has in slightly different forms) lend itself very well to a first-person action perspective. While the idea of playing a cyber-organically enhanced super-agent uncovering an deep conspiracy in a futuristic world ruled by corporations is nothing particularly new in FPS gaming there was always something more compelling about Bullfrog's take on the theme.
This means that Starbreeze has a mountain to climb to match up to the kind of expectations that the original games have engendered.
How have they tackled this? The main approach is to retain as much of the character of the series as possible. Retaining small details like the names of the corporations that run the world helps immensely with familiar monikers like Eurocorp and Cayman Global littering the game. Naturally the other main characteristic to be retained is the game's sheer brutality.
The single player campaign begins with the game's character, a cutting-edge enhanced corporate agent for Eurocorp by the name of Kilo tied to a chair in a ruined building. A short amount of QTE button bashing allows a rather visceral escape from the chair before a mad dash to evade captors. This sequence as it transpires is just a training test in all senses both for Kilo and for the player.
Kilo is equipped with the Dart system which allows him to slow down time, enhance damage and reflexes and even see enemies hidden behind cover for a short time. This allows for a useful tactical assessment of the situation but its prime use is ti take down as many enemies in a short space of time as is superhumanly possible.
With everyone in the future fitted with a chip in their head, Kilo also has another rather useful skill. He can us his advanced chip features to 'breach' a variety of systems including enemies and hack their systems. Kilo can use this to unlock doors, disable shields and even cause enemies to kill themselves and/or their comrades. It's a very useful tool and the more effectively you kill your opponents the quicker these skills recharge.
Some enemies and targets encountered along the way have enhanced chips of their own that Kilo can use to upgrade his own abilities, once they are dead of course. In a sequence that would be exceptionally gruesome if it wasn't or the fact that Kilo uses his x-ray vision, he jams a special tool into a soft part of the deceased target's head (usually the eye or the ear) and 'extracts' their chip for his own uses.
Syndicate's single player actually feels like a cross between Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Mirror's Edge. While comparisons to Human Revolution are inevitable its the visual similarities with Mirror's Edge that are quite surprising. Where DXHR is very dark and brooding, Syndicate has adopted the bright colours and sun drenched urban skylines that made Mirror's Edge such a treat to play. The darkness and brutality of Kilo's job is effectively contrasted with the beautifully clean crisp urban surroundings.
The comparisons to DXHR are more accurate that it would first appear though, and not in a way that is particularly healthy. Both games suffer from the very same flaw which is the frustrating and slightly incongruous boss battle sequences. Syndicate's boss battles aren't quite as out of place as those in DXHR but they do have the same grind-like gameplay which sits apart from the more finessed play style of the rest of the game. The bosses themselves are also a bit frustrating as all the other corporation's agents seem to be very much the same as one another which, while it makes sense, it feels a bit dull and unimaginitive and not quite what we've come to expect from Starbreeze.
There is one final complaint with Syndicate. It seems to have been set in the same future as JJ Abrams' Star Trek film was as there is a ridiculous amount of lens flare in the visuals. Almost every light source generates some kind of bloom and it makes it quite difficult to see what's going on sometimes. Yes, it looks very stylish but it is damn irritating when you can't shoot straight because the sun is in your eyes far more than it would be naturally - especially when you're supposed to be a carefully engineered killing machine.
It's not all disappointment though. As a final nod to the classic series Syndicate features a four-player co-op mode which encourages players to form four-man squads and engage in some hard-fought and violent corporate espionage. Now this is much closer to the Syndicate of old. Working as a team to take out targets, steal technology and information and generally take the competition down a notch or two is what it's all about and this mode is probably Syndicate's saving grace to be completely honest. The co-op is probably the most fun that you can have with four other people legally over the internet.
To be completely fair on Starbreeze, this is a decent attempt at moulding Syndicate into a modern FPS title. The graphics are stylish and they have gone as far as they can to capture the soul of the original series, a skill they have demonstrated time and time again with their previous licensed titles. This time, it doesn't quite click the way it should and while it's by no means a bad game it's not really the dark cyberpunk thriller most fans of the old series were hoping for.