Published: 1994 by Ocean
Syndicate began life as a fairly popular overhead RTS on the PC and Amiga. The goal of Syndicate is to build the wealth, power and territory of your criminal enterprise through a combination of force, persuasion, taxation and research. The depth and novelty of the game led to a host of conversions. The last time I tried to play Syndicate was over 20 years ago and I was not at all impressed. In the intervening years, I've read that this game - including the Jaguar version - was generally well received and is thought by some to be a forebearer to the original GTA.
Is the Jaguar version of Syndicate a solid translation of the computer classic? Or would it have better been left to a keyboard and mouse? Read on to find out!
Gameplay: You start the game with a world map from which you select the territory you need to conquer. The more territory that you control, the more population and taxes collected. This leads to funds that you can use to buy intelligence during mission briefings, purchase equipment, or research enhancements for your agents. Once you select a territory, you are brought to a mission briefing. After accepting the mission, you get to select and equip a team of up to 4 agents, which you control in-game. "Control" in Syndicate is a relative term.
I'm primarily a console gamer. As such, I expect game controls to be fairly intuitive. I want to be able to jump right in and start playing without looking through a manual. If I do read the manual, it should be to clarify some nuance or quirk of the game's features. Syndicate is not that type of game. From menu options to in-game controls, Syndicate requires the player to not only read the manual, but to study it.
To make up for its lack of a keyboard, this computer conversion uses all of the buttons on the Jagpad. That's right, all three action buttons, plus the twelve buttons on the keypad. Because that's not enough for the actions in Syndicate, there are even button combinations that are required for certain actions. Want to zoom in? Press C+1. Need to deselect a weapon? That's C+9. All in all, I counted 26 possible actions available in-game. These are listed on pages 16-18 of the manual. Needless to say, I kept the manual handy so I had some idea what I needed to do. If that sounds tedious, that's because it is. The complexity literally stripped much of the joy and excitement out of playing this game.
Once in the game, I found the onscreen movement clunky. I've played a number of point and click RTS games and this just doesn't flow for me.
Graphics: The graphics in Syndicate are a bloody mess. The game world is presented in an isometric perspective that hampers navigation and can hide enemies and targets from view. The player's squad of agents, cops, enemies and targets are represented by blocky low-res sprites that look pretty bad no matter what your zoom. Some of the game maps are interesting from a distance, but lose detail and refinement when zoomed in. Scrolling across the play field is somewhat choppy and the onscreen action is anything but fluid. The in-game map is nearly useless as it's hard to differentiate between the different NPCs. There are some fun death animations, so that's something.
Sound/Music: The music in Syndicate consists of dark synthy chip tunes that I suppose are befitting the dystopian future of the game world. It isn't terrible but it also isn't memorable. The game's sound effects are pretty limited. In a word: average.
Overall: Syndicate on the Jaguar is a clunky RTS that is low on fun and high in tedium. It may have been highly regarded in its day, but there a far superior RTS experiences out there. Ultimately, the potential of the game's concept is undermined by the clunky control interface and lackluster graphics.
Final Verdict: If it's not yet clear, Syndicate was not my cup of tea. The overly complicated control scheme made playing the game a chore. Maybe it works well on a PC, but on the Jaguar I mark this one down for collectors only.
Thanks for reading and please share your memories and thoughts on Syndicate in the comments below! I'm particularly interested in hearing from those of you who enjoyed the game - either on the Jaguar or another platform.
The next game is from my recent Readers' Choice post and comes courtesy of The Professor: Ultra Vortek! Thanks to The Professor and RickR for the suggestions!