developed by Bullfrog Productions
, published by Electronic Arts
, 1993 *****PC version is the definitive version
Syndicate is in my opinion Bullfrog's best ever game. It was totally original and unique at the time, had a cool cyberpunk setting and allowed the player to indulge in as much or as little ultra-violent amoral behaviour as they liked without passing judgment. Syndicate is made possible by the ability for PCs and Amigas to have lots of sprites on screen, in high res, in realtime, with fairly jerky but tolerable scrolling.
The game is set a couple of hundred years from the present (85 N.C. - New Calendar) where three megacorporations (one in the USA, one in Asia and one in Europe) have arisen and control all the nations of the world. The European corporation develops a chip - The Chip - which threatens to give them complete control of the world.
The chip is a neural implant device that allows the user to submerge into an idyllic augmented reality, unaware of their totalitarian surroundings. However the corp. have included a backdoor in the chip which allows them to directly control anyone who has one. The chip, market with the slogan 'Why change the world when you can change your mind?' becomes the best selling consumer electronics product of all time. It also plunges the corporations into war.
The Syndicate(s) of the title are splinter factions of the three shattered corporations, who use chip technology to build teams of cyborg operatives which they then insert into different cities around the world to gain power through illegal military and terrorist operations. The game puts you in control of one of the Syndicates. Your task is to manage a pool of cyborgs, and direct them (in teams of up to four) on missions around the world. There are two main parts of the game:-
The menu system/management phase is presented (on the PC version) in 256 colour 320x200 VGA. It shows the view through your holographic projection matrix. From here you can direct research into new weapons and cybernetics, and select and equip your team of cyborgs. You can then use a world map to pick your next mission. Each successful mission results in that area of the world being conquered and adjacent countries to become available for the taking.
Once your team is set up and a mission is selected, the second phase begins. An isometric view of the current mission setting (usually an urban area) is presented in 16 colour 640x480 VGA. This is the view from your command airship. Your four trenchcoated agents can be directed using the mouse, telling them to move or shoot (similar to Cannon Fodder). Everything is played out in real time. Each map contains civilians and cops as well as traffic, and often security guards and enemy agents. There are even fire engines and ambulances to mop up after particularly violent clashes. Some gates in the levels can only be crossed in a vehicle, requiring you to steal one.
As well as uzis, shotguns, pistols, miniguns, flamethrowers, gauss guns, lasers, time bombs and medikits, your agents have one very special item at their disposal- the persuadertron. This is a staplegun-like device that can be used to activate the backdoor in nearby people's chips, causing them to follow you and pick up any weapons they find to defend you. Civilians are the easiest people to persuade, cops and guards slightly harder (requiring you to have 8 or more civilians persuaded beforehand). Hardest of all are enemy agents, but once persuaded they can be added to your team in future missions.
The brilliant thing about Syndicate is that every mission can be completed as you see fit. You can either persuade everyone in sight or go on a murderous rampage. You can take out a dissident from blocks away with a sniper rifle or just walk into the lobby of his building and drop a timebomb. There are often hundreds of civilians milling about which leads to utterly insane bloodbaths at times.
Each of your agents can be controlled individually or as a group, and has three sliders (representing intrevenous drugs) that control their Adrenalin, Perception and Intelligence. This effectively controlled their running speed, their aim and view distance, and their ability to run away or fire automatically on recognised threats. It was also the first game I can remember where you could holster your weapons when cops were around.
Once the world is conquered, you have to face off for a final mission on a platform in the middle of the Atlantic. This mission takes about an hour of firing off rockets, running around like a madman and repeatedly jabbing the pause button every few seconds. Great fun.
Syndicate was originally released on MS-DOS PC (3.5" floppies) and Commodore Amiga. The PC version is far superior. The game was ported to the Sega Mega Drive, Super Nintendo, Atari Jaguar, possibly the 3DO and (I think) the Macintosh, although none of these versions are worth bothering with (except the Mac one).
The game very quickly spawned an addon pack (Syndicate: American Revolt) which was much harder, and introduced air strikes and clone shields. The game also supported a multiplayer mode over IPX/Netbios (very difficult if not impossible to set up on today's machines). The version most people are familiar with is Syndicate Plus, which was a CD-ROM release of the original game and the data disk. A sequel, Syndicate Wars, followed in 1997, although this was arguably not as good as the original, even though it finally allowed the player to destroy buildings.
Syndicate is one of my top ten video games of all time. It's not just because it's very stylish and very violent, the game actually plays very well even today. The only thing I really hate about it is the escort missions, as AI was too rudimentary at the time to allow the escortee to have a sense of self-preservation.
Useless trivia: you could cheat by naming your company COOPER TEAM or TOTHETOP. The developers planned to include motorcycles, nuns, and mothers with babies in prams (all of which could be incinerated or shot).