Syndicate Wars

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Syndicate Wars
Syndicate Wars Coverart.png
European DOS cover art
Developer(s) Bullfrog Productions
Publisher(s) Electronic Arts
Director(s) Mike Diskett
Composer(s) Russell Shaw
Series Syndicate
Platform(s) DOS, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation
Release DOS[1]
  • NA: October 31, 1996
  • NA: July 31, 1997
  • EU: July 1997
PlayStation Network[3]
  • PAL: November 27, 2008
Genre(s) Real-time tactics
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer

Syndicate Wars is the second video game title in the Syndicate series, created by Bullfrog Productions in 1996. It was released for DOS and the PlayStation.


Syndicate Wars presents a followup to the events in Syndicate taking place 95 years later (the year 2191). At the game's opening, the player-controlled syndicate (called EuroCorp) is at the peak of its power (achieved in the previous game), an alliance of corporations controlling the world through a combination of military and economic power, and technological mind control. Corporate decisions are facilitated through a number of AI entities connected through a global communications network.

As the game opens, this totalitarian status quo is threatened by the emergence of a virus named "Harbinger" in the global communications system, damaging mind-control implants and leaving citizens vulnerable to co-option. Some of the newly liberated persons, dubbed "unguided citizens", choose to engage in an armed insurrection. The Unguided appear in early missions as random antagonistic elements, but over time form a well-organized militia.[4]

Viral damage to the global network causes disruption to Syndicate coordinations, with individual stations isolating themselves to avoid receiving rogue communication. The London station, as the headquarters of the EuroCorp syndicate, attempts to regain authority via direct intervention by the game's signature quartets of heavily armed agents.

The bulk of the game concerns the development of armed conflict between EuroCorp and the Church of the New Epoch, a church (led by a group called "The Nine") seeking to undermine the world rule by corporations in favor of subjecting its parishioners to its own variety of mind control. "Harbinger" was their first step in demolishing the existing world order. As insurrections take hold, the player is also obliged to conduct missions to control rogue elements within the syndicate itself, as various sub-corporations change allegiances or make bids for independence.

The ironic parallels between the objectives of Church of the New Epoch and the original EuroCorp syndicate itself are abundantly clear throughout the game, and indeed the game can be played from the point of view of the Church itself to similar ends (indeed, it is revealed very early in the game, when played on the Church's side, that the "disciple" in control of Church agents is a former EuroCorp agent who has been converted).


Screenshot from in-game combat

Syndicate Wars preserves the isometric view of Syndicate, while adding rotation and pitch controls over the view. Control over one's agents (or acolytes, when playing as the Church) is largely the same as the previous syndicate games, being based on a combination of keyboard and mouse actions.[5] Agents may be commanded singly or in groups, with simple instructions to assume positions, pursue or attack NPCs, collect items, etc. Agents may be set to behave passively, acting only when commanded, or to react to threats through control of brain and adrenal functions (the effectiveness of this autonomous operation may be improved over the course of the game through cybernetic brain upgrades, amongst others). Notably, the player has access to view the entire area of the game map for a level on first entering it; an area of the map need not be "seen" by the physical characters for its terrain and events to be known. This often allows the player to formulate a strategy and plan routes through the map. Consequently, the player generally has a good idea of the forces opposing him or her before starting the level, aside from cases where opposing elements were previously concealed in vehicles, buildings, etc. The armament of those forces, however, is generally known only by comparison to other recently encountered forces.

The relatively simplistic combat mechanics of Syndicate Wars do not provide much scope for sophistication in infantry tactics. Combat tactics in the game are usually centered on maneuvering to attack small portions (ideally one or two agents) of the opposing force at a time, with intervals in between for regeneration of health, body shield strength and ammunition energy by one's own agents. With only four controllable agents, the player's own forces are almost always outnumbered, and hence most combat strategy is simply a matter of possessing superior weaponry while avoiding encirclement or confrontation with large numbers of enemies simultaneously. Some missions however require multiple objectives to be completed simultaneously, and therefore require the team to be split up into pairs or even individual agents. In some instances, use of terrain can be significant, such as when attempting to approach a target while remaining immune to long-range small arms fire, or when attempting to ensure an open field of engagement in which to use area of effect weapons.

The selection of weapons in Syndicate Wars are quite similar to those in the previous games, being principally an array of small arms weapons. The weapon of choice for the early game is the minigun, chosen for good range and damage properties. This is later supplemented by long-range rifles, medium-range Gauss guns, and a variety of directed-energy weapons, from a basic pulse laser to the highly destructive Graviton Gun. Other, more specialized weapons also appear. There is no ammunition per se; instead, all reusable items draw power from a portable micro-fusion reactor carried by each agent. Sustained use depletes a shared stored energy pool, which is gradually replenished.[6] In general, the more effective the weapon, the more energy it requires, and hence the lower the rate of fire. At later stages of the game, management of this recharging time becomes a significant element of combat tactics. As other weapons or other items are encountered in the game they may be passed to one's research and development teams for productization (any enemy weapon captured may be used immediately and carried into future missions, but must be productized before more copies can be purchased or to reduce the energy cost of using it.) Most of the landscape in Syndicate Wars is destructible in the face of explosive weapons, most notably high explosive charges and even nuclear grenades which can be used to destroy buildings (for example, when robbing banks to secure capital), and kinetic bombardment from armed satellites.

The Persuadertron from the first game also re-appears, now with three models.[4] Persuadertrons (or for the Church of the New Epoch; 'The Indoctrinator') are hand-held mind control devices which enslave persons nearby. An upgraded version referred to as the Persuadertron 2 is available when playing as EuroCorp as the game progresses. "Persuaded" persons follow the agent holding the persuadertron until one or the other is killed. They will also collect dropped weapons and fight on behalf of the persuadertron's wielder, albeit with limited effectiveness. Many missions involve the use of this device to abduct scientists or executives friendly to opposing factions in the syndicate. In many cases, persons persuaded become available to the player as research scientists or agents. The range and effectiveness of the persuadertron varies with the brain implant sophistication of the agent wielding it, and the number of persons already persuaded at the time.

A number of ground vehicles appear in Syndicate Wars. Some are taken directly from another Bullfrog game, Hi-Octane, while others are stylistically similar to those found in Syndicate; these differ in durability, but all have essentially unlimited personnel capacity (for the player's agents and persuaded persons). The game adds a series of flying vehicles as well in some missions, which are used as antagonists and may be captured for use by the player. Vehicles are self-navigating from an interface perspective—the player picks the point on or near a street, and the vehicle will drive or fly there without further intervention, assuming the point was reachable. The self-navigation is fairly robust, almost always choosing an ideal route and avoiding confusion from loops and overpasses.

Most missions in Syndicate Wars adopt one or two basic motifs of action—assassination, persuasion, etc. These motifs are, as in the original Syndicate, often explicit in the player's mission orders. Combined with the background story presented for each, most missions further the basic plot as the confrontation between EuroCorp and Church of the New Epoch develops. Missions differ from one another less in terms of their objectives as in their settings, complexity and combat elements. While the game maps are generally quite similar (depicting futuristic technological cities, with roads, buildings, parks, etc.), the map layout and architectural differences between each city are often significant, and many cities have unique buildings, parks or sculptures.



Syndicate Wars was developed by Bullfrog Productions using a modified version of the engine used in Magic Carpet. The development team leader, Mike Diskett, recounted that "... in the first [Syndicate], one of the biggest complaints was it was an isometric view and if you walked behind a building, that was it, you couldn't see yourself. So now you can walk behind buildings and simply rotate the map so you can always keep yourself in view. We had to wait for a while for the technology to catch up so we could actually do that."[7] The AI was also enhanced so that enemies would work as a team, whereas in the original Syndicate each one would act as though unaware of the other members of their group.[7]

Diskett described the multiplayer mode as "a mixture of Quake and Command & Conquer, because you end up with the Quake aspect of just going out there to kill as many people as possible, but you also build bases up. This isn't something we've designed in; this is just how we ended up playing it."[7] Syndicate Wars includes in game advertising for Manga Entertainment's Ghost in The Shell and Judge Dredd from 2000 AD.[8][9]


It was originally announced that the game would be released exclusively for the PlayStation in the second quarter of 1996.[10] Instead, in 1996 it was released for DOS, with the delayed PlayStation version arriving in 1997. A Sega Saturn version was being coded by a programmer who used the pseudonym ZZKJ, but was never published. During development ZZKJ commented, "... the first thing we had to do was figure out what can be done in the 2D part of the Saturn. That then tells me what I need to fit in the available space, then we figure out what can actually fit in the available space and then the initial stages of the Saturn conversion is to basically get the engine up and running. This was difficult because the Saturn's only got 2 MB of RAM ... It can be done but the Saturn is pushed a bit, which is why I took the project on - I don't believe in doing easy projects."[7]

In 2008 a digital distribution version on the PlayStation Network of the PlayStation version was released.[11]

In January 2010 two game community developers finished a reverse engineering project of Syndicate Wars and released builds for Windows, Mac and Linux.[12] This version is complete beside the networking and joystick part.[13]


PC version
Review scores
Next Generation4/5 stars[15]

Syndicate Wars received a generally positive reception. A reviewer for Next Generation described it as "even more dark and menacing than the original." He said that while the graphics suffer from chunkiness and ragged characters in the standard VGA mode, in SVGA mode they are stunning. While he complained that the control interface is a pain to adjust to, he found the new weapons, completely interactive environments, and numerous missions make it worthwhile to do so.[15] While similarly praising the polygonal graphics, interactive environments, and numerous missions, Greg Kasavin of GameSpot found the characters to be overly small and hard to discern between even in SVGA, and complained that the rotational graphics engine often results in enemies getting free hits. He nonetheless concluded, "Syndicate Wars masterfully recaptures the dark, deadly emotion of the original, adds to it a huge variety of weapons and scenarios, and refurbishes it with a gorgeous new coat of paint."[14] It won Computer Games Strategy Plus's 1996 action game of the year award.[16]

Spiritual successors[edit]

Bullfrog originally planned to create another game in the Syndicate universe, named Creation. In Syndicate Wars are therefore in game ads for Creation. The game's premise was that a rival corporation funds a space mission to a planet that may be able to support life from Earth. The planet is mostly water so a submersible craft is the only means to explore it and catalogue the alien aquatic life while avoiding the syndicate (Eurocorp) that wants to thwart your mission.[17] Creation was cancelled in development and never released.

In a 2006 interview at the Leipzig Games Convention for GameSpot, Syndicate Wars producer Peter Molyneux said that he would like to revisit some of his old efforts, but adds that it is very unlikely that will happen. But Molyneux makes one possible exception: "Aside from the licensing complications, some sort of next-gen online version of Syndicate would certainly be popular with gamers."[18]

Starbreeze Studios developed a new Syndicate game for EA which was released on 21 February 2012.[19][20]

On 15 May 2013, Mike Diskett (Syndicate Wars lead) posted a video on YouTube[21] that revealed an imminent June Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for a new spiritual successor to Syndicate Wars. The "Satellite Reign" named game was successfully crowdfunded on July 29, 2013[22] and released on August 28, 2015.[23]


  1. ^ PC Release dates. GameFAQs. Retrieved on February 7, 2008.
  2. ^ PS Release dates. GameFAQs. Retrieved on February 7, 2008.
  3. ^ "European PSN store update 11/27/08". Brutal Gamer. 2008-11-27. Retrieved 2010-09-11. 
  4. ^ a b Giovetti, Al. "Syndicate Wars (game preview)". The Computer Show. Retrieved 2006-07-23. 
  5. ^ Suciu, Peter (1996-11-18). "Syndicate Wars". Issue 34, Volume 2. Science Fiction Weekly. Archived from the original on June 13, 2006. Retrieved 2006-07-03. 
  6. ^ Kasavin, Greg (1996-12-04). "Syndicate Wars for PC Review". GameSpot. Retrieved 2006-07-23. 
  7. ^ a b c d Yeo, Matt (April 1997). "Syndicate Wars". Sega Saturn Magazine. No. 18. Emap International Limited. pp. 18–21. 
  8. ^ "Days of Future Past: Remembering Syndicate Wars". February 8, 2015. Archived from the original on November 17, 2015. One of the most interesting things about the game [...] was the rather-unique-for-its-time in-game advertising. Billboards throughout each level would display animated adverts for both 2000 AD‘s Judge Dredd comics, and the 1994 animated adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s influential manga Ghost in the Shell. 
  9. ^ SWars movies adverts on
  10. ^ "Syndicate Wars". Next Generation. No. 14. Imagine Media. February 1996. p. 113. 
  11. ^ European PSN store update 11/27/08
  12. ^ 2010-01-26: Syndicate Wars Port - a reverse-engineering tale on (2010)
  13. ^ About "Syndicate Wars Port is a port of the 1996 DOS game Syndicate Wars to modern operating systems. In particular, it runs on GNU, Mac OS and Windows, but it should also work on any system supported by the SDL library on the i386 architecture."
  14. ^ a b Kasavin, Greg (December 4, 1996). "Syndicate Wars Review". GameSpot. Retrieved 2018-01-07. 
  15. ^ a b "Ultimate Syn". Next Generation. No. 25. Imagine Media. January 1997. p. 188. 
  16. ^ "Computer Games Strategy Plus announces 1996 Awards". Computer Games Strategy Plus. March 25, 1997. Archived from the original on June 14, 1997. Retrieved November 2, 2010. 
  17. ^ The lost worlds of Lionhead and Bullfrog - From the archive: these cancelled projects offer insights into the ambitions of two great studios. on
  18. ^ Boxer, Steve (2006-08-16). "Molyneux talks game design and next-gen". Retrieved 2007-07-14. 
  19. ^ "Escapist Magazine New Syndicate Game Confirmed". 
  20. ^ "Syndicate". 
  21. ^ "Satellite Reign - Coming Soon". YouTube. 2013-03-21. Retrieved 2013-06-08. 
  22. ^ Satellite Reign on
  23. ^

External links[edit]