A short description for this game could be: World domination simulation.
Syndicate had for its time impressive graphics, environments, AI, and game play freedom. It is notable as an early example of a video game Villain Protagonist, and its portrayal of evil acts while totally lacking karmic or moral punishments. It is now available at GOG.com if you still have yet to pick it up.
In a dystopian future the world is controlled by powerful syndicates ruling it through the police and military. The vast majority of the population just takes it because they spend much of their time on the cybernetic equivalent of happy pills. You take the role of the evil overlord of one of these syndicates and control a team of cyborg killing machines, or as you call them agents, that follow your every command in a quest to achieve complete world dominance.
This can be separated into two parts. The first is the world view where you plan out your nefarious schemes. Here, you outfit your team, allocate resources to research to get better equipment, acquire intelligence, and choose the next territory to take over. Taking over a territory means performing a mission.
The second part is the tactical view where you actually do the mission by controlling your team of up to 4 agents. The tactical view sports an isometric view and some pretty impressive (for the time) environments: cities, army bases, secret research facilities etc. that are convincingly "alive", busy streets have people and cars going about their business, trains that can be ridden, cars that can be driven, army bases have drilling soldiers and so on. These environments also react convincingly to your actions with civilians running away from your agents when they draw their weapons, police trying to stop them, and Stuff Blowing Up when they shoot it.
Your agents can carry quite a lot of equipment like miniguns, uzis, med-kits, rocket launchers, but the most exotic piece of equipment is the Persuadertron. This device allows you to brainwash civilians and enemies into helping you, if they have (or get) a gun they'll even shoot at your enemies.
But if you think you can go around just persuading people you are wrong. This! Is! Syndicate! And it is impossible to finish the game without killing, mayhem, and ruthless disregard for property!
Still the game lets you have quite a lot of freedom in how you actually accomplish your missions, for example if your mission is to assassinate someone you can:
- Storm his heavily guarded residence and kill him.
- Ambush him on his way to a rally.
- Use a sniper rifle while he is speaking at the rally.
- Get in a car and kill him (and probably others) in a drive by shooting during the rally.
- Storm the rally with flamethrowers and burn everyone to charred remains.
Expansion and Sequel:
The game was followed by an expansion pack, American Revolt. Now ruling the world, Eurocorp has lost control of the Western Hemisphere, and a series of rather difficult missions are needed to subdue it.
In the sequel Syndicate Wars, the Syndicate has been managing the world for some undisclosed time, until an experimental mind-expanding program goes wrong. The scientists running it Go Mad from the Revelation, becoming "The Nine", heading the Church of the New Epoch. They spread a "Harbinger" Computer Virus that destroys the globe-running UTOPIA network and the chips in people's heads as the start of their Evil Plan, which you must either thwart or advance.
- 0% Approval Rating: What you can end up with if you over-tax your territories. It is possible to abuse this mechanic horribly by deliberately making territories rebel, allowing you to garner extra cash or replacement agents by repeating the easier missions.
- The All-Seeing AI: In American Revolt, clone shields make you look like regular civilians. Enemy agents see right through them.
- Artificial Limbs: Legs and arms made from metal, plastisteel, or cybermesh.
- Artificial Stupidity: Invoked or averted at the player's discretion. Your agents' "chips" suppress their free will when you're giving them orders, but when left to their own devices (eg on guard while the rest of the team pushes forward, or while you micromanage another agent) their level of independence is determined by their IPA injectors.
- To elaborate, Intelligence governs whether your agent will make a Tactical Withdrawal or fight with Suicidal Overconfidence; Perception determines whether they have Hyper Awareness or fail a spot check; and Adrenaline skews them towards either Caffeine Bullet Time or faster regeneration. The drugs take time to replenish, so you need to judge when best to activate them.
- Badass Longcoat: With a ludicrous arsenal of weapons beneath it.
- Big Freaking Gun: Let's start with the Minigun, and go from there. Syndicate also gives you a "Gauss Gun" rocket launcher and a laser, but it goes nuts in Syndicate Wars. Graviton Gun, anyone?
- Bigger on the Inside: Have fun watching your agents and a whole crowd of Persuaded personnel disappear into a car. Or, even better, watch them all pile out at the other end and start shooting. Probably the ultimate Zerg Rush.
- Black Comedy: The manual is full of it, especially in the Shout-Out-laden "Rival Syndicates" chapter. Loads of things within the missions themselves can come off as Bloody Hilarious.
- Blown Across the Room: Almost all hits cause the target to skid backwards.
- Break Out the Museum Piece: One mission in Syndicate Wars has you control a single agent who has been retired for several decades. He's sent in because his cybernetics are considered antiquated, but allow him to survive independently since the crash of the UTOPIA system.
- Bulletproof Human Shield: One more thing you can do with brainwashed civilians.
- Church Militant: The Church of The New Epoch in Syndicate Wars. They call their agents "acolytes" and you "disciple".
- Clasp Your Hands If You Deceive: The player avatar, pretty much whenever we see him. Except when you fail a mission.
- Cool Airship: The command centre of choice for the discerning executive.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: That's you, instructing your agents to gun down people EuroCorp finds inconvenient. Maybe your department is Murders And Executions.
- Crapsack World: Your average dark, polluted, Cyberpunk future, with the chance of being gunned down in the street during corporate takeovers.
- Deflector Shields: A researchable item.
- Devil in Plain Sight: Justified in that civilians have perception-altering chips in their heads, and police have to show some respect for the law by not shooting until weapons are drawn.
- Easter Egg: Got the PC version of Syndicate Wars? Have a poke around on the CD, and you'll find a text file containing the highest known value of Pi at the time of the game's release.
- Emergency Weapon: Every agent comes equipped with a single pistol, which is fine for flesh and blood targets - enemy agents, not so much.
- Enemy-Detecting Radar: Enemy agents, police and mission objectives show up against the crowd on the minimap.
- Enemy Exchange Program: The best (read: only) way to replace lost agents is to Persuade enemy ones.
- Enemy Mine: All the other syndicates team up against the player for the Atlantic Accelerator mission, resulting in a Nintendo Hard final battle. In the expansion, it's even more difficult since your agents are generally in fixed positions, and have to survive airstrikes.
- Evil Brit: According to Syndicate Wars, Eurocorp is based in London. The agent in the intro movie speaks in RP.
- Evil Redhead: The Eurocorp operatives who abduct a new agent in the intro movie, the agent himself, and the two guys who stand beside the executive in another cutscene ALL have red hair.
- Evil Versus Evil: The first game is a battle between corrupt Mega Corps trying to take over the world. In the sequel, the two main factions are the totalitarian government and a group of religious fanatics determined to brainwash enough people and then kill everyone else.
- The Faceless: The player avatar, who is visible in some cutscenes but is always obscured by shadow.
- Fun with Acronyms: The "CHIP".
- Also the new agent in the intro movie: "Subject code: B.O.B" (which is also a Shout-Out to an earlier draft of the game, which featured a Blue and Orange Bloke, or BOB for short).
- And the UTOPIA network from Syndicate Wars.
- Friendly Fireproof: Played straight with agents from the same company. Agents from two different companies can still injure each other (when the bullets fly around the energy shield).
- Gaia's Lament: The syndicates cause such an extreme level of environmental damage that ocean water is now pitch black. This is such a problem that even the syndicates have no choice but to recognize it, and so they build the Atlantic Accelerator in an attempt to reverse at least some of the damage.
- Gameplay and Story Segregation: In the intro to Syndicate, someone is abducted from the street to be made into an agent, but in-game you can only recruit enemy agents turned by the Persuadatron.
- Glowing Eyes of Doom: Agents, if the cover art is anything to go by. Probably implants.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Any battle that takes place inside a building. Alternatively, depending on player sentiment, it may be an Offscreen Moment of Awesome instead.
- Healing Factor: Your agents can slowly regenerate health thanks to their "artificially boosted healing indices".
- Hollywood Cyborg
- Holographic Terminal: The menus are designed to give this impression. Your character is shown to use this in cutscenes.
- Honour Before Reason: Police will not challenge your rather conspicuous agents unless they've actually drawn a weapon.
- Human Popsicle: When not out killing things, your agents reside in the "cryo chamber".
- Humans Are White: No matter if your mission leads you to Africa, South America, or wherever, the civilians always appear to be Caucasian.
- Hyperspace Arsenal: Your agents can pack eight miniguns without spoiling the line of their coat. For Syndicate Wars, you carry one of each gun and generate ammo internally, but still pack a truckload of BFGs and other gear. The Cerberus IFF auto-sentinel appears to be about the size of a man.
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: In the intro for Syndicate Wars, two agents start laying down More Dakka with their miniguns in order to take out the Unguided man who has just dropped off the UTOPIA network. Only one round manages to hit him in the shoulder, dropping him to the ground. Furthermore, one of the agents turns around and activates a computer targeting system on his minigun in order to take him out at point blank range.
- Immune to Bullets: The Energy Shield prevents your soldiers from being hit by bullets. If you have five shields, you can remain indefinitely immune. It doesn't work so well when the enemy uses flamers, gauss guns, or other non-bullet attacks. Most enemies use bullets, rendering you invulnerable in most situations. Even if they could grab a shield-piercing weapon on the ground, they'll still try Shooting Superman with their ineffective minigun.
- It Got Worse: Three global Mega Corps become so rich they can influence world governments, and develop the "CHIP" to increase their control over the population. Then The Syndicate starts bribing and murdering its way into the corporate board-rooms.
- Kill It With Flamethrowers
- Lightning Bruiser: Agents in both the original and remake.
- Lightning Gun: The Electron Mace from Syndicate Wars. The reboot brings it back.
- Look Both Ways: Subverted for the most part, as most civilian cars will slow down and stop if your agents walk out in front of them. The sole exception is your own agents, who will cheerfully run over anything that gets in their way. Including allies.
- Lotus Eater Machine: A form of this for the citizenry, who set the chips in their heads to see something more pleasant than reality. The intro movie for Syndicate Wars shows someone walking down a village street with the local bobbie waving to him, just as the Church's virus crashes the chip; the policeman becomes an armed riot cop, and the village turns into a dark Blade Runner-esque city.
- Made of Iron: Shotgun? 'Tis but a scratch. Your agents are Badass cyborg Super Soldiers.
- Man On Fire: Screaming and running, before expiring in a patch of dust. Charming.
- Mega Corp: A series of them, with overt plans to conquer the world and the ability to manage it, fielding their own armed forces. Yours is canonically named EuroCorp.
- Let's see, there's:
- The Tao: Yakuza meets The Triads and the Tongs, characterised by ruthless efficiency.
- Sphinx Inc.: scary dogmatic EGYPTIANS.
- Executive Jihad.
- The Independent Intelligence Agency: the CIA gone private. Being American, they like big guns and their agents are chosen for being Mighty Glaciers.
- The Castrilos: ruthless bastards fond of blackmailing world governments.
- The TLC: expanding from their initial goal of liberation for Tasmania, they kicked the Tao out of Australia despite being known for their poor aim, because the execs controlling their agents are always drunk.
- Note that all these factions are only described in the manual (and not in the game), there are 8 different "enemy" MegaCorps fighting against you as opposed to the 6 only described in said manual (judging from the 8 different colors on the map indicating enemy-occupied territories on the metamap), and that no "Mega Corp" will ever attack your own territories suggest that this is just an example of Gameplay and Story Segregation.
- Let's see, there's:
- Mind Control Device: The Persuadertron makes civilians follow you like sheep, and pick up weapons to join the fight. With enough civilians, you can turn the police or even enemy agents (used to refill the stock of agents you may have lost during previous missions). This is one of the few weapons that doesn't alert the police, and with a large enough group, makes most missions easier.
- Also, the modified chips that allow you to order your agents around within missions are basically this. Why yes, this does make you the player Obviously Evil.
- In the reboot, mind chips are as common as cellular phones: anyone with the right chips and programs can "breach" another person's chip and jam its connection to their weapons, make them attack their allies, or even shoot themselves in the head. One of the few people with this capability is the Player Character and co-op characters.
- Also, the modified chips that allow you to order your agents around within missions are basically this. Why yes, this does make you the player Obviously Evil.
- More Dakka: Missions can feature more than 20 mini-guns being fired simultaneously.
- Musical Spoiler: Indicates an enemy cyborg in the vicinity.
- Nanomachines: The justification for the instant effect of the med-kit.
- Non-Entity General: You're a man at a Holographic Terminal controlling your agents from an airship. That's all we know.
- The Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The Nine.
- One-Man Army: Agents in both the originals and remake.
- Out of the Inferno: Being quite literally Made of Iron, it's not really surprising that agents can pull this one off. Don't try to walk through a fire with a group of Persuaded civilians in tow, though.
- Police Are Useless: Mostly because they're comprehensively outgunned by cyborg super soldiers wielding huge guns from fairly early on.
- Product Placement: The sequel had animated advertisements for Ghost in the Shell and Judge Dredd on several advertising boards in-game, as well as at the drive-in movie theatre.
- Rasputinian Death: It's possible to shoot people and have the impact push them into the path of oncoming traffic, or a train. This is really annoying if it happens to one of your agents.
- Risk-Style Map: The world is divided up into somewhat arbitrary regions, gobbled up by the major players as you progress.
- Shout-Out: Many of the agents are named after members of the design team (special agents Edgar, Jones, Donkin and Mumford, among others).
- SNK Boss: Most of this game runs the gamut from easy-ish to hard-ish. Then you get the infamous final mission, the Atlantic Accelerator; without a precision setup, you're lucky to last five seconds.
- Somebody Else's Problem: If your agent is equipped with an ID card, police will react like this no matter what atrocities you are orchestrating.
- The Syndicate: Obviously.
- There Are No Good Executives
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: You can use an anti-tank laser to vaporize people, or if you don't want to shoot anything you can run people over with an APC.
- Three Quarters View, which doesn't reveal the inside of a building that a target is hiding in, even when he uses a minigun and attacks as soon as you open the door.
- Throw-Away Guns: You can't reload weapons in-mission. If you run out of ammo, you'll switch to a different weapon.
- Video Game Cruelty Potential: Be honest, this is what the flame-thrower is there for. Slightly more subtly, let's round up a huge crowd of civilians and lead them on to the railway tracks! Syndicate Wars gives you more options: throw "psycho gas" into crowds and see them go nuts, or tool up with nuclear grenades and knock down buildings!
- Villainous Breakdown: Upon hearing that a mission has failed, the player avatar emits a Big No, grabs a nearby lamp and throws it through his Holographic Terminal.
- Villain Protagonist: Vast Mega Corp uses cyborg agents and More Dakka to Take Over the World. You're in the Corporation. You have a person knocked down in the street to be press-ganged as an agent, and that's just the intro movie.
- Villain with Good Publicity: Facilitated by mind-controlling "chips".
- We Can Rebuild Him: In the intro movie. You broke our new agent's leg by running him over when you kidnapped him off the street? No worries, we'll just slap on a cybernetic replacement and send him out there!
- Window Pain: Stray bullets and explosion overpressure will shatter building windows, which has no in-game effect but looks cool.
- A Winner Is You: Maybe they've improved, but Bullfrog weren't much cop at game endings. The end game animation is the exact same animated victory screen you see after beating every other level: a celebration in a city with your airship displaying the increasingly out-of-place message "Welcome To The Dawning Of A New Empire." It is then proceeded by a credit roll.
- You Have Failed Me...: If you lose all your agents, someone higher up in the company sets off a bomb on your airship.
- You Have Researched Breathing: Despite being set in a Cyberpunk future, and your syndicate fielding cyborg Super Soldiers managed by mind control chips from a Holographic Terminal, your armoury only consists of pistols until the R&D department re-invents Uzis, shotguns, flamethrowers and the like.
- Of course, it may be that the weapons do already exist, and "R&D" is a euphemism for the guys who go out and find you the appropriate arms dealers.
- You Nuke'Em: The "Cataclysm" nuclear grenade in Syndicate Wars, which will knock down buildings.
- Zeppelins from Another World: You operate from an airship with huge advertising screens on the sides.