Syndicate: American Revolt

Syndicate: American Revolt
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Game Name: Syndicate: American Revolt
Platforms: DOS
Publisher(s): Electronic Arts
Developer(s): Bullfrog
Genre(s): Real time strategy
Release Date: 1993
Notes: Second hand or in the Syndicate Plus collection.

American Revolt reminds me of an ongoing challenge that I haven’t faced in a while – what to do with games that have so thoroughly trampled me that I almost don’t feel qualified to write about them. In the past I’ve quietly swept these aside and moved on, but since I’m trying for regular content these days, let’s give this a shot. There’s very little information out there on Syndicate’s expansion pack, except that “it’s really hard!” Today, we’ll take a look at why it’s so hard.

Some missions intentionally separate your squad.

In my review of Syndicate so many years ago, I talked about a point of diminishing return – a point where players would either find the game too frustrating, or too easy. American Revolt is for that second group of master CEOs looking for a worthy challenge.┬áTo be very clear, this pack is intended as a high-level, end-game expansion to the original. You will start with all the top tier mods and weapons researched, fully-kitted spare agents in the cryo tanks, all of Asia, Europe, and Africa under your thumb (with taxes rolling in accordingly), and a fairly padded bank account. If this isn’t a big clue that the pack’s 21 new missions are going to be a serious challenge, it should be. Because it is. And they are.

As is spelled out in the title, North and South America have revolted from under your syndicate’s rule and its territories have been scooped up, once again, by rival corporations. You’ll be doing the same kill/protect/capture mission types from the original, though with new scenarios and maps – these are the same regions, but not the same missions. You’ll have no new mods to research, and only two additional weapons. One is a devastating air strike that needs some time to deploy, but causes explosions in a wide area. The other is a cloaking device that keeps cops off your back, but enemy agents will see right through it.

In the original Syndicate, rolling through towns in Group Mode with a full pack of miniguns was an exceptionally viable strategy. A combination of this and Panic Mode was certainly how I played the game – and with a fair amount of success at that. American Revolt’s first task seems to be to shut this lazy tactic down cold. Frequent enemy vehicles and swarms of agents armed with Gauss guns (rocket launchers) make short work of a clustered four-man squad. A similar increase in their use of long-range lasers makes for situations where only your first two agents are firing and taking damage, while your back two agents patiently wait their turn to die.

Roughly, an image of every mission in the pack.

Missions are also just outright merciless. Want a combat sweep against 56 (!!) enemy agents with level three mods and lasers? It’s here. Multiple Gauss squads rushing from at least three directions right from the start? You bet! How about protection missions while enemy agents swarm toward your tender civilian charge, who is set alight from only one or two bullets? And of course, many missions where enemy syndicates can use the new air strike weapon against you. Better keep moving!

So the reputation is well-deserved. You’ll need to play the missions until you know exactly what your plan is, then execute it without a second’s hesitation. One of the earliest missions gives you literally four seconds to get a single agent in range to protect a VIP from six enemy agents. If you don’t get it exact, he’s toast. At least you can save and reload easily enough.

That’s pretty much the nature of all the missions. You are set against ridiculous odds, and you will bash your head against this metaphorical brick wall until one of you eventually crumbles. If you like Syndicate, and you like a challenge, American Revolt certainly serves one up. Unfortunately, these increased demands also end up highlighting some frustrating flaws in Syndicate’s interface.

Your inability to form groups smaller than four becomes a real problem, as is the general choppiness of scrolling the camera. You’re not explicitly timed in these missions, but to overcome the initial rush of bad guys, you will pretty much have to formulate a game plan that involves always doing something. Managing agents, their inventory, and their drug levels – without even a pause key – quickly becomes no small feat. You only get hotkeys for agent selection, but not for drug settings (other than Panic) or inventory. If the exact same game, interface, and engine were turn-based instead, there wouldn’t be a problem – in real-time, it’s brutal.

The new air strike. Bombers will make a few passes over the area you target.

You have to rely on the AI here, and it feels primitive when placed against these challenges. Clicking a spot is a gamble as to whether the agent will make it there at all – not helpful when you’re trying to coordinate four of them individually. They will not pick a best weapon for each situation (only in a particular order per a hardcoded list), so you can’t simply drop a rounded kit into their inventory and turn them loose. You will need to personally direct when to switch to lasers for enemy APCs, or when to go long-range against enemy snipers, because they are totally incapable of adapting to new situations or mixed groups of enemy types. Syndicate’s restricted viewscreen and minimap further makes it difficult to track what’s going on inside all the chaos.

Every mission can be beaten, as walkthroughs and plays on YouTube can attest. However, finding each solution will be more like a puzzle, and actually executing it is another matter entirely. I think this changes some of the open solution nature of the original Syndicate, but that’s probably a matter of personal preference. I’m also not that great at Syndicate in general, so no matter how much I thought I’d be interested, this pack really wasn’t for me.

The final addition here is an online multiplayer mode supporting up to 8 people across 10 maps. Each player commands their own 4-man squads, and the goal is always straight domination/deathmatch. It feels a bit like an afterthought – the maps don’t even have proper names – but I suppose some fun could have been had here in ’93. It requires NetBIOS, so you’ll need your IP addy and some tinkering if you want to mess with it now, and there’s resources here if you’re interested.

Overall, American Revolt is a pain, but then it’s supposed to be. It hails from the age when expansion packs were designed for players who had milked every last drop of content out of the base game, and it expects you to come in as a Syndicate expert. In short, it’s not for everyone – and most players will probably despise it. However, if you’re a Syndicate die-hard, there’s two somewhat lame new weapons, a new multiplayer mode you won’t get much use out of, but 21 great new missions that will push you right to your limit.

 

The Good

21 challenging new missions made for Syndicate vets. New multiplayer mode is a nice extra.

The Bad

Sluggish interface and basic AI aren’t really up to the pack’s demanding tasks and precision response windows. Makes for frustrating attempts to both place multiple agents tactically, and then make sure they actually respond as needed.

 

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