Monday, March 05, 2012

Megabits Column: Syndicate

Megabits of Gaming contributes a monthly column in Charged Middle East – a leading Dubai-based gadgets and games magazine that provides news, reviews and features on the latest home and consumer electronics.

Each month, Megabits takes a look at a new release in a gaming franchise and considers how its evolved over the years and what makes it great!

Here’s the latest of the articles from the March 2012 issue. For more about the magazine, check out its Facebook page after the jump.

There’s an old adage that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Saying that, over the past few decades, there have been occasions when that mantra has been successfully ignored. One thing’s for sure, when a much-loved game of old is set to make a comeback, albeit having undergone a radical overhaul, there’s even greater pressure on the developers and publishers to ensure it’s a surefire hit.

Ever since the rumours started about the intriguingly-titled Project Redlime a couple of years ago, a dedicated legion of fans has waited with bated breath to see whether one of the seminal cyberpunk titles would finally make a reappearance. As far as comebacks go, this was a biggie.

Confirmation of the reboot of classic isometric real time shooter Syndicate thankfully came late last year… The thrill of once again controlling those four cybernetic agents must make this one of the most anticipated games for ages.

In the 18 years since many of us first got to grips with a Gauss Gun or used a Persuadeatron to indoctrinate rivals, speculation has been rife about a follow up to the hugely successful Bullfrog game. It was the brainchild of gaming guru Peter Molyneux and even he is on record saying he was keen for a return of the franchise.

Thing is, the new version is going to be slightly different to its predecessors. This time round, it’s undergone a major facelift and been transformed into a… wait for it… First Person Shooter. Despite the bellows of “sacrilege” from die hard gamers, the new studio behind the move has a proven track record so it could prove a shrewd move. Starbreeze is now in place to work its magic, having been responsible for developing The Darkness and The Chronicles of Riddick.

Now there’s hardly a dearth of FPS titles out there – especially with the likes of Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 still fighting it out at the top of the charts - but that just goes to prove they’re popular. A futuristic shooter such as Syndicate could make a nice change.

Other than the American Revolt expansion pack that came soon after the original’s launch, all we’ve had to satiate our desire for more futuristic mind-controlling shenanigans was Syndicate Wars (1996) on the PlayStation and PC. The latest iteration – simply named Syndicate – is making an appearance on the 360, PS3 and PC, and features an appetite-whetting four player co-op mode.

Set in 2069, Players take on the role of Miles Kilo, Eurocorp’s latest prototype agent, and roam a Machiavellian world run by numerous factions. Although it’s now an FPS, the sinister air and feel of the original remains. Co-op is possibly the biggest pull, however, with the missions allowing you to rope in a few friends to fight the various syndicates.

Looks-wise, many have been quick to point out the similarities with the sublime Deus Ex: Revolution – another much-heralded title that made a return to our screens after years in the wilderness. Tipped by many to be one of the top games of 2011, the stealth game cum shooter was more than a little reminiscent of the first Syndicate that started life on the Amiga and PC. Cyborg agents, upgradeable body parts and an awesome arsenal of weaponry combined perfectly with the atmospheric environments in the dystopian society. Mind control also played its part.

Cyberpunk has proven a pretty popular setting over the years across various genres, with the likes of classic titles such as Speedball (1988), Shadowrun (1993), Hired Guns (1993), System Shock (1994) and Beneath a Steel Sky (1994). In a sense, it's timeless - the future vision of society always proving a draw to gamers.

It’s remarkable considering the way games these days are vilified that Syndicate circa 1993 was not really mired in controversy. From brainwashing and assassination to gunning down innocent civilians on a whim, I always wondered whether it would attract more criticism if it were released nowadays. If this follow-up stays faithful to its origins then we’ll soon find out.