Last month, I sat down with a playable build of Starbreeze's Syndicate reboot... and I liked what I saw. The singleplayer campaign is shaping up to be a seriously solid FPS experience, featuring slick gunplay, intuitive electronic warfare (forced suicides, anyone?) and an exceptional level of brutality. However, I was also able to get my hands dirty with the cooperative side of the package, and quite honestly, I didn't want to stop playing it. Starbreeze are on course to develop one of the most rewarding and exciting cooperative FPS experiences out there - and with the embargo lifted, I'm free to wax lyrical.
The cooperative campaign stands completely alone from the solo portion in terms of setting, style and progression. Its nine missions, many of which are based on levels from the original strategy game, are split into three separate storylines involving fierce corporate espionage from the perspectives of Eurocorp, Aspari and Cayman Global. This split focus will allow us to appreciate a different side of the nightmarish corporate future, as well as the opportunity to team up with a few mates and wreak absolute havoc.
The level on show was a raid against Eurocorp's New England laboratories, with the objective being to 'liberate' them of their valuable Leonardo Device prototype. Interestingly, a short helicopter ride to the mission gave us ample time to enjoy the contrasting art direction, which favoured bright sunlight and a crisp, hygenic colour pallette that stuck out in sharp contrast with the dark and gloomy singleplayer aesthetic. The standalone co-op campaign has granted Starbreeze the scope to experiment with different environments and themes, but sadly there was no time to enjoy the scenery. As the chopper landed, we were in for one hell of an welcome. It was time, as they say, to get some.
Each mission tends to be split into multiple small objectives that need to be completed in order to push through the level and reach your goal. Deactivating rooftop security systems and unlocking the doors into the facility was the order of the day, but in our way lied a small private army who were equipped with the best gear that Eurocorp had to offer. Expansive arenas and atria with multiple levels provide scope for serious flanking tactics, with one or two players getting involved with shotguns or pistols to distract the enemy - and the steely electronic glare of swivelling rail-mounted turrets - while teammates secure lofty catwalks, provide cover with homing Gauss Rifles and eventually reach the necessary panels to shut down the ferocious defences. The weapons are powerful, nuanced and satisfying - and, of course, the combat is as fast and intense and brutal as you'd expect from a Starbreeze title.
As we battled through the laboratory and resistance intensified, we had to adopt a tight communication regime and constantly relocate to support, heal and cover each other. It's a hectic, stressful and rewarding experience, and in many ways, it's what I always wanted Brink to be.
Make no mistake: you'll absolutely need to cooperate in in order to survive, let alone prevail. Syndicate is hard as nails because, as mentioned in our singleplayer preview, the AI is ruthlessly aggressive and actively works as a team; surrounding your positions with merry abandon, deploying grenades and suppressing you from a distance while their shotgun-equipped brethren move in for the kill. Players will have to communicate effectively and use every square inch of the flank-happy levels. Though none were present in the demo level, my Starbreeze wingman confirmed that enemy agents will occasionally make an appearance and make for staggeringly tough encounters. Their durability and ability will be equal to our own.
Thankfully operatives aren't just ground-pounding grunts. Big guns and regenerating health will only get you so far, so it's down to the unique electronic warfare suite to deliver the game-changing sucker punch. Agents can breach (read: hack into) enemy hardware by simply holding down the left bumper, which includes cybernetic cranial chips and the liquid armour adorning some of the tougher foes. As well as debilitating enemies for a few moments with the Virus program (a must for the bigger armoured goons), you can equip your character with two extra skills out of a selection of twelve, which all provide very different combat applications. We discussed the Suicide, Persuade and Backfire skills in our earlier preview, but in co-op, you'll also be able to utilise a selection of buffs that can boost your entire team's damage or defence for a few moments. Choosing the right balance between aggression and support will pay dividends, and your team will thank you for it in the roughest encounters.
Upgrades and customisation are going to be a significant gameplay draw as well as a nifty addictive reason to keep plugging away at the nine missions. Twenty five chip upgrades (accessed by ripping cranial chips out of downed foes, messy), nineteen fully upgradeable weapons and the aforementioned twelve Breaching skills can all be collected and persistently levelled, allowing you to create a build that reflects your gameplay style while always being potent and powerful in a combat situation.
Syndicate may be a controversial hot button topic at the moment, and yes, we still reckon that it would easily stand proud as its own IP. But with what promises to be an astounding cooperative suite complimenting its solo shenanigans, Starbreeze's shooter has the potential to be one of the biggest FPS hits of next year.