Syndicate takes place in 2069 in a world in which governments have been replaced by rival mega corporations. Citizens/customers are all implanted with microchips that provide them with some consumer-related enhancements, but also allow them to be tracked and spied on by the corporations. You are Miles Kilo, an agent for one of these corporations, EuroCorp. You've been implanted with an experimental chip that not only allows you to hack electronic devices, but the chips implanted in other people as well. EuroCorp is anxious to put their new secret weapon into action, so you're sent to take out a scientist at a rival corporation that's working on a new chip of its own...
If you're excited by the story's setting and premise, then you're going to be disappointed because story is not Syndicate's strong suit. The story just isn't all that interesting or engrossing, and the game's environments are all pretty forgettable. A dystopian future fueled by corporate driven paranoia should make for a more fascinating game setting than it does here. Luckily, the gameplay fares better than the narrative and if you're fine with ignoring the story you may have some fun with the game.
The gameplay benefits from some of the better AI you'll find in a shooter. Enemies don't simply hide behind cover popping their heads up and down in the same place waiting for you to pick them off. They actively work together to flush you out of your cover or flank you. You'll need to be constantly aware of what's going on around you or you'll find yourself surprised by enemies who are suddenly shooting you from behind. Often you'll be faced with large numbers of enemies and you'd be hard-pressed to survive these battles if it wasn't for the chip in your head.
The chip gives you a number of advantages over your more conventional enemies. First, it has a special visual mode that is akin to infrared goggles in that it highlights the enemies for you, even if they're behind cover. There are other benefits to this visual mode, too. When it is enabled, you heal faster, deal more damage, and a bullet time effect slows enemies' actions. The effect only lasts for a short time and then must be recharged before it can be used again, so you'll need to be smart about when and where to use it.
The chip can also tap into the chips implanted in your enemies to grant you with three useful abilities. Suicide forces an enemy to kill himself, backfire causes an enemy's weapon to malfunction, stunning him in the process and making him more vulnerable to your attacks, and persuade will turn him to your side and he'll begin attacking his former allies. These abilities must each be charged separately before they can be used, so you can't use them with reckless abandon, but they can be a big help when you're in a tight situation.
Your hacking ability can come in handy in a fight as well, as you can hack security turrets and enemy vehicles causing them to turn on their former masters or to malfunction. Hacking is the same exercise for everything that you can hack in the game; hold down the left bumper to start the hacking meter and then release it when it hits the sweet spot. There's rarely a penalty for a failed hack, so if you miss you can simply try again. It's a rather simple hacking mechanic for a cyber-themed game, but I suppose anything more complicated would quickly begin to grow tedious considering how many times you'll have to use it in the game.
As impressed as I was with the enemy AI in the game, the boss battles came across as disappointing. They felt less like hard-fought battles and more like exercises in attrition. You know you're not having fun when all you're thinking is "when will this thing finally end?"
Outside of the battles the gameplay didn't do a lot for me. There's a lot of platform-style action in which you have to navigate your way through areas by jumping around and using your hacking ability to do things like move elevators up and down so that you can cross gaps. It was all rather pedestrian and not particularly memorable or enjoyable.
The game also includes a co-op mode that supports one to four players - you can play the co-op mode on your own, but the going will be very difficult. The co-op mode includes nine missions unique to the mode, and they're all designed to make teamwork vital for successful completion. If you play the mode with friends and work well as a team, the co-op missions are a lot of fun. If you join a group of strangers, then your mileage may vary - a group of lone wolves will be headed for failure and not much fun will be had on the way.
So where does all this leave us? If you're looking for the next great cyber thriller, you should probably keep waiting. If you enjoy shooters and are looking for a challenge or need a break from modern military shooters, then the game's worth a look. A weak story and the lack of an immersive experience prevent the game from being recommendable to all, though.
Final Rating: 70%. Challenging enemy AI and a bag of cyber tricks aren't enough to make up for weak atmosphere and story.