Syndicate (video game)
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European box art
|Producer(s)||Peter Molyneux (Bullfrog)
Kevin Buckner (EA)
Syndicate is an isometric real-time tactical game from Bullfrog Productions created in 1993. It is the first title in the Syndicate series. An expansion pack, Syndicate: American Revolt, a sequel, Syndicate Wars, and a reboot Syndicate have also been released. The original game and expansion pack were re-released together in 1996 as Syndicate Plus.
Gameplay of Syndicate involves ordering a one to four-person team of cyborg agents around cities displayed in a fixed-view isometric style, in pursuit of mission goals such as assassinating executives of a rival syndicate, rescuing captured allies, "persuading" civilians and scientists to join the player's company or simply killing all enemy agents.
As the player progresses through the game, they must manage the research and development of new weaponry and cyborg upgrades. The player has only limited funds, requiring taxation of the conquered territories while ensuring that they are not so over-taxed that they revolt against the player. The player begins the game with simple pistols, progressing through increasingly destructive weaponry that includes Uzis, miniguns, flamethrowers, sniper rifles, time bombs, lasers and the enormously destructive Gauss gun. In addition, the player can use items such as medikits to heal his agents, scanners to locate pedestrians/vehicles and the "Persuadertron" to brainwash the player's targets into blind obedience.
The game puts the player in charge of a self-named corporation in a gritty near-future cyberpunk-style world in the year 2096. The teams of up to four cyborg agents are used in a series of deadly missions, which include assassinations, infiltration, theft and "persuasion" (using a device called a Persuadertron to capture individuals of importance). The game's objective is to establish world-wide dominance with the established syndicate, one territory at a time, while engaging and eliminating rival syndicates and putting down internal mutinies.
The backstory of Syndicate is contained in the manual, instead of the game itself. As the world of today slipped into the future, multinational corporations grew in size and profit. They came into positions to own small countries and to exercise direct influence over the world's governments. They practically became the world 's governments, undemocratically controlling the lives of people through commerce. These corporations became known as Megacorps. One of the Megacorps, a European one, invented the CHIP. A device that is inserted into the neck and stimulates the brain stem to alter a persons perception of the outside world. The CHIP numbs a person's senses to the misery and squalor around them better than any drug and sold millions around the world. It could convince a user that the sun shone when it was raining and that they were more beautiful than they really were. The CHIP, like some drugs, also made the user open to auto-suggestion, allowing them to be manipulated by the Megacorps. The CHIP became a perfect tool for the Megacorps to manipulating the populace and to gain power with. It didn't take long before the Megacorps were corrupted and became crime Syndicates, fighting amongst each other for monopoly over CHIP manufacturing and control over the world.
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The game first appeared in 1993 on the Amiga and PC DOS computers and was subsequently ported across to a wide variety of other formats. The DOS version used the standard 320x200 256-color resolution (Mode 13h) just for the planning and main menus, with the tactical simulation part rendered at 640x480 with only 16 colors. The higher resolution permitted finer detail in the graphics and allowed for the illusion that more than 16 colors were used by means of dithering. Similar graphics and same levels design were used in the Macintosh, 3DO, Atari Jaguar and RiscPC ports.
A separate version was made for the simpler, 16-bit consoles, as the hardware couldn't support the complexity of the original game. It contained completely new level design and different graphics, and was released for Sega Mega Drive and SNES. Later, it was released on the PlayStation Portable as part of EA Replay, a compilation of retro games released in the United States on November 7, 2006; this version is really the SNES version and is executed on PSP by an emulator.
In January 2012, the DOS version of Syndicate was re-released, packaged with pre-configured versions of the DOSBox emulator for both OS X and modern versions of Windows. In 2015, Syndicate was available for free on EA's Origin, it is now $4.99.
Computer Gaming World criticized the lack of multiplayer, random research, poor AI, and repetitive missions. The magazine concluded that "Syndicate is a polished and significant effort" that would appeal to fans of other Bullfrog games but "doesn't quite offer the staying power of its predecessors". COMPUTE! noted, "This isn't a game to use as a morality lesson for the kids – it's bloody, it requires you to be ruthless, and some people may take issue with the use of drugs to control your agents. But it's a ball to play."
GamePro described the Genesis version as a "clumsy translation", remarking that targeting and maneuvering are much more difficult with gamepad button combinations, and that the graphics aren't clear enough for the player to make out essential details. The four reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly concurred that the Jaguar version was the best home console version of the game to date, but still clearly inferior to the PC version. They especially criticized the use of the Jaguar controller's number pad, saying it made the controls needlessly complicated. GamePro instead actually praised the use of the Jaguar controller's many buttons, but also remarked that the Jaguar version suffers from a hard-to-read display and sharp, erratic slowdown. A reviewer for Next Generation disagreed with both of them, saying that the Jaguar version is "as close to the original title as is possible without the use of a mouse." They applauded the game in general for its detailed gore and "oppressive atmosphere."
Next Generation also published a positive review for the 3DO version, with the reviewer commenting, "There's been a version of this for nearly every system, and it has to be said this one takes a close second behind that found on PC. ... easily the best looking and smoothest controlling version for any home system." Despite this, he gave it a lower score than the Jaguar version. GamePro gave the SNES version an overall positive review based on the depth of the gameplay, calling it "a thinking man's shoot-em-up game."
In 1996, Computer Gaming World ranked it as the 67th best PC game of all time, stating that "it was just fun to mow down civilians in this strategic action game of futuristic gang warfare." That same year, Next Generation ranked it as the 29th top game of all time for being "fast, furious and tons of fun" in spite of its complexity. Also in 1996, Syndicate was ranked as the seventh best Amiga game by Amiga Power. In 2010, UGO.com included the game on its list of 42 best games ever made. It was also included in the 2011 list of the best violent video games of all time by The Daily Telegraph for the reason that "few games have ever been so keen to have their protagonists murder civilians, burning them with flamethrowers, blowing them up with rocket launchers and simply mowing them down." That same year, Wirtualna Polska ranked it as the third best Amiga game.
Syndicate Wars is a 1996 direct sequel to Syndicate, featuring 3D graphics and released for the PC and PlayStation. Several attempts by Bullfrog to produce another Syndicate game were all ultimately abandoned. These canceled games included at least one for the PC and another for the PlayStation 2. The game was re-imagined by Starbreeze Studios as Syndicate, a first-person shooter released for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2012. A spiritual successor, Satellite Reign, is being developed by some of the same staff.
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