Review by LS650FB2

Reviewed: 03/02/07

Cyberpunk Assassins: Hard to learn, great to play!

In the early 1990s the British developer Bullfrog created some very popular simulation games such as 'Populous' and 'Theme Park'. In these games you assume the role of an omnipotent being who overlooks a world. While looking down upon this world's map, you can control various actions of small beings wandering around.

In 1993 Bullfrog went a step further and produced 'Syndicate' for the PC. Although it has some elements that are similar to Populous, the setting has been changed to a futuristic world similar to something out of the movies 'Bladerunner' or 'Clockwork Orange'. Set in roughly the year 2100, corporations have more power than governments. In particular, the corporations have invented a device called the CHIP; if such a CHIP has been implanted in someone, he or she can be remotely controlled.

Now you play the role of an evil corporation that wants to take over the world, region by region. You are the mastermind behind a team of four cyborg agents; from a distance you can remotely control these operatives and make them do your bidding: shoot other individuals, plant bombs, steal cars for a hit-and-run, kidnap - and even brainwash other people with the use of a 'Persuadertron' device!

As you progress in the game, money that you've invested in research pays off with new developments in both weapons and cyborg implants. You can 'upgrade' your agents, making them more machine than human, and giving them powerful weapons such as lasers or rail guns to hunt and kill their prey.

You can conquer new regions around the world with a variety of nasty missions: assassinate a political or corporate leader, kidnap an important scientist, or "sweep out" the existing agents in a zone. As you take command of new states you'll also be able to raise or lower taxes, conduct new weapons research, etc. The first few missions in Europe are relatively easy and help you to learn the controls, but the missions become progressively harder. A typical mission can take anywhere from thirty minutes (or more), and often it takes a few attempts to successfully complete a mission. With a total of fifty missions, you can put a lot of time into this game!

Being a conversion from the old DOS PC, Syndicate's graphics are unexceptional. The graphics engine is isometric (think of Zaxxon!) so by modern standards Syndicate looks a bit dated. One problem in particular lies with building interiors. The buildings are opaque, so if your agents need to enter a building to reach a target you can only control them with the on-screen navigation map. Still, this simulation is about moody game play, not eye-candy graphics.

The theme music sounds good initially but there are only two or three musical themes, one brooding tune as you pace through the steps, and another to warn you that your team is in danger. I do have to say that the sound effects can be good - particularly the screams of your victims that you torch with a flamer weapon!

It sounds great, right? Well, there are some letdowns to this game. Because it was a conversion from the mouse-driven PC, the Jaguar's D-pad input is less than ideal. In particular, the set-up menus used to configure your team or to control research spending are cumbersome and nonintuitive to work through. Ugh! Surely a better menuing system than this could have been created! Once you begin a mission and are controlling the agents in the game world, things are better, but the interface is still clumsy. Syndicate not only uses every button on a Jaguar game pad, but many operations require a combination of buttons. For example, to select a weapon you use a (7) or an (8), but to hide the weapon from the police you use (C)+(7), and to drop an empty weapon requires a (C)+(8). Another problem is that the Option button is used for selecting your target, yet the C button is only used in combination with some of the less used commands: why not the other way around? It's frustrating to be trying to select a target in the heat of battle, and accidentally hit the Pause button instead of Option. And worst of all, Syndicate was never released with an official keypad overlay!

The first time I tried to play Syndicate, I had no manual or overlay, and I gave up in frustration. When I decided to give this game another chance, I found a copy of the manual on the web. After giving the instructions a thorough reading, I sat down and forced myself to learn the many controls. It took some time, but I've found Syndicate is worth it! If you are patient and are looking for a deeper game for the Jaguar, Syndicate is fantastic.

Overall, I rate this game an 8 out of 10 - and I would have rated it higher if not for the awkward controls.

Rating: 8

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