Bullfrog's new cyber strategy game is VFM - Violent, Fun and Morally unsound, intrigued? You will be...
Review by Andy Nuttall for Amiga Format, Issue 49, August 1993, p.p.83-85
Syndicate, sindi-kat, n Abbr. synd. An association of people or companies organised to promote a common interest. The new game from Bullfrog, makers of Populous 2, is sinister. If you have ever seen films like Ridley Scott's Blade Runner or Gerorge Lucas' THX 1138, you will know what I mean - futuristic science-fiction which is eerily life-like, and eminently plausible.
Syndicate is a strategy game, where the 'common interest' is to complete takeover of the world. Of course, this ahs been the subject of films and games since the year dot, bur rarely has it been as effective as with this game. What is different here, though, is you are not the megalomaniac seeking ultimate power. Instead you are an agent who works for the big cheese, the syndicate, trying to do a job and get up the employment ladder. Morals are out of the window - you have to do what you are told, no matter how weird or immoral the orders are.
You are in charge of a number of cyborg agents, who are programmed to follow your orders via remote control. Your monitor progress using the display screen, which is also used to give you orders and progress reports. The cyborgs are either sex, but all basic models have a similar strength and resilience.
You are given a certain amount of money to equip your 'borgs through the first mission. After this, raising further dosh is all up to you. There are lots of ways to raise money, including raising the taxes for the people in the territories which are controlled by your syndicate, and capturing enemies and their weapons so that your syndicate can use them in their research. They pay well for any enemy materials you bring back.
The manual blurb is worth a mention: "After winning a mission you have earned the right to levy outrageous rates of tax on the helpless citizens... If you are as popular as the Sheriff of Nottingham as a result, who cares! He did not have armed psychotic cyborgs for back-up".
The first mission is easy. You buy a pistol, and maybe a shotgun or a medikit for each of your four active cyborgs. It is not worth investing in extra body parts yet, because the mission is really easy and you have not got much money.
It is, however, a good idea to plough funds into researching new equipment. In the alter missions you will need powerful weapons and well-equipped cyborgs, so it is best to research into advanced technology early on.
You can actively research in two main areas: Modifications and Equipment. The Mods are things like more powerful legs, and a strengthened chest cage to protect your 'borg - see Cyborg Technology. The equipment is split into three: Automatic, Heavy and Miscellaneous. Investing in Automatic will bring in weapons such as an Uzi sub-machine gun; heavy will yield weaponry like the Gauss gun; while Miscellaneous will produce useful items such as an auto-mapper or an access card. See 'A Call To Arms' on the next page.
LONG RANGE RIFLE
Once you have set the research going, and kitted out your crew, mission one begins. This involves going to a city, and killing two enemy agents. They do not put up much of a struggle, and you soon hear a robot telling you "Mission completed".
Syndicate will tell then display a world map showing the amount of territory
which your syndicate controls. The next ara available for a takeover
bid will flash, so clicking on it will accept that mission. Later you
will find there is more than one route available, so if you get stuck
in a level you can always try a different route.
By now your research should show results. The Equip screen will have a larger list of available equipment - for a price - and you can select these for your 'borgs. Now may be the time to add more money to the research plan, but how much is up to you.
The 50 missions vary in size and complexity, but rarely can you complete a mission first time. Fortunately you can save your position at the end of a mission, so if you screw up you can always try again.
In most areas you will find a police presence, who do not really bother you until you draw your gun. If you shoot your gun, then both policemen and enemy agents will rally round and try to shoot your cyborgs. If you manage to take any of them out, they will die and leave you their weapon. Sometimes it is an advanced weapon like a Gauss gun or a laser, and if you keep it until you finish the mission you will be paid for it. Your syndicate will then be able to create the weapon. Using this method you could obtain a Gauss gun on mission seven, whereas using research would take much longer. Neat touches like this abound - it is very like real-life, in that everything you do in a mission will have a knock-on effect in the rest of the game.
Syndicate is a very involved game, mixing strategy and arcade elements for a truly fun game to play, and one which will keep you coming back for more. Unfortunately for A500/600 owners, the game does run rather slowly on these machines - it is still playable, though. Still, if there was ever an excuse to upgrade your machine... Although there have been power-struggle games before, Syndicate approaches the genre from a new direction, and playing it is a refreshing experience (as well as a damn good tension release). Also, Bullfrog have other missions in the pipeline, along with a multi-player version where up to eight people can play against each other, each using a separate Amiga.
Although Syndicate is incredible fun and massively addictive,
I would have trouble recommending it to kids. There are some disturbing
overtones to the game, which occasionally go beyond simple sci-fi.
Head Bullfrog Peter Molyneux commented: "I did not originally set out to create a violent game, but having said that I did not want to pull any punches. Obviously it is violent... but there is nothing I would like to see more than ratings in computer games". Well, if Syndicate had a certificate, it would be 18. Having said that, I have told you that it is violent, so if you are easily 'persuaded' steer clear. You have been warned.