Ever wanted to play a really bad first-person rip-off of Dead Space? No? Then you'll probably want to give Syndrome a pass.
It seems I really know how to pick bad games to review lately. After the total snorefest that was Obduction, I thought I was going to be back on track with Syndrome. Its trailer made it look like a cool first-person survival horror in the style of Dead Space. In fact, it turns out it's a lot like Dead Space as its plot, setting, and enemies are essentially the same: Soldiers bring an "artefact" aboard a futuristic spaceship, people start going crazy and attacking one another, then they transform into bloodthirsty creatures. The creatures themselves even resemble the necromorphs although admittedly, they are much more comical-looking. Anyway, in terms of quality, the two games couldn't be more different.
First, a PSA: this PlayStation 4 version of Syndrome currently can't be completed due to a bug about halfway through. While trying to crawl through a duct to a mission objective, you get stuck and can't progress even though the end of the duct is open. Going on Syndrome's trophy completion rate at the time of writing this, no one else has made it past this part either. Of course, this sort of thing can be fixed with a patch but sadly, it's only one of many unforgivable bugs that plague the gameplay.
It's clear right from the get-go that Syndrome is going to be a clunky experience. Just navigating the main menu feels awkward and unresponsive as it takes way too long for something to be selected. Sadly, this clunkiness gets much worse once you start playing. Your character's movements are clumsy and unresponsive and it's easy to get caught on walls and objects as you're moving about. It's not just me; it happens to the enemies, too. Some objects can be walked through and there are even invisible walls. Also, some animations don't work properly. For example, when you try to open some of the lockers, their lock just flies across the room and the doors stay shut. Another weird feature is that your character keeps randomly gasping. This sometimes makes sense when there's something creepy onscreen but most of the time, you're just reading a text log or looking around a safe area and he's quivering in terror at nothing.
The technical issues are the most infuriating, however. As I usually play with an inverted Y-axis, the worst one for me is that Syndrome resets you to the "normal" way of playing every time you load or use an elevator (which happens a lot). This means having to repeatedly go into the options menu and change it back every few minutes. I've noticed this trend of games not remembering your Y-axis choice a few times since I started reviewing games for Video Chums. It seems to be a strange hallmark of badly made games that haven't been given proper attention by their developers. It doesn't stop there, though. Another weird bug usually turns up every few minutes of play. The first time I encountered an enemy, the attack and defend controls stopped working so I had no choice but to be pummelled to death. Other times, the map button stopped working. Once, I fell through the floor into a black void. When I reloaded my save, two enemies were right on top of me and started attacking me instantly.
On another occasion, I opened a display console and there was no way to back out of it. I couldn't even use the Options button to exit to the main menu so I just had to shut the game off and remember not to use that screen again. Another restart was caused by me killing a robot that backed me into a corner. As their bodies just stand in situ when killed, it blocked me from walking past it.
All these game-breaking glitches mean that a lot of your time is spent redoing stuff through no fault of your own. This is compounded by Syndrome having a woefully outdated save system. You can only save manually and in certain places. This wouldn't be so bad if Syndrome weren't broken and unfair but as it is, it's just a terrible design choice. You often get killed by enemies unavoidably and a couple of times, one of them spawned on top of me and insta-killed me. I assume he was suffering from the same slow loading times as the elevator rides. Because of these pitfalls, I often found myself specifically travelling to certain floors on the ship just to use their save stations. The problem with this is that you have to sit through two long load screens to get there and back plus re-invert your controls, too.
Even if you're not playing cautiously, you'll still be subjected to countless loading screens. This is because Syndrome repeatedly tasks you with backtracking through the same handful of areas. Complete a task on one deck and you're almost certain to be immediately assigned one on another. Do that and it's back to the deck that you were just on; then back again and so on. This ensures that ninety percent of the gameplay consists of running through the same empty corridors and sitting through loading screens.
When you encounter an enemy, you're just as likely to laugh as you are to scream. Syndrome's graphics would be unimpressive for last gen and the AI is horrendous. Monsters can frequently be seen walking into one another or getting stuck on walls or objects. Some of their swaggering walk cycles also look outright hilarious. There are a couple of effective scripted scares but honestly, any game can make you jump by having something flash up onscreen with a loud sound cue. For each one that works, there are several that fall flat usually due to the outmoded character and game design.
All in all, Syndrome is a buggy, frustrating mess that doesn't make the slightest effort to be original. It feels like a dull, half-finished amateur project and I was relieved when it broke halfway through and stopped me from playing it any more.
- + A couple of effective creepy moments
- - Riddled with glitches and can't even be completed in its present state
- - Archaic save system that forces repetition
- - Incredibly derivative story and setting