Syndicate is a conversion of the classic PC isometric combat game by R-Comp Interactive.
Where to get it...
R-Comp are now have their Acorn version of Syndicate ready so you can order your coppy from their website by credit card or by the more conventional methods if you so please.
Syndicate costs £29 and includes the levels on CD-ROM so you'll obviously need a CD player and an 8MB or more RiscPC, A7000 or A5000 to play. See the full review which is now online.
Right from the start I'm not going to even pretend that I don't know exactly what Syndicate's about - it's one of my favourite games of all time, and it was apparently my email asking about the likelihood of it getting converted to the Acorn range that sparked R-Comp's interest in it. Although Acorn Arcade prefers two reviewers per major release for full reviews to cover eventualities similar to this, just because I like the game on other platforms doesn't mean the conversion is going to get an easy ride, far from it - I know what I'm looking for from the game and my expectations are high.
For those of you not familiar with the game though, picture a time when world domination miesters Bullfrog had wowed the world with Populous, Powermonger and Populous II, where cute little guys wandered around a small chunk of planet building cute little houses and castles as the player took on the rôle of God. For their fourth release they decided to really up the stakes with a brooding cyberpunk retro-future style and heavy weapons for a game which was described as "Totally amoral... and more fun than sex" in the computer press of the day. From a blimp high above futuristic cities you take direct control of up to four cyborg killing machines, arming them with increasingly powerful weapons and upgrading their bodies with cybernetic implants.
There's a little of everything in there, blended superbly in a way that fans of the classic space game Élite will appreciate - the strategy quotient is quite high, as you have to decide how to tax your growing empire of conquered territories to best provide you with enough cash to research new technology and buy new arms (sometimes in both senses of the phrase!), and as the missions are many and varied - combat sweeps to kill every enemy agent in the city, assasination squads, kidnapping, mindwashing, escort duties, stealing of weapons and vehicles - there's enough to keep your interest for quite some time. Especially as you can steal various vehicles to drive round in, pick weapons up from the corpses of your past victims, or cause collateral damage and blow up civilian targets out of spite!
If there was one criticism when the game was first released it was that the original Syndicate was a little too easy, because the difficulty level was toned down after playtesters found it too taxing, and in the real world ninja gamesplayers found that they could complete it in a few days. Thankfully R-Comp have converted the American Revolt extra missions version, so if you do find Syndicate easy then believe me, you're in for a shock when you revisit America.
And so what of R-Comp's conversion of this Amiga and PC classic? Although not fully released yet, I played the game for quite some time at the recent Wakefield show, and have recieved a pre-release single level demo; believe me folks, you're in for a treat. From the lush FMV sequences at the start of the game and at the end of levels to the satisfying boom of the monorail being taken out with your rocket launchers from half a city away, this is the superior PC version made flesh on the Acorn platform, and then some. The scrolling is smoother, the sound effects have been cleaned up, the code optimised to give 20% more speed and there's a nice little touch where the selection of Syndicate and American Revolt has been moved to a Risc OS window when you load the game. On recent PCs speed and sound is a problem in that on Pentiums the sound slows the game to a crawl and on some earlier machines just trying to get sound at all will stop the game working, yet on the Acorns I've played it on both StrongARM and ARM 700 machines with no noticable difference; it's rumoured to work even on ARM3 machines which we'll try and confirm before the full review. In fact on the StrongARM machine I used a feature which, while not exclusive to the Acorn version was not know to be included in the previous versions, where the press of a key can speed the game up by up to four times - and it was still running like a dream.
Downsides? well, so far there are none; you'll need a CD Rom drive to play it, but this is to be expected for a PC conversion and you really don't want to do as much disc-swapping as I did on the Amiga to get an inferior version; and as with Doom you have to have some form of MIDI capability to get music, but apart from the intro music and maybe the endgame tune you're not missing much, and R-Comp are still trying to find something suitable for a tracker-style playing anyway so music across the board isn't completely out of the question.
There must have been something that kept Bullfrog's playtesters up until 7 in the morning playing a game on the unfamiliar Acorn platform that they'd already released some years before, and that "something" is coming to a screen near you. Be sure to look out for one of the classic games of all time.