The lady is a tramp – Syndicate review6 minute read

Bullfrog started the violent sandbox genre with their take on a dystopian future

Each Vintage Vault review looks at the games of our past and decides whether they stand the test of time. If they do they become Vaulted and gain eternal protection from The Great Eye – Loganius. If they fail they get thrown in The Pixel Pit and receive eternal damnation. Let the trials begin.

There are some games throughout time that stick with the player like glue. Some games manage this through epic means, some through their music, some through their art style. Some games make you remember them because of how they changed your perspective of what games could become. Syndicate is one of those games that will always remember as a key title from the Amiga days. The game tore down the walls of what I understood about games and showed me a moralisticly wrong, violent side to gaming.

“Bullfrog shows you tomorrow, it’s not a pretty sight”

Syndicate is a title that was initially released June 6, 1993. Developed by Bullfrog Productions and published under Electronic Arts it landed on the PC and the Commodore Amiga. The game is set in a dystopian future where syndicates fight for global domination against the police, other syndicates and the governments for specific countries around the entire globe. As a player you are in charge of one of those sydicates comprising of cybernetically modified agents who will do anything to bring down society. The game draws inspiration from the likes of Blade Runner and THX 1138 amongst others.

The game plays much like a mix of Cannon Fodder and Populus. It acts as a real-time strategy game of sorts with added elements of tactical nature. The game comprises of several missions by which you must overcome police forces and other, heavily-armed, syndicates as you attempt to take control of each country of the world map (don’t worry, not all of them). With different mission objectives comes the lack of morality as you execute assassination attempts, murders, kidnapping and brainwashing objectives throughout.

“If you have the will, you can have the power”

Syndicate adds more layers to this premise. With each controlled territory comes taxes, which can be utilised by the player to upgrade their cybernetically enhanced soldiers of misfortune. There is also the ability to improve and create better weaponry throughout the game with the income of previous territories. Having the ability to control the amount of tax coming in is also an added bonus, but too much tax means revolts. Revolts can lead to the player needing to restart previous missions to take back previously controlled areas.

The game covers an isometric-viewed playing space, whereby a team of four agents can be controlled around a city-view map. There are vehicles which can be used to assist the player and items such as medikits that can be utilised throughout a campaign mission. You also havre control over scanners, which help you to locate certain people within the mission specifications, as well as a “Persuadertron” which allows you to ultimately brainwash people of importance (such as scientists) into joining your organisation. You start out the game with pistols but soon you can gain enough traction to own time bombs, sniper rifles, flamethrowers and a heavily destructive Gauss Gun. But with all the power you gain, so do the oppossing Syndicates. Syndicate was a mean bastard of a game and probably led to the likes of GTA before it had even been conceptualised.

A matter of perspective

The music in the game is memorable, if not slightly dated for its time. However Skrillex has even used samples from the game in his composition Syndicate. The music is a gritty cyberpunk soundtrack which was probably ahead of its time using a midi-styled output that was too dated, even for the early 1990’s.

With all the amazing game play which is really fantastic to get your teeth into comes issues – like any game. Firstly there is the fact that it uses an isometric view. Many games that have used this basis struggle in certain areas and Syndicate is one of them. The gameplay can become confusing when your agents are on different levels to each other or behind buildings. Controlling them can become clunky and also lead to making mistakes. I usually died in the game due to bad camera angling or walking out into an oncoming car because I became all Fing’rs & Thu’ums with the controls. There is also the issues with having four Syndicate agents on each level. Whilst it would be worse having more people to control as it is not anything like Command & Conquer, you can find yourself up against hordes of enemies who are all rather difficult to beat. Until you manage to get shields and miniguns (which in escence can make you near invincible) it is always best to try to avoid the other parties involved in world domination.

“You are the Syndicate’s latest recruit”

The bottom line is that Syndicate was a game slightly ahead of its time. It was by no way a moralistic lesson for children and showed the fun in a violent video game, without the modern-day gore that we see now. It had a humourous take on violence and the path towards global domination and it is still a very enjoyable game to play. It has it’s faults, mostly due to the lack of thought around the AI against you and the isometric view, but also has bugs where NPC’s can get completely stuck on the scenery. Needless to say it is still a worthwhile addition to any gamers catalogue or play history. Syndicate sparked sequels and a reboot with its legacy so its place in The Vintage Vault is more or less deserved.


Overall 7/10

Rating: 7 out of 10.