EA announces a reboot of Syndicate which may or may not bear any similarity to Syndicate

With Deus Ex: Human Revolution, we already have one excellent reboot of a much-loved ’90s cyberpunk franchise, and one which manages to freshen things up while also remaining totally true to the original to boot. And it seems that EA is in no way oblivious to that. It’s just that rather than being directly inspired to emulate Deus Ex’s authentic modernisation, it seems that EA has thought “Well you’ve already got one. How many more do you need, fuggodsake?”

And thus EA’s update of Syndicate is an FPS, which so far sounds like Syndicate only insofar as said FPS is called Syndicate. Still, that’s not to say that it won’t be a great FPS called Syndicate. It’s just that… Well…

Look, it’s not that the new Syndicate game is completely eschewing the spirit of the original – there is, by the sounds of it, a variant of the old Persuadertron weapon from Bullfrog’s original RTS, in the form of a brain-embedded chip that allows you to manipulate the actions of enemy characters – and of course this remains early days. After all, we have few details to go on, given that the game has only been officially announced today. And of course, I knew that a new Syndicate game was never going to be a top-down RTS. A quick look at the charts on any given week will confirm that all you need to do in order to hit the number 1 slot is to make a game that allows people to kill things in first-person. Any game that allows people to kill things in first-person. So I understand why the new Syndicate is going this way.

But really, this could have been way more Syndicate than it currently sounds.

“Fast-paced, futuristic, action shooter” is the current description from EA. Our sister magazine, PSM3, describe it as “Call of Duty meets Inception” in its upcoming issue. But it didn’t need to be like this at all. Couldn’t we have had “Fast-paced, futuristic, tactical shooter”? And if we’re mixing games and films into a heady comparison cocktail, how about “Freedom Fighters meets Blade Runner”? Bullfrog’s Syndicate was always a blackly funny, deliciously mean-spirited, squad-driven slice of strategic brutality. It wouldn’t be hard at all to make that work as a first or third-person shooter. The new Syndicate apparently has a separate four-player co-op campaign, which is a nice nod to the original game, but I await to see just how big a chunk of the overall game it will be.

For all of this though, I’m not down on EA’s new Syndicate as a game in its own right. Not at all. In fact it sounds pretty great. Starbreeze are making it for a start, and between The Darkness and the two Chronicles of Riddick games, Starbreeze have proven that if there’s one thing they can do well, it’s making brutal, densely atmospheric first-person games set in staggeringly well-realised worlds. And just going off these screens, the new Syndicate’s world looks gloriously typical of their work.

I think this new Syndicate just stabs a nerve because it seems archetypal of the long-current trend of pointless IP recycling. If this thing is going to play like a new IP, why not just make it a new IP? Yeah, obviously new IP is always a risky thing to launch, but when a brand name is 18 years old, it essentially is new to a large chunk of your audience. So why the desperate, dogged attempt at brand recognition where there probably isn’t much in your target demographic? It all just feels a lot like when America buys the remake rights to a critically-acclaimed foreign film within minutes if its release, only to strip out everything that made the original critically acclaimed in the first place, seemingly under the impression that people just reviewed the original well because they liked the title and superficial concept.

But yeah, new Syndicate. Coming. Probably good. But maybe not what you were hoping for. Just pray that it doesn’t have the hackneyed-sounding, not-very-Syndicate plot that supposedly leaked a while ago. Also, can we lose the giant hologram Blade Runner Geishas please? Sticking them in your cyberpunk world and saying its your world is like putting a blade-fingered man called Freddy in your horror film and claiming it isn’t A Nightmare on Elm Street.

September 12, 2011

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