We’ve done our share of first person group bonding in war-torn environments, post-apocalyptic wastelands, and zombie apocalyptic landscapes. We’ve been short on four-player experiences based around modern warfare on a corporate scale, but EA wants to change that soon. We’ve been cautiously optimistic about the first-person rebooting of Syndicate, having played bit of the single-player mode, and now the publisher has given us the opportunity to experience this near-future cyberpunk setting with your friends in multiplayer.
Distinguishing itself from the single-player narrative, this co-op mode sets up your team as part of a corporate organization looking to aggressively take down three competing conglomerates. This mode spans nine missions, although that doesn’t give any indication of the overall length since each one is made up of multiple stages where each stage is large enough to have multiple checkpoints. When asked, one EA spokesperson said he was optimistic that this would certainly be longer than the co-op mode of Battlefield 3.
HUDs are fittingly informative, even going as far as to point out which enemies are the higher ranking soldiers. There’s no bonuses or group enemy AI consequences for taking out the sergeants first, but they tend to give better loot than the grunts. This is where Syndicate plays a little bit like Borderlands, as it’s always worth checking every dead guard for the quality of their weapons. And like the single-player mode, you can perform a gruesome but rewarding brain chip extraction immediately after killing key enemies. The result is the acquisition of a blueprint that gives you access to a weapon upgrade that can be used in the next mission.
With four players working together, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that these missions feature a lot more combat and gunplay than the single-player. It adds a kind of urgency you don’t get in the solo portions we’ve played, as enemies are all over the place. There’s also an “I-have-your-back” comfort knowing that while you’re dealing with one rifleman in the distance, your buddies are taking care of grunts nearby. It got so intense that our planned 15-minute demo session turned into a 30-minute one as we found ourselves replaying the stage’s middle section, which involved a few well equipped troopers who aren’t your usual heavies. This is where Syndicate’s breaching (or hacking) abilities are pretty much mandatory.
It would surely make things too easy if we were granted the breaching ability that makes an opponent kill himself just like in the story mode. In this sortie, our breaching against the heavies was EMP based, which took down their armor. It’s easier said than done since the EMP effect only lasts seconds. To the game’s credit, replaying this section (due to every squad member dying) didn’t feel more frustrating each time; I was just more driven with each checkpoint reload (though I couldn’t speak for the media colleagues I was playing with). Having the right mix of verbal coordination, frequent use of healing, and awareness of where your buddies are went a long way to finally taking these guys down.
The same button that hacks is also the same button that heals, and you’ll be doing it a lot if this preview session was any indication. Unlike most co-op games where you have to wait for a buddy to be knocked down before you can heal, Syndicate actually allows you to heal your friends as much as you want whenever you want, even when they’re up and firing away at corporate guards. Similar to most of the breaching in the game, the effectiveness and speed of the healing is dependent on your proximity to your buddy. This brings to mind the character classes, one of which is in fact a medic, who can heal more effectively than other classes. Your whole foursome can be made up of gun-wielding medics if you wish; you’re not obliged to have a diverse squad where each person has to be a different class.
It is when I’m faced with this kind of intensity that I often try to find cover and mentally regroup. Yet you can’t take a breather long in Syndicate’s multiplayer, because you have operatives who are depending on you not to mention enemies who are pretty proactive in seeking you out. Such is my habit to find exploits in preview builds, I was curious if the game would notice that I was trying to heal a downed friend while I was hiding. Nope, the game was on to me; you pretty much have to have a consistent line of sight to pull off the ability. Even if you know your friend is dying right above you on the next floor, you can’t cheat by healing through the ceiling.
Like some well-timed reward for defeating the heavies, a weapons cache opened up, revealing the one weapon from the Syndicate series I was hoping for: the Gauss Gun. As I stated in my single-player preview, this rifle works under the same principle as the Bullseye from the Resistance series, where you can shoot around corners. I actually prefer how it works in Syndicate, where it doesn’t burden you with the extra step of firing a homing round. You simply get your target in the middle of the screen, hold the left trigger to lock on, and then fire away. With this gun in hand, the next area of the mission was a stark contrast to the challenge of the previous one.
There were a few times where I was carried away with the power and capabilities of the Gauss that I was getting darn close to a downed state. That didn’t happen, nor did we have to face a Mission Failed screen this time around. This part also had a powerful, chain-gun wielding mid-boss, but since we had this extra firepower, he paled in comparison to the heavies from the previous area.
The most pleasing aspect of co-op is how much it uses elements from the single-player campaign but in an environment with a much different, more intense pace. While it wouldn’t seem impossible for Syndicate to also have versus style multiplayer, EA and Starbreeze have stated that the game will have no such mode. It’s just as well since this co-op set up is engrossing enough as it is.