Yesssss! It has arrived! Raise the flag, crack open the champers, stick a plum under a viper and rejoice, for Syndicate has finally tumbled gently through the letterbox. I had begun to think it might just never appear, fading away into the mists of time as one of those games that was supposed to happen but did not. But no. I need not have fretted, because all along it was being nurtured and developed, and at last it has crept onto the shelves of computer game emporiums from here to sunny Slough.
But before we embark upon a fascinating excursion into the dark, dank depths of Peter Molyneux's imagination, let me take you on a reflective stroll down memory lane.
Aeons upon aeons ago, when the world was young and Paul Daniels had hair, Bullfrog released a product unto the masses with the cunning title of Populous. It was a revolutionary concept because it filled a niche in the market and gave birth to the "God game" genre. It was also a damn fine piece of software to boot.
Consequently, Bullfrog established quite a reputation for themselves, and deservedly so because since then every release has been heralded as a classic. Syndicate looks to follow suit.
It is set in the future. But it is not a happy, flowery type of future. You won't find communities, rallying together in a soap-opera type way here, by Jove. I mean, let us face it, you could not make a very good computer game out of someone going around being nice to people, cutting their lawns, washing their cars and buying them nice presents, could you? Of course not, and the blokes at Bullfrog know that. So instead, they have opted for a slightly different picture of what awaits us in the near future.
You know how some people think the future will be really crap? Whoever wrote Blade Runner obviously did, painting a picture of a society in which everyone is out for themselves and people like Marcus Tandy are seen as ideal role models (oh, how I miss those frequent forays into the events in Los barcos...).
Well, that is the image of the future that Bullfrog has, and that is the future in which Syndicate is set. Apparently, the world is controlled by vast multinational corporations. The other major development is the invention of the CHIP by some boffin. Inserted in the neck, the CHIP is the ultimate drug, cutting the users off from the real world. I suppose today's equivalent is simply getting "out of your tree" and listening to The Orb (or so Simon assures me). Anyway, this development enabled the syndicates to move in and basically control the people through suggestion via the CHIP.
The syndicates are now warring with one another, using cyborgs to do the dirty work. As a young chappie working for one such syndicate, you control a group of cyborgs, and you have got to carry out a number of missions set in the massive urban sprawls of the future.
However, before you dart into the bathroom to top yourself with a razor blade, let me tell you that Syndicate is a very absorbing and interesting game. In fact, I might go so far as to say it could become a classic.
The brilliantly atmospheric movie-like intro sequence does a marvellous job of setting the scene. You really feel as though you have been catapulted into the dreary streets of tomorrow, especially since at regular intervals between the missions you are shown more groovy animations.
The ultimate goal is to take over the world, but obviously you are not going to achieve this all in one go. You must be systematic and take things one step at a time. First things first, you can customise your Syndicate by selecting a logo design and colour, and by naming it too. Then you will be presented with a map screen, and starting from your one lone sector you can move into adjacent sectors and conquer them by completing a mission.
The gameplay consists of using the mouse to shift your lads around, and opening fire at regular intervals by way of pressing the right mouse button. The interface is simple enough to understand. In a few short minutes you will be cavorting around the cities of tomorrow opening fire on many an innocent passer-by.
You can select one of the four agents you control simply by clicking on one of the four numbered boxes in the top-left-hand corner of the screen. You can also choose to move all the agents together by clicking on an icon depicting four little stick men.
Each agent can carry eight items, be they guns, scanners, or other special devices. When you have selected an agent you can then select the item you want to use. If you select a gun and then use up all the ammunition in the heat of battle, the computer will cleverly switch to a weapon with ammo in it, allowing you to get on with the task in hand, namely that of wasting people.
Some of the missions involve you traipsing around searching out scientists and "persuading" them to join your cause with the help of a Persuadertron gun. Others involve you being accosted by copious numbers of enemy operatives, and your task is simply to explain to them the folly of their ways, with the aid of an Uzi sub-machine gun. If at all possible you should try and avoid robbing helpless civilians of their lives.
If you spot any cars, you can either pump them full of lead or leap into them. You can have great fun cruising around the town, opening fire on anybody and everybody who just happens to be nearby.
On some missions you can also hitch a ride on trains, whch are fortunately far more punctual than BR ones and won't be cancelled due to leaves (or dead bodies) on the line.
The graphics throughout are varied and somewhat tasty, being of the variety that will make you leap up and down in glee whenever you come across a new type of building or feature. Sound also helps conjure up the image of a sad, grey future, and the gun effects are certainly beefy enough.
The way in which everyone else goes about their business until you do something against them adds considerably to the gameplay, because you feel you really are just a small part of a major city.
Between missions you can invest in research into new weapons. You can also choose different cyborgs for the missions from your stocks. Weapons and equipment can be bought and taxes on provinces you rule can be adjusted to increase the amount of cash in your reserves.
There is bags of depth, with so many provinces to take over. Each mission is subtly different to the previous one, so you won't get bored quickly.
This is one of the best games released for ages, and it deserves a lot of success. Another classic from the boys at Bullfrog who, it seems, can do no wrong.