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Syndicate: Why old-school fans should give EA a chance

Hands-on with the reboot's surprising co-op mode

Let's assume you're old enough to have played and loved the original Syndicate.

You may well be feeling a bit gloomy about EA's latest effort, then. Gone is the loftytactical viewpoint, the mean-spirited, peculiarly British humour, and the focus on brainwashing armies of civilians and strategically using them to do unspeakable things on your behalf.

Instead, it's surely just another shooter, right? You'll probably be running and gunning, ducking behind a wall and waiting for your health to regenerate, and at the climax to each level you'll almost certainly end up fighting an overblown boss of some kind - probably a malfunctioning robot with propellers for hands, or a Pomeranian with four heads. You still get dogs with four heads in shooters, don't you?

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The thing is, Syndicate may not be the game you want it to be, but there's also a chance that it's not the game you now fear it is, either. The single-player's shaping up to be nasty and violent and weighty, with the same kind of murderous flair that Starbreeze, the reboot's developer, brought to the likes of Riddick and The Darkness.

You can't run and gun, health is something you'll really have to manage in order to stay alive, and if there is a four-headed dog lurking in there somewhere, it's probably being kept back for DLC.As for the separate four-player co-op campaign? Well, maybe you should check out the new demo. Seriously. You might be pleasantly surprised.

First surprise? There are gentle nods to the original Syndicate everywhere you look. That Western Europe mission you can now download from Xbox Live or PSN is loosely inspired by the Western Europe mission that kicked off the original game, for starters.

There's the same basic assassination objective, the same sky-scraping streetlights, and the same warren of industrial buildings to work your way through as you head towards your target. Leather trench coats flailing, rain lancing in, and troops scattering: either the old Rasmus line-up has joined the army (topical!), or,new perspective aside, Starbreeze's game is actually starting to look a little like classic Syndicate.

And while it doesn't often play like Syndicate, it at least plays like an online shooter based around some of Syndicate's cherished ideals. Your squad of four will have to stick together and work together if you want to survive even the simplest of the co-op campaign's missions, and you'll be moving through levels built for a much slower, more thoughtful kind of combat than anything you might encounter in a Halo or a COD.

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Progress is hard-won and incrementalhere as you clear out rooms, open up new areas, and inch closer to your objective, and you've always got plenty of things to think about besides who to shoot first, and where your next grenade is going.

For one thing, you'll have carefully selected upgrades for your chips before battle, allowing you to boost your movement speed when bleeding out, say, or improve the strength of your armour.

You'll also have handpicked a range of breach apps. These are futuristic hacking tools that let you to heal a team-mate with a squeeze of the left bumper, perhaps, or increase your entire squad's damage-dealing abilities, or convince an enemy's gun to explode painfully in his face the next time he tries to point it at you.

Breaching allows you to change roles constantly, moving from the frontlines to support whenever necessary, and shifting from super-soldier to super-nurse in seconds. It's smart tactical stuff, and who doesn't secretly think of themselves as super-nurse material, anyway?

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