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New South Wales, Australia
Game Developer, Composer & Gamer.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review #9: Syndicate


Platform: PC
Type of controller: Mouse+KB    
Install time: Approx 10mins  
Dependancies (Included in installation): DirectX, VC 2008 Redist
Notes about installation: This game is currently banned in Australia. I ordered this copy online from the UK through eBay, but this game cannot be legally sold within Australia because of the lack of the R18+ rating system.

Game website: http://www.ea.com/syndicate/    
Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syndicate (2012 video game) ----------------------------------------------------------------

Before i get into this review, i want to apologise for the lack of reviews recently. Having a full time job means that all of my hobbies and interests have been put on the backburner in order to progress in my career. I will try and post as many reviews as i can with the limited amount of time i have. I would also like to quietly note that i am developing a Video series of reviews for games, movies and possibly more!!!

My thoughts about the game;
Syndicate is one of those games where you can't quite put your finger on what is good and what isn't for the first hour or two of playing. I only discovered today that this game is using DICE's Frostbite 2 engine, which was not as big surprise considering how fluid it feels, and how the graphics are almost on par with the likes of BF3 or Crysis 2. That said, the mechanics in this game feel a bit 'too' tweaked, whereas the exact same mechanics are much more fluid in Battlefield 3, they feel a bit overworked in this, or have not had all the bugs ironed out as yet. Overall this game is everything i have come to love about first person shooters, science fiction and games in general. I am a sucker for futurist sci-fi so this review may be a little bias in the story and graphical points because i have to constrain myself in saying how much i've wanted a game like this for some time now.

The recent addition of Dues Ex 3 to the world of sci-fi gaming was a bitter-sweet one for me, on the one hand i really love the concept, but a story like that seems to be wasted on a video game, when if they had put the same amount of effort into a animated feature film it would of served the story's purpose much more in my opinion, this is where Syndicate fills the void for me, it is much more of a 'gamers game' than something like Deus Ex 3, mainly because it has streamlined the ideas of DE3 into a more fluid gameplay mechanic. You can still look around, pickup data logs and hacking into computers to gain non mission specific intel, but you can also get by just fine without knowing what Dr Mad [dead] Scientist had for breakfast yesterday morning before his wife was kidnapped by rebel scum etc, you get the point.

The one thing that stands out for me with this game is the solid gameplay. As many review sites have said, this game is everything you know and love about first person shooters, but done better with seamless integration of style and flair where other recent sci-fi shooters have failed terribly (Namely the likes of Hard Reset or Section 8)

Developer standpoint;
In this developer's standpoint, i have based my reactions and opinions around the fact this was built with an already solid Frostbite 2 engine. I have written this as more of a comparison to BF3 but only in the technical engineering sense. BF3 is a very very different game, however its built using the same sets of rules and using the same nuts and bolts as this game.

This is the one aspect of Syndicate i do not like at all, BF3 also suffers from this problem so it may be an engine related issue and not that of the game designers but the engine programmers. The difficulty is something that needs alot more balance, because 90% of this game is generally a nice, challenging yet defeatable difficulty, whereas the endzone boss fights are quite ridiculous the first few attempts at them. I think i have saved myself from hating this game by gracefully quitting after 5 or 10 retries of something, letting myself cool down and come back to it later. Some areas seem impossible at first, but as you play them over and over they do get easier or to be more precise, they get less frustrating as you figure out the areas of the map that work best to your advantage.

Animations and visual effects
Absolutely stunning, not as highly fluid and detailed as BF3 but just as awesome to the untrained eye. One thing that stood out as a problem was parkour vaulting over obstacles is much less fluid than BF3. Just the way the end of vault is animated is poor, could be another coding issue though, because during mid-vault, its fine, but as soon as the players legs get over the obstacle, you land above the ground, and the camera twitches a bit and goes inside the player model for a split second, its quite disorienting and i have found myself avoiding using it because it does break the flow of the game. One other thing worth mentioning is the Bulletstorm-esque slide. In theory this is a great mechanic if its done right, Mirrors Edge got it right, Bulletstorm, while heavily unrealistic, managed to make the slide an integral part of the game, and they did it very well, however Syndicate lacks the style and control compared to the aforementioned games. It too is a flow breaker, and something that needs alot of work to be usable outside of a simple puzzle scenario (which there are none to my knowledge for this specific mechanic), it appears to just be another dodging technique that isn't implemented as good as it can be.

Level design
The level design in Syndicate is fantastic. This is up there with the greats of Sci-Fi level design inspired by a multitude of recent and not-so-recent games. There are some things that the untrained eye may not notice that i noticed first play through, such as the mission where you are in a hovercraft helicopter sort of thing outside, and the music is suggesting 'what you are seeing is some big vista, be awe inspired' which was quite beautiful, but it was soon devalued by the fact they are using what i call the 'Silent Hill mechanic' of level optimisation, fog. You cannot see the city streets below because of a big thick layer of fog. I know that the developers are trying to convey a sense of height and depth with this visually, but technically it is just a cheap way to not have to design an entire street-scape. This was a bit disappointing to me because they could of done exactly the same thing, but at night with all the lights of the skyscraper buildings, but during the day this just looked really tacky. Another thing to note is the training levels, this is done in a very minimalist Tron style, and is perfect for teaching the player about new mechanics or unlocks they would be unfamiliar with.

Sound design
The sound design like any Frostbite game really shines above the rest mainly because of the rich programming that has gone into the audio engine. The DSP type effects are unparalleled and no other game engine has come close to the ability of what Frostbite is capable of, even in the first engine version this was a major feature (ala the 'War Tapes' audio setting in Bad Company 2). Basically this is a Next Gen HD audio engine, and in Syndicate, although the budget was obviously less than that of the Battlefield series, still holds up with excellent sound quality and clarity.

On a side note, dubstep is becoming increasingly popular for use in games, TV shows and movies, and especially in trailers. As much as i love dubstep, this may or may not be detrimental to the genre, but hopefully for every 1 mainstream artist like Skrillex, there are 3 underground artists striving to be better than that 1 mainstream artist who they dislike for being popular within the scene of music they enjoy making, but secretly love them because they can be a more pronounced musician. The reason i mention this, is because Skrillex produced a song for Syndicate under the same name. I've only heard this play once in-game, and that was during an intense action moment, that suited the game really well because i was too distracted by the action to care which dubstep artist was playing in the background.

Story and character development
The story is something in Syndicate that is definitely not new, i have not played the original 1993 game, but i am told it holds quite true to story cannon. That said, this is a pretty average run of the mill sci-fi story, so there is not much to say here. The character development on the other hand is quite deep, even if the game isn't. One of the main reasons this game was banned in Australia is the blatant disregard for human life depicted by your buddy 'Merit' who executes ALOT of civilians during the game without blinking an eye. This is quite powerful, and while alot of the current generation of gamers may be desensitised to such thing, i found it to be quite a good characterisation technique, albeit a quick and cheap one. Most of the other characters are forgettable to an extent, the main point of this story is the classic Corporations controlling the world, controlling the government, because of their contribution to society in this case in the form of the "DART" chip in the brain which has rendered all electronic devices obsolete. However saying that, this is yet another sneaky and cheap story telling device that makes the game designers job an easier one.

Closing statement
Syndicate is one of the games of 2012 that will hopefully grow into something much more than just a remake of a 90s tactical shooter game. There is alot of movie potential here aswell, but i mentioned earlier, this is the perfect 'game' for anyone who is into Sci Fi, but if you're just a gun ho, trigger happy COD fan than i would look elsewhere for your daily thrill of killing.
Overall this game is definitely worth checking out, if you like your shooters i recommend playing through this, and if you're into Science Fiction, then what the hell are you doing reading this?! You should be playing Syndicate right now!

Story: 6/10  
AI: 6/10
Sound: 7.5/10
Voice: 6.5/10    
Controls: 6/10    
Models: 7/10  
Level Design: 7.5/10  
Textures: 7/10  
Technical Complexity: 6.5/10    
Replayability: 5.5/10    

Total: 65.5/100

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