Syndicate: Cyberpunk’s not dead.
Long before The Matrix made cyberpunk cool for the masses if you wanted a ‘punk fix the best you could do was rereading some William Gibson books (god help you) or play some of the dice and paper ‘punk RPGs like Shadowrun, SLA Industries or Cyberpunk 2020. That was until 1993 when Bullfrog (Populous, Dungeon Keeper, and Magic Carpet) used the then underground genre of Cyberpunk to create Syndicate an isometric tactical action game that mixed hyper violent combat with the day to day management of running a mega corporation with aspirations of world domination, you know like EA but with more mini guns and less yearly updates and soulless chav racing games.
‘damage far more than a standard civilian’
The opening introduction cinematic sets the scene with a man kidnapped of the futuristic streets of New Europe and press ganged into service for your syndicate complete with cybernetic enhancements and weaponry. Taking control of a squad of four â€œrecruitsâ€ you have to complete missions across different worldwide locations . The missions range from kidnapping important scientists using the always useful persuadertron (a handy little gizmo that will brainwash any non-cyborgs, including cops) assassinations, industrial sabotage and the like.
By completing these tasks you take control of the territory and as time passes your influence begins to spread until it’s measured on an international scale. All of this is displayed on a world map with different areas marked into territories with more missions in them becoming available as your influence begins to spread.
Having completed a mission you not only gain control of that territory but also its tax revenues, setting a high taxation level will net you more money for research and equipment but doing this runs the risk that you’ll piss of the populace by keeping them under the finical cosh for too long making them rebel and you’ll have to recapture the territory all over again risking your precious agents. The agents themselves all come with a set of standard cybernetic modifications let them move faster carry more equipment and resist damage far more than a standard civilian or even the ever present metro cops.
‘this is easy thanks’
By spending your tax funds you can research new cyber mods like new chest augmentations that increase damage resistance, eyes that improve shooting accuracy, legs to move faster and brains to react quicker. It’s not just cybernetics that can be researched with bigger and more powerful weapons to be discovered or reverse engineered if you’re lucky enough to find so new gear on one of the legions of enemy agents sent against you.
The resource management and research sections only takes up about 5% of the game, the rest of the time you’ll be commanding your squad around the different territories trying to make a killing. Doing this is easy thanks to the simple interface and mouse-based controls on the PC and Amiga (I’ll get to the console conversions later). Clicking the left button moves your squad and your right button orders your squad to attack other than that it’s just a case of changing their speed, accuracy or aggression with a simple slider along with what members you’re currently controlling or holding shift to force an attack like targeting the scenery or a moving vehicle.
‘warhead that’s perfect’
Along with using simple move and shoot commands there are many other tactics that can be used to ensure victory. My personal favourites include using the persuadertron on any metro cops you find to create an army of disposable shotgun wielding goons or hijacking a civilian car for some drive by style action. Reading this you might think that this game is a mite violentâ€¦ and you’d be right. Even the introduction FMV has a new agent being stripped like a chicken ready for his new plastic flesh. When you shot anybody there’s gallons of blood (or green slime if you’re playing the German version) and people hit with the flame thrower run around ablaze before burning down to just a pile of ash which makes for a quick and simple kill but doing so destroys any weapons or equipment they’re carrying.
You have a good range of ordinance to use throughout the game from your basic uzis and shotguns that are later rendered obsolete when compact mini guns, lasers and the awesome gauss gun with its explosive warhead become available. You’ll need it too as later territories see you fighting off legions of enemy agents all intent on ending your mission via the tried and tested method of killing you to death.
Eight rival syndicates opposed your expansion across all fifty territories until the final reckoning at the Atlantic Accelerator and even then you could always play the American Revolution expansion pack. With a formula as good as this it was only a matter of time before it was converted and even sequalisedâ€¦
‘release the inevitable home’
Soon after its PC and Amiga release the inevitable home console conversion came for: SNES, Megadrive, 3DO, Jaguar and more home computers like the Mac and even the IT teacher’s favourite the Acorn Archimedes. The console versions where far from a straight port of the original but given their lack of memory and complex graphics chips they did well enough recreating the tactical action albeit with blocky low-res agents stomping around turquoise streets using their auto-lock targeting to great effect.
The true sequel Syndicate Wars moved into the then mandatory realm of 3D but managed to lose the spark that the original Syndicate had despite the fully destructible scenery, freely-moving camera and shiny graphics.
Playing Syndicate today is easy thanks to its abandonware status of both the Amiga and slightly better PC versions while the console versions are easily obtainable via a good retro retailer. So there you go, the best Cyberpunk tactical action game made yet. Now where’s my copy of Bloodnet