Format: Amiga 500
Region Reviewed: PAL
Year of Release: 1993
As if one ever needs an excuse to fire up the old' faithful known as the Commodore Amiga, I (Olly023) have found one to retrace steps once taken to review a Peter Molyneux title. No, it isn't Populous nor Theme Park, it's an in-between of sorts. One he simply produced on behalf of the (at the time at least) talented lot at Bullfrog.
Of course, if y'don't know: I'm on about SYNDICATE! D'uh!
Released in 1993 across damn near every platform available at the time, developed by Bullfrog and published by Electronic Arts; it the head designer/programmer was by the since BAFTA Award-winning Sean Cooper (one of those many skilled bedroom coders of the 80's we here at RGG constantly harp on about). The audio composed by the ever talented Russell Shaw who has contributed musically to essentially every Molyneux-headed work from Populous through to the Fable trilogy.
The game has a cool little back story to explain everything that's going on, but you need to make sure you have the manual for that. So all those pirated floppies aren't going to help on that one, folks. Alas, it's a cyberpunk-infused future where you take control of a syndicate (corporation) and start sending out teams of cyborgs to help craft your business into one with world-dominance. Nefarious means ensue as you spearhead your maniacal campaign to be number one. Infiltrate, assassinate and crack out the Persuadertron (cleverly named gadgets for the win) to bend other syndicates to your own way of thinking. It is all really rather cool and simply as a concept stuck with me for many years. I've never been a massive RTS fan by any stretch of the imagination, especially not when I was a kid. Heck, no! But Syndicate was different. There was something about the unique feel (who didn't love cyberpunk especially back then), look and sound that drew me right in like a Chupa Chup lolly.
For years after Daddy023 sold the Amiga, I sought out to rediscover the game. It wasn't until about the mid-2000's I finally found out it was indeed Syndicate. All I could remember was the cool intro, isometric view and what you were seeking to achieve by being a douche about town to become a futuristic godfather. After the rediscovery I would happily tell everyone how amazing it was, but this is the first proper time I've sat down with it since then to replay, hence the review. Now, the 1990's was still a good time to be a British gamer. Despite the mostly unfair flack that gets slung in the direction of Western-developed games of the period, at the very least the UK was still producing strong, playable games that remained critically-acclaimed and even commercially acceptable - much of this is to do with the strength of the Japanese titles widely available then, which were undoubtedly much of the time amazing with the likes of Sega, Nintendo, Capcom, Konami and co - but Syndicate is very much a Western game. It shows, it feels. Is this all relevant to the review? Perhaps not, but jus' sayin'.
Let's get into the meat of it all, then. Syndicate has by far one of the coolest intro's to any game ever. The opening (motion) cut scene is literally Bullfrog showing off, it can almost be one of those sweet little demo's you can now easily find online that showcases the hardware. It was truly cinematic at the time, smooth moving and felt 'real'. Amazingly atmospheric music plays as the futuristic setting is fully realised in this most brilliant of forms. It really, really does gear you up and get you in the mood for what you're about to play. So it works, it makes you desperate to start up and get dirty. Even if it isn't the most accurate form to resemble what will be the view you see throughout your playthrough. But that doesn't matter, even if you don't play it go watch it on YouTube or something and you'll immediately dig what I'm sayin', sir and sirettes.
To continue on with the presentation side of things, it may retroactively be pretty much what you'd expect from a Bullfrog strategy title. The art design really wins out, though. The graphics are sharp, with its top-down isometric view for full point and click immersion. Godfather (mafia sense) as opposed to God game would be a most apt description (hence the earlier reference). I personally love the look of it. It's vibrant and the cyberpunk overtones are very, very strong which makes a nice change from other Molyneux games. There's a great sense of scope, with enough from the sprites and animation to give you a key idea but enough room for expansion through imagination that the game becomes what you make it. Truly wonderful in appearance, for this reviewer.
I would typically write about the controls here, but lets be fair. When you are mostly pointing and clicking, if you can't work your head around that, then you should probably give up on video games. Seriously, what's wrong with you? It's point and click, so you point and click. End of on that one. But everything is nicely laid out and labelled, all with its own oozing style and flare along the way to help keep up the immersion factor. All the props for that!
When you're sinking your teeth into the game, you may not notice as such; but it must be noticed the audio takes a tad of a hit. It becomes mostly repetitive background noise alongside admittedly well-realised sound effects. I can't help thinking there was a missed opportunity for more of Shaws atmospheric tunes to be playing, utilising more of the Amiga's capabilities. Although, it is still what is expected from a genre title like this. Focus on background noise and sound effects are a typical choice on the makers' behalf.
Really whether you'd enjoy this or not is pretty much summed up by how much you dig these kind of video games. I've said it before in this review, but it really is one for genre fans more than anyone else, it just happens to be a genre title with the rare distinction of managing to draw me in to actually want to play it. So that must account for something, but I'd rate the gameplay very high as it's full of options and everything a good tactical game needs is correct and apparent. Doing missions is always fun but never mindless. If you don't love doing some 'persuading', then this really isn't one for you. The game is fairly violent, with some very dark tones that while match up well with the universe for which Syndicate is set, did cause some minor controversy upon release. Just another thing that draws in Olly023!
It's certainly complex, as is the majority of strategy games. But the fun factor here is much higher for your casual gamer than that of the mentioned majority. It wins out big here, for many a similar reason that GTA did much later. You can literally just cause havoc if you fancy, messing up (and taking the) lives of the innocent civilians who just happen to be in your proximity is an absolute blast. So if you love a bit of drug-induced (yup, you're drugging your minions) slaughter, then this is a game you may well enjoy - or simply if you're someone who needs to let out your sociopathic tendencies, well, this is a much safer manner to fill that void both for you and those around you (I would suggest you seek help, though). It's not 'easy' per-se, but once you get used to the mechanics you should be mastering in no time at all.
You gain a nice selection of weapons to add to your destructive ways as the game rolls on. From uzi's to a rocket launcher, there's a heck of a lot of choice in terms of causing damage to any and everything on the map. There's also your standard medipacks to heal agents and other gadgets such as the aforementioned Persuadertron (coz everyone loves a good brainwashing') and scanners to track vehicles, etc. The strategy elements are mostly taken up by figuring out the load outs, etc. for each mission. Each mission does have its own unique story on the go, though - which ultimately adds to that whole immersion I keep coming back to, only extending the in-game universe and making you want to complete the game.
There is hours, upon hours of fun to be had. From the multiple strategies to the simple fact there's hours of stand alone gameplay to blast your way through on a first, second or third try. It's there which is where the majority of the lastability comes in, but speaking of... The lastability is another by-person situation. There's many ways you can go about playing the game and you can easily set up your own goals if you don't fancy playing it through how you technically should be. But if you don't like it from the off (shame on you), I can't see much that would make you want to return. Bar watching that intro over and over again. Coz it's awesome in much the way the Game Over screen of Shadow of the Beast 2 was (and all the cut scenes of that game, actually).
Overall though I would certainly recommend Syndicate if you never had the chance to play it back in the mid-90's. Playing the game now is like opening up a time capsule, in a good way. If Blue Peter left games like this in their garden then I'd be more inclined to open what they'd left behind. I just wanted to mention Blue Peter then, I'm sorry. But, yes. It's a sign post of a by gone era in gaming that we're unlikely to see return in a mainstream sense any time soon. We had RTS games before and since, we've had a remake and a reboot of Syndicate, but it's the original that makes me return. Some may argue the PC version was superior, but I don't care. Mostly as I have no nostalgia attached to it. But it's fairly easy to find and I recommend you whack this one in your collection immediately. Bullfrog were masters of their craft and this is possibly their best work ever. That is saying something. Even if it's just my opinion.
Peter Molyneux, y'done it again here. Play this game, peeps!
Verdict:- I can't help but want to rank this higher, as it's a game that clearly left a lasting effect on me and the nostalgia goggles will thus always be in check.
That intro is still absolutely astonishing to this very day and a true mark of stylish craftsmanship. It's seriously a thing of sci-fi beauty. Graphically for the most part, it looks near enough just like the isometric Grand Theft Auto that I previously reviewed, but with this coming much earlier props are deserved and yet should be more comparable to Desert Strike.
Lastability and Playability of Syndicate are purely a by-person affair. If you like tactical games and some good old' strategy you'll very likely dig it a lot as what it does it does very well and in my opinion the game stands as one of the most relevant works tied to Peter Molyneux. If you didn't play it back then, give it a shot. This review's for the Amiga version but it was ported to everything under the sun, so you're sure to be able to find it for your system of choice.
Give Syndicate a go, it's a great game and I like it. Simplez.
Second Opinion:- Transbot remembers this game well, many hours spent frantically moving the mouse around the screen making carnage happen.
If for the Mega Drive, SNES versions and lesser played Mega-CD edition, Transbot would agree with the score, but; the original Amiga game was a masterpiece for its time, sure it had it's loading and slowdown problems but it was a mammoth achievement from Bullfrog who were masters of their craft, for me to give this less than a 9 is heracy so with that in mind...
Transbot Scores:- 9 out of 10