It's a question with many answers, but the result in Syndicate is a world where nations and government have become obsolete, and instead the world is controlled by enormous corporations, or syndicates if you will, that fight each other for market shares, and forces their products down the throats of consumers, most of whom have a chip placed in their head for constant access to the net so they can consume even more.
There aren't any laws and the strongest and richest gets to decide what's right and wrong. Industrial espionage is carried out as much with guns and explosives as it is with hacking and theft of data. And never mind any collateral damage, especially if they are clients of the competition.
In other words, a dark vision of our future. But one that also offers up the potential for a frenetic, solid shooter.
The concept of this futuristic FPS revolves around the concept of people having chips implanted in their brains, and as a result there are a number of entertaining mechanics.
You are Miles Kilo, an agent employed by EuroCorp, and implanted in your head is a Dart 6 chip, the latest in chip technology, and it allows you to hack or "breach" almost every other chip, whether they are inside the heads of other people, in their guns, or if they have been installed to protect doors, elevators and the like.
What this comes down to in practice is that a small icon appears over an enemy you are targeting, and a button hold will slowly 'hack' them - time necessary measured by a slowly-filling bar above their noggin. Once full, the chosen action takes place.
These abilities are what sets Syndicate apart from other shooters. Like a true cyberpunk Jedi you convince enemies to commit suicide (often with grenades so they take a few comrades with them), knock them over, or convince them to fight on your side before they end their miserable existence with a bullet.
Naturally you cannot use these breach abilities freely, but the recharge is rather quick, and so there's seldom any need to ration the use. The game also sets up plenty of situations where smart use of your abilities means that you hardly have to raise your own gun.
The Dart 6 chip has other advantages. One is the Dart Overlay - reminiscent of Detective Vision in the recent Batman games, as you can track spotted enemies through walls - and is very practical as the AI is wise enough to move when in cover and not just stick their head out in the same place.
At the same time the Overlay can slow down time, and can also be upgraded so you're doing extra damage or healing quicker when its turned on. As with your breach abilities the overlay can't be used all the time, but it recharges with adrenaline (i.e. charged as you kill enemies).
Great mechanics in themselves, but ones would fall flat if the rest of the game wasn't up to scratch. As luck would have that's not the case. Syndicate shines thanks to its pacing, as intense firefights are mixed with slower sections, and the game offers up a host of tricks, most of which aren't repeated.
One moment you're fighting off tons of guards in corridors, the next you're standing on a train trying to take down a gunship (the only on-rails section in the game, by the way). Later you take on some rather easy puzzles, and even later on you have to deactivate EMP mines and fight off semi-invisible enemies.
I couldn't help but think of Half-Life 2 when I played Syndicate, and it's likely Starbreeze have studied what Valve did in that game. Another thing that reminded me of Half-Life 2 was that the scripted cutscenes seldom lock the camera (even if it does happen on occasion), and the storytelling also borrows a lot from the Half-Life series.
However Syndicate doesn't match the highs of Half-Life 2. There are some weak spots, such as the boss fights, that vary horribly from fun to terribly frustrating. And the number of times you open a door just to be knocked out in a scripted sequence reaches comical heights. Furthermore the story takes a twist that really left me disappointed, but I won't go into detail as it would spoil your experience.
However, these flaws aren't enough to ruin the experience, and the campaign comes across as solid throughout and original (or as original as anything can be in this genre), and delivers both in terms of action intensity and campaign length.
That takes us to the co-op. Up to four players can fight their way through nine missions, that much like the single player campaign offer up plenty of variation and intense action. It starts out simple enough, but the difficulty ramps up rather quickly and you better be prepared to die a few times in the latter missions.
Some of the breach abilities in co-op are quite different, and there are many new abilities you unlock through the progression system - things like additional damage for your entire squad - and you can also upgrade your weapons and abilities.
It is reminiscent of Left 4 Dead, without the randomised enemy placements), and adds a sizeable amount of extra value to the game.
From a technical standpoint Syndicate holds its own. The weapon audio is some of the rawest and most aggressive we've ever heard, and it's well worth risking your neighbours' ire as you crank the volume up to enjoy the full experience.
The visuals are also extremely pleasing, even if there are sequences, especially when you're out flying, when the level of detail in the distance isn't as high as one would want. But as far as interiors go the lighting is brilliant, the environments packed with details, and it has a distinct and unique look to it. Everything comes in an "augmented reality" package that gives the universe an extra layer of credibility.
I have yet to mention the original Syndicate - an action strategy title from 1993. You can think what you will about the change of genres, but I don't feel it's something that detracts from the experience. Nevertheless I'm happy to explore the many small references and nods to the original game, from things like weapons (flame thrower and mini-gun comes to mind), to vehicles and background details. The AI architecture from the first co-op mission is practically taken straight out of the original game, and it's hard not feel a bit nostalgic.
I don't feel that Syndicate 2012 should be compared to Syndicate 1993. It should be seen for what it is, a solid shooter experience, that in many ways manages to come across as fresh and original, while borrowing elements from the best in the genre in other areas. It's far from perfect, but offers a significantly better single player campaign than Battlefield 3 for instance, and it's a game that fans of the genre owe it to themselves to try.