A Great Old Game

There isn’t much said about this that hasn’t been said before.  It was one of the first games I ever bought when I got my new 486 DX2 66, 1MB  Cirrus Logic VESA Local Bus Graphics card, Sound Blaster 16, CD-ROM and 8MB RAM.  For the year 1994 it was a beast.  The first games I ever bought, which I put on lay-buy while waiting for my computer to be build was;

Links
Links 386 Pro – Access Software
syndicate
Syndicate – Bullfrog

So what can I say, two of the most graphically hungry games of their time.  Both brilliant looking, the Links game especially, since previously my run in with golf games was Links: The Challenge of Golf.  It was a great game, using the PC speaker with digitised sound was wonderful, but this was a whole new ball game, no pun intended.

The other game Syndicate, those who perhaps might not be old enough this is the game that the remake was loosely based off.  My opinion, which is often what is it, felt that Syndicate, the remake version, could have been named anything else and would not have been any less for it.  But the two games share name and simple concept, cybernetically enhanced agents.  Enough of the new one, on with original.

Introduction1

As the world’s multinational corporations grew, their profits began to rival those of small countries. Soon they owned small countries and corporate influence was felt at the highest level of world government. Smaller corporations were swallowed up like plankton in the wake of three behemoth mega-corporations, one U.S.-based, one Europe-based and one based in the Far East. These became the only effective world
government, unelected, undemocratic, but controlling the lives of the people through commerce.

Then the European corporation perfected the CHIP. Inserted in the neck, the CHIP stimulated the brain stem to alter your every perception of the outside world. Better than any drug, the CHIP gave hope to millions by numbing their senses to the misery and squalor around them. One CHIP would convince users that the sun shone and the birds sang even as they walked through the constant acid rain drizzle. Another that
they were glamorous or handsome – they’d look in the mirror and see a different face – while the rest of the world would see them as they really were.

The CHIP was a technological revolution and sold countless units with the slogan ‘Why change your world when you can change your mind’. It also left the user open to auto-suggestion and gave the corporations the perfect tool for manipulating the
populace.

Like any new and potent drug, control of the CHIP meant control of the people. Soon the corporations were at war among themselves, desperate to monopolize CHIP manufacture. But the corporations’ thirst for power left them open to infiltration. With money earned through pirating CHIP technology, crime Syndicates bribed and murdered their way into corporation boardrooms. It wasn’t long before the Syndicates became the controlling force all over the globe, with a finger in the pie of every transaction, criminal or otherwise, worldwide.

And in the crime Syndicates of tomorrow those in control don’t need Uzis for back up. Teams of custom-built cyborg agents hunt down rivals and traitors, and spread the influence of the Syndicates across the globe.

Syndicate Manual – © Bullfrog 1993

Real Time

The game has you as the owner of one of the many corporate syndicates that are running the world in the future.  Broken into regions you are given missions briefs for each region.  The further you progress the harder and harder the missions get.  But it is in real time, one of the first Real Time strategy games and is possibly up there with one of the greatest games of all time.

image

Select the region , then open the mission brief.  Simple missions, persuade someone from the enemy, kill all agents, assassinate someone who has been brain washed, etc… as you can see the theme.  The missions have you trying to get control of the region from the other syndicates.  There are 8 other syndicates vying for the control of the territory.  They will from time to time also make plays at your territories if your citizens are unhappy.

Syndicate4

The Details

One can see the detail that was added to this game.  The environments may not have that same grittiness that current games can have, but to understand the quality of this game in 1993 it was outstanding.  An area of the game that I liked was the use of the special drugs being injected directly, during the mission, into your agents.  These do some interesting things when the agent is left to their own devices.  No controlling an agent directly will enable them to control themselves, if they come under fire they will respond in kind.  But altering these Adrenaline, Perception and Intelligence levels can lead to some often unknown consequences. 

Syndicate3

Later in the game, the carnage and destruction you can wield into these regions is something special.  There is a level of satisfaction as you take the flame thrower and torch the agents and hear them scream in pain or listening to the mini gun rattle off round after round.  It was one of the more notable elements of the game, though the music fitted the game and changed based on the fact that an enemy was near (but you didn’t see them), works, but the rest of the sounds were a great achievement.

Development

There isn’t much one can say here, it speaks for itself.  Bullfrog did a wonderful job and with only a small team their choices for the game helped massively.  One of the things that did get a small amount of flak over but when you actually played the game it really wasn’t a big deal.  A lot of DOS games were running in 320×240 resolution, 16 colour, 256 colours was starting to become more and more common, but the EGA was there and working well for most games.

When you open the game you are presented with the introductions and menus in this standard fair, 320×240, 256 colours.  But enter the game screen and things change.  640 x 480, so many more pixels, well 4 times as many it goes from 76,800 to 307,200 which gave this game a wonderful crispness that you can see while you play the game.  Look closely and you will realise that you have also switched from 256 colours to 16 colours.  But the quality of the art is so good that though it is dithered to provide a simulate large palette, it is something that does not hinder the game.  Having those additional pixels can put a tremendous drain on video cards of the day, so reducing the game back to the 16 colours helped make the game run smoother but gave it a greater sense of detail that would have been missing if it was running 320×240.

Syndicate

Drawbacks

There are a few of them but this one can be a little annoying.  Obstacles, due to the isometric view (all so common with so many strategy games), it means that building will block some visible parts of the scenery.  Now days that would be easy, rotate the game and all done, but the camera in this game (and many other similar to this game at this time), panned left, right, up or down.  You can be attacked while you are unable to see these assailants, you could move your mouse over the area where you might things they are, in relation to the mini-map and hope for the cross hairs.  The best thing you can do, is when you move, keep with a decent distant between you and the hidden areas. 

Tips

There are a couple of words of wisdom I can part about this game and it is to pay attention to the research, especially the mods.  The standard cybernetic modifications available to your agents make them quite squishy.  If you aren’t careful, the mission that has you trying to kill all the enemy agents, this could spell the end of at least one of your agents, and they do not grow on trees, in expensive cybernetic cryogenic chamber and once one is empty there is only one way to get another, more later.

Get the V1 Chest upgrades as soon as possible.  At 8000 a pop, you won’t be kitting out your entire team of agents with them, but certainly it will pay dividends later.  Get these research items as quickly as possible,V2 cost more and aren’t required until a little later in the games.

Weapons, these are good, but the better ones are awesome but cost a lot to research, so getting territories is the only way to get cash therefore you need to start somewhere.  But, anyone in the game who shoots you, if you kill them, they will drop their gun and you can pick this up.  What does this do.  Well it gives you another weapon (ammo can only be replenished at the start of each mission), but if you are researching it, this now suddenly decreases the time to research and therefore cost. 

Listen to the music, when it changes, and it is different from the normal music that is playing during a mission.  Danger is coming, get ready.  Often you will get sometime, the change in music is a cue that the someone is coming, at speed.  Position yourself in an area you get to see them at range.  Keep them at distance, they will often charge off the bat first time but not every time.

Finally

What more can I say, it is an easy game to play, but difficult and punishing those who thing that the first mission will be as easy as the last.  But the fact that the people at Good Old Games (gog.com) have take the time to include and configure a DOSBox playable version of Syndicate for a mere US$5.99 makes it one of the best buys I can think of.  Fans of strategy games I would recommend getting this an playing it, in comparisons to your Star Crafts II or your Total War, this seems small in scale but to play this game can show you the roots of the strategy game which is in my list of the best games of all time.

Syndicate2

Notes on Old Games

There are so many fond memories of playing these games as a kid.  There is one game which I loved, it was a wonderful addition and game one day I would love re-create, if I can ever maintain my enthusiasm and motivation to complete a game I start, long story.  I will write more about it in another post, but certainly I will try Tank Wars.

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Posted on May 18, 2013, in Article, Games and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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