Let's begin this preview by cleaning our minds of thoughts and memories of the previous Syndicate titles. This game released 16 years after Syndicate Wars has very little to do with Bullfrog's titles apart from the name, setting and atmosphere. Alright then, let's get to the game at hand.
First person. Brain implants. Starbreeze. Oh well, there is every reason to be excited about this game in any case and my first taste of what it offers was "Hostile Takeover" the four player co-operative mode spanning nine maps. Hostile takeover is completely separate from the single player campaign that sees Miles Kilo wage his personal war, and instead focuses on the war between the syndicates. The map I played was set in Eurocorp head quarters, and as we set foot on the roof the outside environments reminds us of Mirror's Edge with clean surfaces and saturated colours.
At first we die a lot. Over and over again we restart the mission. We're playing it as your standard cover based squad shooter - we spread out and try and pick off the enemies around us. But this is not the way to play Syndicate. Hacking is key to success and you need to "breach" your squad mates to keep their health up - if someone sprints forward exposed he can be "breached" and healed by his team mates from a distance. Very useful if you're tasked with being a tank. There are of course class, support, brawler and so on, but we were not really given the chance of equipping different abilities and such. Certain enemies also requiring breaching as they are invulnerable with their armour up. Working together and breaching at the same time speeds up the process and isolating enemies to take them out was a tactic that proved successful. Apart from breach, we also have "surge" (heal yourself) and a hack that allowed for quicker breaching. There will be lots of hacking techniques (around 20) in the full game, and they are sure to provide us with varied gameplay.
While this does seem promising, we only had the three mentioned with us in the demo level and I'm curious to find out whether you have to equip a selection of hacking abilities or whether you're free to switch them at any time - or whether some hacks are required for certain missions.
What really impressed me is how immediate and action packed Starbreeze have been able to make the hacking. Instead of taking the player out of the experience it actually creates an extra layer of immersion into the here and now of the level.
It was described to me that hacking in the single player campaign and the co-operative mode would be a bit different. Not only will there be different hacking abilities, but while the co-operative hacking focus a lot on support, healing, and teamwork, the hacking of the single player campaign is more focused on offensive hacks, like the suicide hack (basically sends the victim into a frenzied state where he shoots those around him and then pulls the trigger on himself/herself).
It's harder to gage the brief portion of the single player campaign from what I tried. Admittedly it is very story oriented, the problem being that EA and Starbreeze are keeping mute on anything, but the general layout of the story. The year is 2069, and everyone wants a chip in their head. The corporations, or syndicates if you will, who manufacture them exert subtle mind control on their subjects and as an agent of one of the companies, Eurocorp, Miles Kilo, is sent on missions to help further the goals of his syndicate. It pretty much amounts to hands on industrial espionage, such as prying a chip out of the head of a competitor. You know, the usual stuff.
For those of you who enjoyed Deus Ex: Human Revolution, it is important to point out that while Syndicate has themes in common with that game they remain very different when it comes to gameplay mechanics. It is however likely that EA opted to wait with announcing Syndicate until Human Revolution was out to avoid mix ups or people feeling that Syndicate would be some kind of Deus Ex rip off - which it isn't even if they both base their universes on the same science fiction notion of a future ruled by major corporations. Where Human Revolution has its basis in a role playing system and relies on stealth for gameplay, Syndicate is all about first person shooting and real time hacking. There is nothing to suggest that Syndicate will sport the same level of detail and amount of stuff on the side as Human Revolution as it strikes us as a more straight forward story driven action romp.
Not that we mind. From what we've seen Syndicate appears to offer a very appealing experience, both in terms of the campaign and the co-operative mode. Don't expect the old Bullfrog Syndicate, and don't expect Deus Ex and you're likely in for something very entertaining come February.