Syndicate is a classic isometric action game with point-and-click gameplay. It was developed by Bullfrog Productions and published by Electronic Arts in 1993.
In Syndicate you control an evil corporation of killers who kidnap people from the streets and turn them into cybernetic assassins. The intro sequence shows this grim process of “recruitment”.
When you begin the game you set up a name and choose a logo for your syndicate. A map of the world allows you to select missions and enter a briefing screen where you can then set up your team, set up research goals, and equip your assassins with modifications, weapons, and other gadgets (like persuasion devices or scanners). Extra mission information can be bought, which I think is a bit unfair for beginners as this info is usually vital when starting out.
In the main game you control your individual assassins using mouse controls – you left-click to move them to a location, and right-click for them to shoot at where the cursor is located (the cursor turns orange when you’re in range of a target). A ‘group’ button (located in-between the character portraits) allows you to issue commands to all agents at the same time. You can use the cursor keys to scroll the view, or push the edge of the screen with the mouse cursor – the screen doesn’t follow the agents around as they move (although you can right-click their portrait to centre in on them).
You can have up to four agents in your team, although some missions require fewer operatives. During missions you can pick up dropped weapons from victims and later research or sell them, although you do have limited carrying capacity.
Each weapon carried by an agent has limited ammunition that is indicated by a ‘health’ bar on the weapon icon. Unfortunately once a weapon is depleted you can’t re-load it in-game (you have to re-load them during mission briefing screens), so it’s easy to run out of firepower unless you carry more than one gun or find other weapons on the bodies of dead opponents.
It’s a good idea when starting out to be relatively frugal with your money. Buying a bunch of modification upgrades can mean that you have little or no money to spend on subsequent missions. And – if an agent is killed in the field – you lose them for good (unless you saved before they died, in which case you can re-load and try again), which can lose expensive upgrades on them.
Syndicate looks great; it has some excellent John Carpenter-esque music, and is very atmospheric. It also has a number of nice touches, like: police that will intervene if you walk around with your weapon drawn (although if you put it away they sometimes back off); gunfire noise that will alert a target to your presence; fiery weapon spray; shooting out windows; working train systems (that you can use), and the hustle of a busy futuristic city.
Syndicate does have its downsides too. The menus are a bit convoluted and badly-designed, in terms of direction and structure. Agent pathfinding is also pretty poor – you can’t click somewhere far away from your agents and expect them to find an intelligent route (they often get completely lost or go some stupid way that is obviously wrong), and it’s annoying that if you hit Escape the mission immediately counts as a “withdraw” (it would’ve been better to at least give you a confirmation dialogue before quitting a mission). There are also still a couple of bugs: trying to pick up a dropped weapon, when the game thinks it’s out of bounds, will make the agent trying to collect it wander around aimlessly, which is super annoying, and driving vehicles and getting out of them is a bit of a nightmare too.
While Syndicate is a good game, it could be argued that it is a little over-rated, mostly because the control system is quite cumbersome. Compared to more modern tactical point-and-click action games it lacks features that make it less frustrating to play (like good pathfinding). It’s a game I’ve always struggled to enjoy because of these shortcomings, but it is quite absorbing and rewarding. Well, some missions are. Others are seemingly impossible – or at least extremely difficult.
A Syndicate mission pack, called American Revolt, was later released that same year, and this is included with the game should you purchase it from GOG.com. It is definitely for more advanced players, though.