In the early ’90s Bullfrog released a bona-fide classic in Syndicate. Set in the year 2096, Syndicate immersed the player in a world controlled by mega-corporations, fighting a shadowy war for control over territories in this future dystopia. Looking back, it was somewhat limited by the computing power of the age - missions were a tad repetitive and the AI wasn’t exactly Deep Blue – but the central concept and execution for the time was, for this reviewer at least, mind blowing.
This was followed up with 1996’s Syndicate Wars and it’s the team behind that instalment that have brought us the ‘spiritual sequel’ to Syndicate – Satellite Reign. It’s a common bugbear in the movie community that endless remakes, reboots and reimaginings are choking off originality in the medium, particularly the reboot of classics (as opposed to films that would sorely benefit from this treatment – Xanadu anyone? ). However, in the world of gaming it can lead to the ultimate realisation of a great idea. And make no doubt about it, Mike Diskett and the 5 Lives Studio team have done just that.
In a world where a tech conglomerate has perfected ‘Res-Tech’ – effectively immortality if you’ve got the cash – and used this to gain power and influence, you play as agents of another corporation vying for power, seeking to loosen the iron grip of your competitor. The story is a lot more involved than the Syndicate games (the increased scope afforded by today’s tech no doubt helped), and the RPG elements are more refined. Each agent has a different augmentation tree and a varied set of skills, meaning you can mould your team in a number of ways; from badass, subtle-as-a-brick, gunslingers to more sophisticated and stealthy operatives. Research is still in place, but you’ll have to find and bribe researchers to work with you (using the awesome world scan feature), otherwise things are going to get very expensive.
As mentioned previously, each agent has its own speciality (Soldier, Support, Hacker, Infiltrator) which goes a long way to solving the problem of repetition suffered in the original Syndicate games (though not entirely), as does the open plan city. Split into sections that become accessible via mission completions or cold hard credits, the city is your playground and you’re free to run amok. Concentrate on the main missions or complete side-missions (these confer bonuses such as slowing cameras and enemy reinforcements, to new weapons and tech), the choice is yours – and unlike the original there’s more than one way to do this. You also need to keep acquiring clones in order to prevent stats degrading when you resurrect; this has the cool by-product of changing your appearance each time you get a new clone.
To back up the gameplay, the visuals are stunning. The cyberpunk, rain-soaked, neon-lit futurescape screams Bladerunner – and that’s no bad thing. Your operatives are kitted out head to toe in the Cyberdog Autumn 2000 collection (with hairstyles to match) and you can almost smell the noodles wafting from the side-alleys. The city of Satellite Reign is fully realised – people mill about, happy to let you carry on your business (until you pull a gun out of course), corporate police and their drones patrol, waiting for you to slip-up or catch you in the act of hacking an ATM to syphon cash off. The AI is actually pretty solid – enemies automatically try and find cover, call reinforcements and send the drones in first – you don’t want to get caught in a fire-fight if you can help it, unless you’ve built your team for it of course. The police actions are pretty cool as well; get arrested and often the cops will take a bribe, unless you shoot first that is.
All in all 5 Lives have done a superb job and set a template for how you should approach updating a classic. The love for the title is clear to see and the team should pat themselves on the back for a job well done. If you liked Syndicate or Syndicate Wars, this is a must for you – and if you didn’t, well it’s time to join the future.
SATELLITE REIGN / DEVELOPER: 5 LIVES STUDIOS / PUBLISHER: 5 LIVES STUDIOS / PLATFORM: PC, MAC / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 28TH