“There is no world anymore, it’s only corporations.”
The Starbreeze Studios remake of Bullfrog’s classic franchise, Syndicate, is just a couple of weeks away. Starbreeze have elected to take the game in a different direction, switching the top down strategy style of the original being replaced with a first person shooter. With that in mind, it seems only appropriate that we have a look at the original game and remind ourselves of just why Bullfrog is such a fondly remembered developer.
The original Syndicate was developed by Bullfrog and published by EA back in 1993, and was released for pretty much every system going at the time, including the 3DO and the Acorn Achimedes. Syndicate is set in a cyberpunk near-future where the world is ruled by corporations. You are the head of one of these corporations, with the aim of taking control of the world region by region by completing a series of missions. You do this by controlling a squad of four cyborg agents, who have to perform tasks such as assassinate enemies, persuade people to join your cause and blow up specific structures.
Syndicate is played from an isometric, top down perspective. You control your team of cyborgs, either individually or as a group, and move around trying to complete your objectives while staying alive. Once you complete an objective, your corporation takes over the territory you’re in. This allows you to tax that area for money, which you put into equipping and upgrading your squad. If any of your squad are dead when a mission ends, they are replaced with new people, but they have base stats and items so you have to gear them up if you want them to be powerful.
Before you bin a mission, you can use your money to buy hints, which give you details on exactly what you need to accomplish your goals, and also give you intel on the upcoming level’s map to better plan your route. These tips are invaluable, especially in the later levels, where you encounter more enemies and must overcome more difficult objectives.
For a game from the early 90s, the isometric levels and sprites hold up quite well, with a great, futuristic style soundtrack and dynamic music that changed to accompany different circumstances, such as an unexpected gun fight. The full-motion video (or FMV, for those not wise in the ways of gaming in the 1990s) sequences have aged horribly, though, but that was the way videos were back in those days.
Syndicate’s lack of morality and encouragement of ruthless behaviour did attract a bit of controversy at the time, and this certainly wasn’t a game for children. Although by today’s standards, it feels much tamer than it did back then. It wasn’t the only game from Bullfrog to put you in the role of the “bad guy” either, with Dungeon Keeper putting you directly in as an undisputed villain, destroying any heroes to rise up against you.
Syndicate does feel a little clunky and slow these days. Your cyborgs do move quite slowly to begin with, although you can upgrade your team as you progress to make them faster, which improves things a bit. As discussed on a recent episode of the podcast, Bullfrog were good at doing things differently compared to other developers at the time. Although sometimes the implementation of their ideas wasn’t the best. Syndicate is still a cracking game, and well worth a look if you want to see what the fuss over the reboot is about.
Syndicate is available to buy now on PC from GoG.com for $5.99.