Since Bullfrog burst on to the scene with Populous, they've gone from strength to strength building a reputation as one of the finest development houses this country has seen. With their latest game, Syndicate, they appear set to surpass all their previous achievements. Syndicate has been in development for over three years now, and almost everyone at Bullfrog has had a hand in it at some time. The result is one of the most violent and original games the Amiga has ever seen.
It's set almost 100 years in the future when the world is run by giant corporations. These syndicates forgo the traditional backstabbing and under-the-counter deals of present day business. When they have a problem they reach for the button marked the lads' and send them in to blast the opposition into submission.
As a young exec in a small, rapidly failing syndicate, it's your job to turn business around through a series of kidnappings and assassinations. Naturally you don't want to get your hands dirty, so you pay a visit to the vaults to thaw out some of your cryogenically frozen operatives. These are everyday people who were snatched off the streets by other agents then sent to the company labs to be 'altered'. This process involves erasing their memory, inserting computer chips into their spinal column and replacing various limbs and organs with synthetic parts.
These agents are so hard they make the Terminator look like Bambi. Completely devoid of feeling they'll shoot anything you tell them too, and when they get nervous they'll open up at anyone who gets too close for comfort. Bullet wounds are just ignored, it takes a rocket launcher to bring one of these guys down.
From your position in a blimp high above the play area you control one to four agents per mission. The control system is very easy to get to grips with - you simply click on an agent's icon, then at the part of the town you want him to go to. Alternatively, using the right mouse button instructs him to shoot in that direction. They can also make use of public transport such as trains, or simply steal a car. Nobody wants to argue with a group of six-footers wearing trench coats and bearing big guns. Clicking between the agent icons lets you control all of them at once. This is very handy when you've got a lot of city to traverse in order to reach your target. Unfortunately, those agents carrying heavy weapons, or without artificial legs, tend to lag behind so you have to slow the others down and wait for them to catch up.
GREENE KING IPA
Special drugs can be administered to the agents during the course of a mission. There are three kinds which alter his IPA (Intelligence, Perception and Adrenaline) levels. Intelligence dictates how an agent will react to certain situations. It it's boosted he'll back off when the odds seem too great, or advance if he has enough ammo. Perception allows him to spot dangerous situations earlier as well as shoot with more accuracy. Adrenaline is the fun one. When this is boosted, and the others aren't, the agent goes pretty much crazy ape. His reaction times are greatly increased and he'll just blow the hell out of anything on two legs.
Although you have to use the IPA-boosting drugs on the later missions you can't go too overboard. Use the drugs too many times and the agents will become addicts and not be able to perform without them. Strung out agents aren't very effective, but luckily any debilitating effects are only temporary.
If a battle is going badly there are two options open to you. Clicking both mouse buttons at once boosts all the IPA levels to maximum and instructs your agent to draw his biggest gun. Now you either run or fight. As a last resort hitting Ctrl-D triggers the self-destruct mechanism. This utterly destroys the agent along with everything else on the screen, so it's only worth using if you're extremely desperate.
IT'S THE COZZERS!
The one group of people who really have it tough are the police. Sworn to uphold the law, they won't go near your agents unless they draw a weapon, at which point the police are obliged to shoot. Unfortunately for them they only have puny shotguns, which aren't much good against heavily armoured cyborgs brandishing mini-guns. In this kind of situation the police can be either utterly ignored, or make good targets when you want to try out the latest weapon the R&D bods have come up with.
What you have to keep an eye on is ammunition. For some reason your agents always forget to pack spare clips and there's nothing more embarrassing than running out of bullets in the middle of a street battle. The only thing they can do is bring three or four back up weapons with them. If these come up empty they either have to run for it or grab a gun from the body of a downed agent.
Not every mission involves buckets of gore and insane amounts of violence. Occasionally you're called upon to 'persuade' enemy scientists to join your syndicate. Obviously this isn't a case of asking them nicely, but neither is it a matter of systematically breaking their fingers until they agree to do so. Instead you have a device called a persaudatron. This gadget administers a small dose of chemicals to anyone in close proximity, nullifying their will to resist. After that you've just got to lead them to a collection point without encountering any enemy agents.
The persuadatron is also necessary if you want to boost your army of agents. Your company's funding for the cyborg program has all but dried up and the only way you're going to get any more is by persuading enemy agents to join your team. This isn't as easy as it sounds, though. First you have to recruit 32 civilians, then 16 police officers before you can get your hands on an enemy cyborg. It's wise to get going on this as soon as possible because you only start with eight agents. In my case it was soon reduced to four after my crack squad leapt boldly from their hijacked police car, shot it to pieces and died in the ensuing explosion.
Money is your biggest enemy. Equipping agents with new parts and weapons costs a fortune, as does research into new technology. The best tactic is to search enemy agents after a battle and steal their equipment - the extra cash you'll save can be put towards patching up your men.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
One of the most important departments in your syndicate is the R&D rooms. Here's where your scientists beaver away trying to create new mega weapons for your agents. They classify weapons as automatic (which includes shot guns and Uzis), heavy (which feature mini-guns and flamethrowers) and assault (rocket launchers and such like). Developing weapons costs time as well as money. The more money you plough into a project the quicker the R&D bods will invent it for you. The only way to speed up the process further is by capturing enemy weapons. These are instantly submitted for analysis and then duplicated for your team.
A technological advantage isn't essential in the the earlier missions as you're only up against shotgun-wielding police and body guards. Before long though you're sent out to eliminate enemy agents. They also have the advantage of replacement body parts and the backing of well-funded R&D departments. Like your men, they're easily identified by the long trench coats they wear, and the fact that they start shooting the second your guys come into range.
There are a total of 50 missions, with each one set in a different part of the world When you successfully complete one, all the territory belonging to the company that you stitched up becomes yours. Along with the real estate comes 50,000,000 or so people. Naturally you get to tax the pants off of them in order to finance your dodgy deals.
If you really get carried away and push the standard tax rate above 55 per cent the people start revolting. When that happens a rival syndicate can move in and claim that territory, so it pays to give the people the odd break now and then. The ultimate aim is to eliminate all the other syndicates and rule the world from the comfort of your office - something Dan's been trying for years.
Different syndicates have different tactics. Of these the IIA are the hardest. Formed from the old CIA. they only employ the biggest, most brutal agents, give them weapons to match their temperaments and then send them out with a pat on the back and a direct order to enjoy themselves. As such they'll carve a swathe of destruction through civilians in an attempt to get at your men. At the other end of the scale is the Tasmanian Liberation Consortium. They spend most of their time drunk on fizzy lager taking potshots at what they hope are your agents.
This is not a game for nice guys. When a fire fight starts it's tough luck for anyone caught in the cross fire. Civilians are brutally gunned down, or burned and nobody really minds -apart from the civilians, that is. In some missions it's impossible to get to your target without wasting a few bystanders, but you're supposed to be playing a right bastard in the game, so who cares?
While the graphics are small, they're certainly detailed. Blade Runner-style TV screens adorn the building, pumping out commercials for soft drinks. The graphics used to depict the individual citizens of the game are small, but very well detailed, especially when they're shot. Pump a civilian full of lead and he or she will fly backwards, landing in a bloody heap. Blow up a police car and the occupant will leap out, on fire and screaming. While these graphics add immensely to the game's overall look and feel, it's not exactly suitable for younger players.
This is the game I've been waiting for for years. No holds barred, full-out megadeath violence. No morals, no prisoners, just grab the biggest sod-off gun you can find and total a town. The only thing this game could be compared to is a real-time version of Laser Squad, but then that's in the loosest sense of the word. I only have one real criticism. When you walk into a building you can't see what's going on. The only way to keep track of the action is to use the scanner and move the cursor around the general area as it changes shape when it's over another person. This makes for some extremely frustrating moments, especially when you're attempting to kidnap someone without actually being able to see where they're standing. A much better system would have been for the roof of the building you're in to disappear - it might not be easy to program, but I suspect that I won't be the only one with this particular whinge.
Apart from that this is one of the best games I've played in years. The sheer size, violence and the huge among of action makes for totally addictive gameplay. Put all other purchases on hold, this is an essential download.
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