Syndicate takes you to a sleek sterile future world, drawn with oddly busy graphics and often blown-out lighting. In this dystopia, reams of floating text have wandered away from their HUDs and infested the walls, the furniture, the cups on shelves, the crates, and even the dozing hobos. So this is what the future has in store for us. Labels. Never has a dystopia been so Ikea.

After the jump, why Syndicate is called Syndicate

There’s furthermore some nonsense about chips in our brains, which is Syndicate’s forced attempt at a connection with the original Syndicate. It’s also the game’s nano-thin excuse for your magical power to recruit one guy to help you shoot, to compel another guy to blow his brains out, and to knock two more guys on their butts. Three, if you level up your butt knocking power. Your mana will gradually replenish so you can do it all over again shortly. Like all the “hacking” gimmicks in the game, this is mostly busywork using the same interface as the reloading gimmick in Gears of War.

Otherwise, you’re just another mute gunfighter, dying a thousand cheap deaths in a thousand cheap gunfights punctuated by a dozen cheap boss fights, often involving exploding barrels, during which you’ll collapse again and again in an overwrought deathcam POV with that ridiculous and familiar red jelly all up in your face as you’re sent packing to the last checkpoint a few too many rooms away. It’s every generic shooter you’ve forgotten you played, come back to be forgotten again.

Oh, did I mention there’s bullet time? Because there’s bullet time.

The basic approach — “Hey, let’s take a shooter and give the player a few special powers!” someone in a boardroom must have declared before corralling a team of unenthusiastic developers to do his bidding — is familiar because I’ve seen it done very well and very recently. The Darkness II and Fear 3, for instance. Even Bodycount, a spirited and widely overlooked shooter from Codemasters. But almost everything in Syndicate feels borrowed, random, pointless, and/or salaried.

Consider the multiplayer. It seems promising at first. You can join up to three other players to run through co-op missions, earning blueprints and medals and tokens and upgrade points and…wait, wait, let me see what all this stuff does. It turns out these baubles plug into a tedious and trivial leveling system. This is what I get for playing? Someone thinks these variations on butt knocking magic power and tiny incremental upgrades are going to make up for the fact that it’s mostly dull repetitive gunplay in the same kinds of levels I had to play in single-player, shuffling along with a handful of awkwardly animated player characters that didn’t seem like they were built to be seen from a third person perspective? I don’t think so, Syndicate. Time was any co-op was great co-op, because co-op is great. That’s not the case anymore. Now that we have so many options to choose from. There is no reason to settle for Syndicate’s co-op when you could be playing co-op in The Darkness II, Payday: The Heist, or Mass Effect 3.

So it’s back to the single player, where Brian Cox, the star of Troy, shows up occasionally to talk at you, as if he were in a Deus Sexy game that actually had a story. But for all the text Syndicate dribbles into your codex, it’s still just a handful of point-A-to-point-B levels of shootering for reasons that don’t matter one whit. What else do you expect from a game without soul or perspective, that offers instead an obligatory train mission, an obligatory minigun, and a few obligatory hopping cyberninja boss fights?

1 star
Xbox 360