Syndicate (2012)’s Wonderful Boss Battles & Horrifying Shock Content

Syndicate (2012) surprised me. I didn’t know much beyond the fact that Starbreeze made it in-between Chronicles of Riddick and Brothers: Tale of Two Sons. Oh, and of course the game didn’t satisfy fans of the 1993 PC game, but I was nonetheless surprised by what the game does well. Namely, boss-battles.

Great boss battles are a huge rarity in today’s day and age of video games. We rarely see them any more — especially not in high-profile FPS games. Even games that get known for “great boss battles” (like Metal Gear) disappoint us when we see past their gimmicks. Novelty doesn’t make a great boss battle. Feeling like a match in skill and talent, forcing you to use all of your abilities, however? That makes a great boss. Syndicate shows us that the best boss battles require everything they’ve taught you to overcome a near-impossible showdown.

The game’s first boss is a rival agent with the Gauss Gun — an assault rifle with with homing shots. Suddenly cover isn’t as simple as breaking the line of sight. Then as the battle ramps up, the dude multiplies using optical manipulation tech. And worse, he’s got these fancy cyberpunk cartwheels that get him out out of the way. It was way harder than I expected.

I don’t know his name and I don’t care. It felt like a good win simply because he challenged me to use everything I learned up until that point. And I died a good five to ten times until I beat him.

It’d be rude of me to spoil all of the bosses in this game, so I’ll stop there. But I will say that when they come, they challenge every fiber of your skill in the game up to that point. So if you see the game for a low price, pick it up if you like tough stuff. Plus, I’ve got to say that every normal shoot-out in the game with basic grunts made my palms sweat. It’s not an easy game. And there’s no “easy” mode. If that gets you excited, this might be up your alley.

Everybody look! This is the one time Josh offers a Content Warning:

Content warnings aren’t my thing. But I have to say this game is one of the most tactless and maliciously brutal games I’ve ever played. I didn’t expect that. Your first special power is “Suicide,” where you force your opponents into violent suicide. Starbreeze was not sensitive to those who have faced the loss of a loved one to this horrible thing and I’d never play the game around my loved ones who lost family members to this thing. And the game doesn’t stop there. This power even gets an amped-up version called “Persuade” where the enemy fights on your side before shooting them self in the face.

Your ally, Merit, ruthlessly murders civilians for absolutely no reason and without remorse. The game gives you tools to do the same without any consequences. Now I’m not gonna fault a game for allowing you to do evil things, but it certainly gives me pause when there’s absolutely no consequences to your actions. Syndicated barely provides any acknowledgement that it happened. I compare this to Deus Ex, which chides you for so much as walking into the lady’s bathroom.

My final problem is the way you acquire upgrades in the game. After defeating a foe, you jack into their skull and auto-extract a chip from their brain. It’s grody. Still, the absolute worst thing the game has to offer is the suicide ability. And I find it ridiculous that there wasn’t a greater outcry from players of the game for how abhorrent this treatment of life is. Then again, I have to remember that this came out in 2012, when EA was still, “The Worst Company in the World.”

Sidebar: Co-0p was the highlight of this game at it’s release, but sadly there’s far too few players online to justify pursuing this game mode. If you can find a friend or three with another copy and the same platform (Origin, PS3, or Xbox 360), this would be worth pursuing. But it does require a lot of setup and hardware to make possible. I didn’t have a chance to try this.

When I talk about games maturing as a medium, I never thought about how games handle the subject of suicide, let alone “suicide powers.” But I live in comfort that only three years later, suicide powers in a video game seems so tactless that it would be criticized to death. Just think about how Hatred was universally panned by critics for it’s lack of tact. Nevertheless, this leaves me at a strange juncture where I want to recommend the game for the super-challenging boss battles, but must also wag my finger at the disgraceful way it handles the horrors of self-termination.

About M. Joshua Cauller

M. Joshua is a missionary to his basement — where he leads a videogames-and-spiritaul-formation group called GameCell. He makes indie game trailers by day, which you can see at mjoshua.com. You can also follow him on Twitter.