You might have caught the news this morning that Riddick studio Starbreeze is remaking Syndicate, Bullfrog's isometric real-time strategy classic, for consoles and PC. You might have caught the news, that is, providing you could hear it above the moaning. The remake is a first-person shooter with zero squad control functionality, see, and a feat of genre transplantation as drastic as that was always going to rub diehards the wrong way.
When we first laid eyes on the game, we admit to being equally miffed. The FPS is hardly a niche genre at present, whereas isometric real-time strategy could use a few adrenaline shots. But as our first look (which you'll read in issue 78) unfolded, we began to warm to the game. For all its flagrant departures, Starbreeze's Syndicate has the makings of both a fabulous homage and a quality story-driven shooter.
"It was always going to be an FPS," game director Neil McEwan told us. "The original nub of the idea was to take that viewpoint from the original game and zoom into the Agent's head, and play that part. A closer experience - to become one of those Agents."
As the developer of The Darkness and The Chronicles of Riddick, Starbreeze is very comfortable with the first-person perspective. McEwan feels it offers the chance to tunnel further into Syndicate's fiction.
"We're big fans of the original Syndicate, and we're definitely paying as much homage to it as we can - bringing across the essence of the world, the core essence of what it is to be an Agent. That sounds wanky but it's true - we're taking the Persuadatron and evolving it in different ways, the weapons and brutality. On both facets of the game, the co-op and the single player, it's very key to stay true to it.
Lead game designer Vilya Sommerbakk added: "It's a dark and gritty world, and that's kind of a Starbreeze thing." Those who saw the inside of Butcher Bay will find it difficult to disagree. Even Monolith can't rival Starbreeze's feel for grime.
What would McEwan say to reassure disgruntled Bullfrog fans? "I think the game speaks for itself. We've been very lucky to work with a great, original world, and create another facet of it really. I would love them to like it. You're never going to please everyone."
The standalone four-player campaign features levels based on those of the original and its sequel Syndicate Wars. Designer Rickard Johansson talked this up - "hopefully co-op is a great nod towards the old gang" - but argued that the old Syndicate formula had had its day. "I don't want people to stop playing the old games, but time has moved on."