Business is murder and naturally then murder is simply business. The future painted in Starbreeze Studios' Syndicate is very bleak, and the value of human life is pretty much down to what's on the chip that's been surgically placed inside your head, and corporate policy mandates murder in the name of profits and market shares.
EA strategically pushed the announcement of Syndicate so it got out of the way of Deus Ex: Human Revolution last year. A title similar in theme, yet very different when it comes to gameplay, and that is especially true when you look at the co-operative mode on offer in Syndicate.
And as luck would have co-op is in focus at the event we attended in Stockholm just under an hour south of where Starbreeze are located. The co-operative missions are described as being inspired by the original game as they feature four players or agent on missions to steal secrets from other corporations (they're all evil so don't feel bad about it). The player is an agent for a new corporation, Wulf-Western, hungry to gulp up as much of their competitors as they possibly can. In total there will be 9 co-op missions at launch all taken from the original game, and we got to sample three of these at the event.
First off we played Western Europe (the map that's available to try as a demo on PSN and Xbox Live). It's the first map of the co-op campaign, and it's pretty straight forward. Not that the other maps are very complicated, while there are tactical decision to be made throughout, you're never really taking major strategic decision at any point during the action. The strategies are employed as you use your points to upgrade your agent or rather his chips, breach applications, and weapon upgrades. We were honestly a bit taken a back by the complexity of the unlock system, and how you progress. Things like auto-aim is an upgrade, and as you progress to equip your agent with various breach applications more advanced play styles are made possible.
At first glance Syndicate co-op is very similar to Brink, especially given the way the characters move and the emphasis on team play, but there are also things that are different and once more advanced tactics are used in the battles Syndicate co-op stands out as an experience you won't find elsewhere.
The next map, Colorado, saw us transporting contraband to a waiting helicopter. There were four packages, one for each player, but as you can only use a handgun while carrying the packages, you had to take turns to cover each other. Poor communication on our part meant we didn't exactly do the best job in this part of the level. As we progressed further into the level we disabled some controls at a terminal, while fighting off waves of enemies. The game mode has a very strong sense of purpose and it is always clear what you need to do, your chip provides you with objectives and arrows, and it conveys the sense of being part machine well. Your DART overlay allows you to see and breach enemies that may not be in direct line of sight, and is useful if you're taking a more cautious approach. It's something we'd like to explore more, when we get in to the game proper as it comes out. This time we ran for the objectives guns blazing.
The game really forces you to play as a team, and even if there are breach applications that allow you to shield yourself or heal yourself, you cannot run around on your own and you always have to make sure you can see and breach (heal) your team mates. If they fall you can reboot them by running next to them and initiating a breach, the good thing here is that you don't need to stick around during this process so running in and initiating the reboot and then moving away is a good way to avoid getting killed while performing medic duties.
The last map we got to try our hands on was Argentina. It's the second to last map of the co-op campaign, and as such was challenging even at the lowest difficulty. Our squad got squashed a couple of times early on as we were accompanied by some kind of unmanned vehicle or moving ammunition box (not quite sure exactly what it should be called). At one point we faced a difficult armoured enemy, and our tactics quickly eroded. After a couple of tries I took on the role of breaching the enemies armour, as often as I could, while also trying to breach (heal) my team mates as they went for a more straight forward approach and he went down. We progressed through the level until faced with a showdown against other agents that lasted a very long time. At this point I ran out of ammo, and while I was later told there were crates nearby I focused solely on keeping my team mates alive and staying out of harm's way. And it should be noted that healing your team mates gives you a rather substantial amount of points (which are then used for upgrades).
Syndicate's co-operative mode is easy to enjoy and the hour we had went by quickly. At first glance it may seem like a rather brutal, but straight forward co-operative first person experience, but there is more to it - and hopefully it will work as a nice side course to the main singleplayer campaign of Syndicate.