#244 Syndicate

Posted: 9th October 2013 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , , ,

276th played so far


Genre: Strategy/Shoot ‘Em Up
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1993
Developer: Bullfrog Productions
Publisher: Electronic Arts

One of the game studios we admire and miss is Bullfrog. They’ve made some games we spent way too much time on. We’ve played Dungeon Keeper for the blog before, are looking forward to Theme Park (who needs Rollercoaster Tycoon, right? Right?) andย Populous, and then there’s non-list game Theme Hospital we love (where we all learned not to lick the foil lids of our yoghurt pots).

Today we’ve got Syndicate, another twist on their business simulations. This time your business is to control the world.

Our Thoughts

The game differs a bit in complexity. The business simulation, when playing, is fairly simple. You need to gain control over different territories and expand your rule. When you get them, you gain tax income from them (but keep them happy by not over-taxing), which you use to fund your team, buying equipment and enhancements and conduct research (vaguely directed).

Although I’m sure we didn’t dive into this part of the game deep enough to fully appreciate it, it felt relatively thin. It seemed less important than the missions you execute to gain control of these areas.

Like a lot of games of this era there is a very large cyberpunk influence a la Blade Runner which you get less of in modern games. It makes a lot of the ideas in the game feel a little bit cliched despite the setting being enjoyable if a little bit bleak. I would like to think that as corporate overloads we would make things a bit better… but I somehow doubt that from the look of the office when we fail a mission. How many times does he need to throw things at the screen before he realizes it won’t smash it?

The concept is simple – you equip and modify up to four cyber commandos. They go out into a military base, village or something similar (they’re not that easy to distinguish – all are camp-like buildings in a desert, surrounded by fencing and guard posts. In there, your task is to kill or brainwash one or more people and then get out safely.

You’ll spend most time here, both because of their length and because you will have to deal with many retries. They start off tough (especially when playing without manual) and go up from there. The graphics here look as you expect – pixelly and actually quite sharp and crisp – unlike the blurrier main mission screen. One disadvantage stems from the set isometric projection – or rather, its buildings. First, enemies sometimes walk behind them, and there’s no hint on where they are, making shooting them a pixel hunt if you even realise they’re there. Second, often your target is inside a building. When you enter a building, though, the roofs remain and your character is hidden, except for a small blinking number. You need to guess where the walls are, how to get to your target and again pixel hunt to target them. It seems like a few visual hints here would have been simple, and make it a lot easier to play.

Then again, the game has its control issues anyway. The general interface is left-click to walk, right-click to shoot (or use what other item you have equipped). This is where the age of the game comes in. You see, two years from this point, two games come out that change strategy game interfaces – Command & Conquer and Warcraft II. The former, in particular, contains a simple feature that makes control a lot easier: Context-based clicks. If you click someone, they’re selected. Click the ground, walk there. Click an enemy, shoot them. Here you can’t do that, which is more difficult, though you can get used to it. More annoying is that without a right-click, your guy just doesn’t shoot. It will stand there without defending itself. That’s fine if you have only one guy with you, but you have a team of four. As you can only have one shoot, it makes it difficult to put in the strategy for a good take down.

Slightly more annoying? Your guys don’t equip their weapons by default. More than once my guys tried to punch the enemies while they’re being shot at because I didn’t notice the game had forgotten to use the gun. I’m sure they meant well, but it feels clumsy.

Even so, the game is quite good and fun to play, once you get past these hindrances. It’s difficult, which is exhausting, but when it works it’s exciting. For that reason alone I’m looking forward to the sequel Syndicate Wars, released three years later. If all goes well, it could fix some of these issues and make a truly fun game.

Final Thoughts

It is always a bit hard to go back to games like this when we are used to the more modern interfaces. The equip and inability to just send them off to kill being some bug bears. If this blog has done anything for me it is that I am now more appreciative of modern games. It’s like a lot of things that if you can see where they come from you are able to greatly appreciate the final product (not true for all games, albums and movies but it works with a lot).