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Syndicate: A culturally and politically relevant shooter?

A look at the industry's worst kept secret...

The timing couldn't have been better. During a period of extraordinary civil unrest across the UK, Starbreeze - makers of The Darkness and The Chronicles of Riddick - unveiled their long-rumoured Syndicate remake to select members of the press.

While peaceful anti-Police protests quickly mutated into violent acts of greed throughout the country during August's London riots, we sat down with a game based on the idea of an economically divided society; a game where big businesses (the titular Syndicates) fight a very real war for consumers all over the globe.

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And while the wealthy and middle-classes enjoy the benefits of a technological revolution brought about by an implant called the Dart 6 chip, poorer elements of society violently resist in lower-city slums.

These are hefty themes for a first-person shooter to tackle, and although the announcement's timing is curiously appropriate, the devs insist that they're not looking to moralise. "There's definitely an ambiguity as you progress through the story," says executive producer Jeff Gamon.

"No one's pristine and I think that applies to the Syndicates as much as it does to the rebels in the Down Zone. How misguided are they? The story itself doesn't judge." Set in a fictional but frighteningly possible future, the year is 2069 and you step into the boots of top Eurocorp agent Miles Kilo.

AGENTS OF CHANGE
The Agents exist to enforce the wills of their employers and to wage war on the competition in a bid to win a bigger market share of consumers - all hooked on Dart 6 - and the commerce that chip brings to tech corporations.

It's a shooter that channels Crysis 2, Deus Ex and Mass Effect 2 as gaming influences via clean sci-fi stylings and brutal gunplay, mixed with special abilities. Like so many before them, the developers themselves see seminal sci-fi flicks like Blade Runner and The Terminator as their main cultural influences.

"The original Syndicate's backstory was very similar - the growth of Syndicates and their aggressive expansion, so we're taking that theme," says Gamon. "Y'know - the chip society, the ability to control through technology..." It's a world ripe for revival.

The original Syndicate was an isometric real-time strategy game, where players controlled a squad of four cyborg agents who violently fight for control in a futuristic, cyberpunk world. It was a perfect fit for a games industry dominated by the Amiga and PC, and the possibilities of our digital future - a snapshot of tech-obsession in the 90s.

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The remake is born to capture another technology flashpoint, this time with a similarly healthy dose of paranoia and pessimism.

And it's first-person. Perhaps that's a comment on the way technology has become an intrinsic part of who we, as individuals, are and the way we define ourselves through that technology (themes tackled in Deus Ex). Or maybe it's just that first-person shooters sell?

"When you go back and look at the original game, and you see how over the two decades technology's moved on and being immersed in more visceral experiences, it's exciting to be in that world, so putting yourself in the eyes of a character - the Agent - felt like a very exciting proposition and something that we all got excited about doing," says Art Director John Miles. "We've got something we're very proud of that doesn't feel like it's trodden over what was in the past - it's just a natural evolution and growth from it."

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