Attempting to get back to classic survival horror, Syndrome has the atmosphere and ideas to make itself into something unique. The psychological threats work well to create a constantly tense environment and the expert sound design gives a very typical deep space setting some much needed teeth. However it suffers from a very slow start, coupled with too many back and forth fetch quests and a clunky feel to movement. Not deal-breakers, but it shows that Syndrome can be awkward enough to sabotage its own tension.
First Impressions Preview
A promising start that lacks initial direction.
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Waking from cryo-sleep you quickly find that the crew on board your deep space vessel are dead. Contacted by several survivors you make your way through the dirty great ship trying to unravel the mystery and stay alive while wondering who to trust.
The first few hours are spent running around the initial decks and restoring power and access to the engines. It’s a good way to immerse yourself in this Nostromo-like vessel but as it lacks the immediate draw of Alien Isolation’s atmosphere and Creative Assembly’s fidelity in detail, this first act dragged on a little too long for me.
There's a lot of dark in Syndrome. A lot
What doesn’t help with this is the constant back-tracking that you’ll be doing throughout these first few hours which tends to reduce the tension built up by the hanging bodies and bloodstains you initially see. Yes, there’s that staid stereotype that we’ve seen for many years alongside messages written in blood about pain, nightmares, and how the Advil hasn’t helped my Migraine.
However, the atmospheric lighting and echoing sound mix do an awesome job of keeping you tense and fearful of any surprises. Those jump scares appear rarely at first and your first encounter with the changed crew will be to run and hide. That’s not to say Syndrome is going the route of many survival horror games and giving you no means to fight back as you’ll be able to use a variety of firearms and blunt instruments to deal pain. Unsurprisingly though it restricts the ammo for these weapons and only offers them in locations that would realistically have it, making sure you spend more of your time scavenging and avoiding combat than running and gunning.
The lighting effects add to the atmosphere
I liked this approach as it didn’t make me feel totally helpless. I don’t want to run and hide in a locker every time a threat appears, I want to be able to weigh up my chances and take the risk if I need to. At the moment Syndrome seems to be heading along the path of allowing you exactly that though I found myself having to learn the strength and weaknesses of those enemies properly before getting it right.
Combat and the avoidance of it are only half of what Syndrome is going after as there’s a decent amount of back-story to be found. Either written on the walls in blood or in email logs and messages left strewn around by the deceased crew. Many of these are found only through exploration and the lack of hand-holding in this is great. Creeping along corridors and rummaging through offices to discover more of the mystery hits the right spot for me, though the story in these first half dozen hours has yet to really get going.
'ol Red Eyes is back
Performance & Graphics
Minimum System Requirements:
OS: Windows Vista 64-bit
Processor: Core i3 / AMD A6 2.4Ghz
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260 / AMD Radeon HD 5750. OpenGL 3.3
Storage: 9 GB available space
Recommended System Requirements:
OS: Windows 7 64-bit
Processor: Core i5 / AMD FX 2.4Ghz
Memory: 8 GB RAM
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 480 / AMD Radeon HD 5970. OpenGL 3.3
Storage: 9 GB available space
One of the many keys to a good survival horror game is the visual aesthetic. It isn’t enough to have atmospheric lighting and smoke filled corridors to create tension, at least not for me, and Syndrome struggles at time with exactly this. Though the lighting is indeed atmospheric and the flickering corridors make for some ideal scary places it doesn’t have quite the level of detail to bring its setting to life. Textures at times are bland and low resolution - take the lighting effects away to improve performance and they become even more paramount.
There’s a very heavy and clunky feel to movement and the way the camera sways when you take each step is overdone, leading to an occasional nauseating experience - not in the good way. A lot of objects in the world also look like you should be able to interact with them, or at least be pushed around but many are set in stone like granite obelisks. These are minor issues perhaps but when your game lives or dies on atmosphere these smaller issues tend to congeal into a bigger one.
Sound & Voice Acting
The sound design is pretty good with lots of creepy and disturbing audio cues that build tension and got my mouse covered in hand sweat (that sounded less disgusting in my head). Voice acting is a little less convincing from your survivors who couldn’t sound less like military or naval commanders/officers if they tried. Maybe that’s the point but it just felt a little off to me.
Syndrome has some great ideas here and I admire the approach and aim of the developers - the ability to mix combat with hiding is good and the atmospheric lighting and sound design are excellent. It means that Syndrome is radically different from a title like Outlast by being more than just a haunted house you run around in.
It’s just let down by a very slow first few hours and a lack of peril when it comes to the initial enemies. There’s also a case of ‘been here, done that’ with many aspects of its design but if it can make those first few hours more thrilling then I’d be interested in what it has to offer for the rest of its deep space ride. Syndrome is due to be released in Q2 2016.
Top Game Moment: Sawing off a deceased crew members hand to open a door.