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490 - Sydicate

Best Games - Syndicate

Sometimes, one of these best games isn’t really a very good game. Sometimes it’s just the promise of the game. The thing it could be. What people imagine it to be. 
I have played the first few missions of Syndicate many, many times. There are fifty missions in the game. I doubt if I have ever played more than twenty.
As a game, Syndicate controls pretty poorly. You point and click where you want your agents to go. You point and click where you want your agents to shoot. You point and click what you want your agents to carry. If there is a thing to do in Syndicate, you probably point and click it. While this does seem like the simplest type of interface on any computer with a mouse, this game is too complex for a simple point and click. Syndicate wants you to do a lot in a short amount of time. It gets really cumbersome, really fast.
Why then, have I played this game, or at least the start of this game, so many times over the years.
Syndicate has amazing promise.
It’s for the same reason that people bring the game up with fond nostalgia in their voices. It’s why the game shows up on a lot of classic games lists. It’s why people have tried to make sequels or successors over the years, and it’s why there is probably someone actively pitching for a new Syndicate right now. 
Nothing ever comes close. Nothing ever will. Not even Syndicate comes close to being Syndicate.
The concept is the most jet black of dystopic fiction. The world is terrible. As an escape, the entire population is fitted with chips that distort reality for them just enough to not be constantly depressed. The sky is artificially just a little brighter. The earth just a little greener. 
Of course, the same chips that keep people happy and docile can be used to control them. Corporations turn ordinary citizens into cyborg agents and wage wars for territory and control. The Syndicate with the most brains under their control wins.
Wins what exactly, we will never know. The world of the game is in a constant cycle of domination and control. The dominators change, but the world is stuck in an awful stasis.
It is unapologetically bleak. More important, you are not the hero of this story. You are not a savior that will free everyone from the shackles of evil. You are the evil. You are in control of a squad of agents on missions to murder, kidnap, and coerce until the world bows to you.
There is something very cathartic about that sort of fantasy. A perverse joy in being morally empty. It’s a role that very few games let you play. 
Besides the setting, the world of the game is surprisingly dynamic. For a game from 1993, the world can occasionally feel alive. People and traffic follow their own patterns. Guards and police are usually quite stupid, but there are flashes of brilliance every once in a while.
But, not enough.
Syndicate is an almost game. It almost controls well enough. It almost breaks new ground for a an interactive, dynamic environment. It is almost fun enough to last for fifty levels. But it isn’t.
I think that is why it persists. Why people still remember this game. It’s a game where you can imagine all the things it could have been, but no other game has ever come close to matching that. Syndicate has never matched that.
It’s so very close though. 
It’s like that movie that would have been wonderful if only they had a slightly higher budget, or that book that almost hits, but there are two chapters too many and a major plot element is unresolved.
Most games are either pretty good or pretty bad. There aren’t many ‘Almost’ games out there. Syndicate is one of them.
Is Syndicate one of the best games? No, not really. But it points firmly in the direction of greatness. The direction that games like Grand Theft Auto, and X-COM would eventually go.
I think that’s why Syndicate still lives in the memories of so many people who played it. Something about the setting and the dynamic open world really dug into players thoughts and expectations.
Syndicate might just be the best almost game.

This post is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 by the author.
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