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Entry updated 16 April 2018. Tagged: Game.

Videogame (1993). Bullfrog Productions (BP). Designed by Peter Molyneux, Sean Cooper. Platforms: Amiga, DOS (1993); Mac, MegaDrive, SNES (1994); 3DO, CD32, Jaguar (1995).

Syndicate is an early example of a Real Time Tactics game, played in a three-dimensional Isometric view, and set in a milieu which emphasizes the moral ambiguity of much Cyberpunk fiction. The player adopts the role of an executive in one of the crime syndicates that have taken over the world's ruling corporations, tasked with advancing their employer's interests by assassinating rivals, acquiring the services of prominent scientists, and any other means that may prove necessary. Syndicate's future world is polluted and violent; most of the population have been implanted with mind control devices, turning them into compliant drones living in a virtual paradise. The player's instrument for completing their various missions is a team of four drug-controlled Cyborgs, kept in cryogenic vaults between excursions. These missions take place in complex environments, many aspects of which are destructible or usable by the player; another important aspect of the game is the need to perform technological research and upgrade cyborgs between assignments in order to keep up with the competition. Syndicate's gameplay is ruthlessly amoral; there are no penalties for killing civilians, but no attempt is made to excuse such actions, or to persuade the player that their role is anything other than that of a brutal enforcer.

The immediate sequel, Syndicate Wars (1996 BP, DOS; 1997 PS1) designed by Peter Molyneux combines a fully three-dimensional view with similar gameplay to its predecessor to tell the story of a conflict between the world's ruling syndicate and a religious upstart. This latter organization, the Church of the New Epoch, is using a computer virus which disables mind control chips in an attempt to take the syndicate's place as master of the world, a process which causes large numbers of citizens to become "unguided"; players can take the role of a syndicate executive or one of the Church's Disciples. Syndicate Wars has a more complex narrative than that of its original, but the gameplay can be slightly confusing, in contrast to the first game's excellently crafted missions. Syndicate (2012 Starbreeze Studios, PS3, Win, XB360) designed by Andrew Griffin and written by Tommy Tordsson in collaboration with Richard Morgan is a late sequel created by other hands which rephrases the series' gameplay as that of a First Person Shooter with a linear Interactive Narrative. While the game is visually appealing and much of its shooting is exciting if unusually bloody, the story is predictable, blighted by an unsuccessful attempt to add a moral dimension to its cynical milieu.

The world of the Syndicate series shows the effects of a range of influences, from the film Blade Runner (1982) to 2000 AD's Mega City One. Nevertheless, it is a credible creation in its own right, entirely convincing as a work of science fiction.

Related works: Syndicate: American Revolt (1993 BP, DOS; 1994 Amiga) is a (significantly more difficult) expansion for the original Syndicate. It ironically sets the player the task of suppressing a new American rebellion against the syndicate that achieved world domination during the first game, assumed to be based in London. [NT]


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