Syndicate doesn’t tell you something very important: it may walk like a shooter, and talk like one, but the ebb and flow has more in common with MMO endgame Raiding than some latter-day inheritor of the action mantle. I had to fight the “final boss” at least twelve times before defeating him, with three different “pub” groups, and when it finally happened it was because we ported over broadly defined RPG roles like grabbing adds, tanking, and main heals.
Playing the Syndicate demo was a bit like being thrown to the wolves in the future. You’re matched up with four random people and have to fumble your way through the cyberpunk-infused environment. There’s no tutorial or explanation on how to play the game or what makes it different from other shooters. It looks great because it uses the same Frostbite 2 engine that Battlefield 3 does, but also has a pretty low framerate which feels like it’s in the low to mid 20′s. Be prepared to squint, too, as the font sizes for everything are about 6 point. Woe betide you if you don’t have an HD TV at this point. Fortunately, the game does let you fumble your way through if you’ve played other shooters before, as many of the basic maneuverability controls are the same. Beyond shooting bad guys, I basically followed the waypoint markers on screen and hit the context sensitive buttons when prompted.
That being said, I ended up with the same conclusions that Tycho did after making it through. There’s a lot of parallels with MMO Raiding, as the enemies aren’t your run of the mill fodder waiting to be killed. They’re essentially military squads in a sort of bizarro version of Rainbow Six Vegas. There’s often “boss” enemies that have an insane amount of health and it’s up to one guy on your team to grab his attention while staying alive. “Adds” will spawn and teammates will have to heal and revive each other. Playing the game like a typical shooter won’t get you really far unless you’re pretty damn good at them and even then, I too had to deal with several “pub” groups before I took down the final boss of the demo. (and that was a miraculous win too, after being revived in the middle of combat several times)
I’m a little unsure as to how I feel about the game. On the one hand, the coop mechanics are really deep and interesting. If you’ve ever raided in an MMO before, you know how positively gratifying downing a boss is. Unfortunately, you need to know and trust the people you’re playing with first. I imagine that trying to pub your way through Syndicate may lead to your fair share of quitters and “bad players,” leading to a frustrating time. However, if you’ve got a good group of four to play shooters with, this could end up being one of the sleeper gaming experiences of the year.