While CD Projeckt Red (look out to not be sued by Robert Fripp) it’s still trying to patch up the comatose corpse release of Cyberpunk 2077, let’s go back in time when cyberpunk was…. actually not that far since i actually played this last year while quarantined and cleanin some of my backlog, and the game actually came out in 2012, almost ten years ago.
It just feels odd to discuss a game like this now, with the scenario of a society that basically taps directly into the “Wired” (not actually called that, but you get it), so you can connect to the internets with a chip installed in your brain, with more than half of the world populace having it, and using it to – among other things like downloading porn and Doom 2 WADS, i guess – align with one of the megacorporations that have become more important than nations themselves. The megacorps of course compete for dominance by also upping their terror and spy tactics by using prized killers, like the protagonist, Kilo (yes, with a “i”), as corporate espionage is basically a full on war.
Yeah, played today, this doesn’t feel like a dystopia from the book of cyberpunk, as the genre has aged into disgusting reality with a decent accuracy, and while this is nothing poignant nor a deep observation, in hindsight it’s ironic to point out that EA published a game with such a story… but this is EA, they probably need to be pointed out the irony.
The story is disappointing because it feels so inconsequential, you basically go an a corporate murder rampage (all with absolute impunity) mixed with an average cyberpunk sight-seeing tour, and you don’t learn – almost – anything (nothing really interesting, anyway, i can tell you that) about you player character, Kilo, always silent, nor you learn much about this cyberpunk world, aside it adhering to the usual standbys as everything look kinda asian-y or like Blade Runner, but you mostly stay into labs, highrises, slummish houses staircases, construction sites, etc. fighting the other factions of corporate super killers, you never see what it’s like at ground level… until you get into the slums, the streets with hobos and junkies, but it’s so brief and unconsequiential.
Yathzee was right when he said “he could have stayed home, called in-sick that day to watch Perry Mason re-runs, and nothing would have changed”, because another corporate killer cyber-assassin with no agenda or seeming personality would had to do it, so Kilo would have just gotten a little weight by scarfing pork rinds and alcohol… unless it’s a 1995’s Ghost In The Shell deal and cyborgs just don’t get drunk at all because they metabolize it on the spot.
Yes, my mind is wandering into other, more interesting cyberpunk worlds. kinda inevitable. On this subject, it’s worth pointing out i’m not too surprised, overall, since the script is penned by Richard K. Morgan (today mostly known indirectly by the Netflix adaptation of his book Altered Carbon), the proof you can write cyberpunk for decades but also publicly be a fuckin TERF.
That said (and the plot twist and betrayals you see coming a mile away), i must admit the writing isn’t that bad, it has its moment, but overall it’s hard to care either about your corporate buddies or the rebels, no one has interesting motives besides the obvious one that are there to move the plot along, but it doesn’t change how Kilo, your faceless first person avatar, doesn’t really matter. He is in the game but there’s no situation that would have played out really differently because of him.
Things almost resolve themselves regardless, so… yeah, it feels like i’m just a camera with a gun attached, not a character, a common syndrome for lesser FPS games that still want their story to have some weight or meaning to it, but forgot to don the camera-protagonist with any personality.
They try to remedy this and even turning to the narrative’s advantage with a fight at the end (on top of a “false choice via QTEs”), but the drama has no meaning because we don’t have any context for these characters aside some slapdash exposition to let the player know this guy knew Kilo as they were trained together…. just that, they don’t even throw in a flashback to definite their relationship in any way aside from “we was comrades”, so it’s moot. Like the motivation for the inevitable betrayal of Kilo towards the agency (it’s not a spoiler, this is cyberpunk clichè number 101), goaded into him by another character with a more believable agenda, or an actual agenda, for that.
Sadly, even when at the end you’ve kinda done something, it doesn’t feel you really did,as you pretty much played fiddle for another person on their behalf, or that you earned it… and overall i don’t care about what happened to these characters, like at all, be them villains or not, even the rebels seem to lack any proper agenda besides “opposing the corporations”, everybody’s motivation is so stock it feels just planted there to have conflict without telling a story with proper characters.
But it has a rifle sniper called Kusanagi, of course there is, just missing the “Snow Crash” line of cyber flamethrowers (and yes, the game does have a flamethrower).
I feel bad for the Starbreeze Studio having to work on it, as this game is conceptually non-sense, intented as it was as a fps reboot of a strategy-sim series , with a change in genre made only in the name of “generic” and “omogeinization” as kids play FPS… they did in those days, but yeah, not only you’ll will put off fans of the original game by Bullfrog with such a random ass “reboot” nobody asked, but the general audience you’re posing to sell it to… won’t probably know what the hell was Syndicate, so the name won’t really be useful in boosting sales of the game…. GENIUS.
Sorry for getting only now to talk about gameplay after going deep on the story and release, but there’s simply nothing that important or extensive to say about how Syndicate 2012 plays.
The most stand-out feature that accompanies the basic but solid FPS gameplay are…. basically “cyberplasmids” from Bioshock, here coming in a very small selection of extra abilities, like remote hacking, a slo-mo that also highlights explosive scenery items and enemies (even ones hiding behind walls), the ability to make enemies suicide, fight each other… or just jam their weapons.
These abilities aren’t bad or badly implemented, and they (mostly) have their uses, so they’re not as superflous as they could end up… but they’re still gimmick laid on top of the base gameplay, not actually blended into or implemented to be more useful and/or required by the game design.
Difficulty-wise, it’s a bit on the easy side on the standard difficulty level, as in with the hacking and cyber” plasmids”most common enemies can be easy to dispose with, sometimes just the hacking ability is enough, when there is a turret in place. the game does ramp up the challenge beginning from the first boss encounter, but still normal enemies feel easy to beat until the mid-way point of the campaign, then it ramps up just enough to not make it moot, the bosses go from decent to good, so there is some challenge to the game overall, even on Normal.
It’s not a bad game, i will say this, the mechanics and systems are in place for a decent FPS but the results are kinda bland (and share some of the common design annoyances of the late 2000s-early 2010s school of “AAA” games, like the overbearing use of QTEs to do anything). The campaign is a 6 hour affair, with not really much as reasons to go back, besides some collectable info logs about people that sound more interesting than Kilo O’Reilly or whatever he is called.
Outside of the campaign, there is a co-op online multiplayer mode (online only) that claims to add elements from the original Syndicate, and by that i mean it’s mission based, there are some very mild managerial element (research weapons and upgrades for the character with the resources gathered in previous missions, etc), but it’s basically a 4 player co-op mode. Still more interesting as an offering than the bog standard deathmatch affair, yes, but nothing that incredible.
Technical side: looks decent-good, the textures aren’t great for floors and pavements, and sometimes there is some slowdown even in the campaign, could be due to a not great port (but this does feel like a FPS made for consoles first, could be wrong) to PS3, but overall is fairly competent, and there is some good voice acting in it, and good audio overall, even if the music is forgettable. Decent load times, shame the graphics are better than the somehow kinda inspired AND kinda generic art direction, not really a good or original art direction for a cyberpunk game, sadly.
Oh, yes, i could have done without all that fuckin bloom effects the game LOVES to use. I guess it’s another sign of the time, as most mainstream big budget videogame really liked to show off the tech like that…. for reasons. Stupid ones.
The most surprising thing is that, at least in late august of last year, the PS3 servers… were still online (and didn’t require an EA account, even odder). I don’t know why, though, since the missions are clearly designed for 4 players…..only, you can get into these multiplayer missions alone, but you will most likely die in a jiffy. I tried, didn’t work, so i stopped bothering with it all together, who really cares about Syndicate 2012’s multiplayer.. in general, i doubt anybody cared even back then.
Overall, even with conceptual nonsense behind this game, the lacking writing, the campaign offers a decent cyberpunk FPS time, just don’t expect too much in regard to story or inspired art direction, but it’s also pretty dang cheap and abundant on the used market (and on Steam, i guess), so you won’t break the bank.