Syndrome: Haven't We Been Here Before? A Review
All my life, I've wanted nothing more than a proper successor to System Shock 2. Bioshock was always way too easy, even on the hardest setting. Dead Space relied on jump scares and didn't create the necessary level of existential dread. Even Amnesia was just Myst on a very bad drug trip. There hasn't been a game that blends claustrophobia, outright horror, desperate combat, and the feeling that something is terribly, terribly wrong in the same way as Looking Glass Games' classic first person horror/RPG/Adventure. When I saw Syndrome, though, I had hope. The claustrophobic corridors, non-working lights, and twisted imagery made me think of my old standby for any list of horror games. I had a lot of hope.
And unfortunately, most of those hopes were dashed. Syndrome isn't a bad game, it just succumbs to it's flaws more than rises to the occasion.
Syndrome is one of what is becoming a huge genre of stealth/survival horror games taking place in poorly lit corridors full of unnerving imagery. In this case, the poorly lit corridors are on board a malfunctioning spaceship, with the player taking the role of a crewmember on said spaceship trying to fix the malfunctions and somehow survive the numerous warring factions and creepy creatures that are running rampant all throughout.
I give it credit for this, at least-- where most games go with a generic haunted house or woods and try to get some transference off of the grandfathers of spooky corridor games (Slender and Amnesia), Syndrome does take its cues from a forgotten ancestor of the survival horror games by setting itself on a spaceship where something has gone horribly, horribly wrong. It's an effective opening, one that goes from having you fix things, to unrest on the ship, to outright horror that shouldn't have been telegraphed in the manner it was by all the game's press.
But there's an issue at the heart of Syndrome, and it's that none of it is new. From the flickering hallways, to the sudden appearance of mutilated bodies, to the dead crewmembers hanging from sparking pipes, it's all kind of old hat. Even someone as susceptible to jump scares as I am derives no pleasure from something that only seems to go through by-the-numbers spook 'em ups. It's got some interesting ideas, but they were interesting ideas twenty years ago, and then got ground down through repetition. The atmosphere just isn't there any more. It's already clear from the outset who's manipulating you, which things are going to go wrong, and where everything is. The problem, however, expands even beyond that.
The game also makes you backtrack a lot. Backtracking, long known as the scourge of every adventure gamer and gamer in general, is an egregious sin in horror games. Imagine a haunted house where they just made you wander down the same hallway four or five times in a row with different scares each time. Not a lot of fun, is it? Now imagine you had to look around for things while wandering along that same hallway. Any more fun? No. No, it's not. Syndrome is like that. You have to backtrack to find tools, backtrack to figure out what to do next, backtrack to the next scare, etc, etc. Reusing backgrounds is actually kind of admirable next to "we didn't render enough space for you to explore, so go back to this earlier level." It wrecks the atmosphere, and frustrates the player more than disturbs them
Finally, there are serious issues with controller support. As in, the game forces it whenever you have a controller attached. As in, you can't switch it off without unplugging the controller. Which, for someone with a setup like mine, is completely unacceptable, since I have to basically yank all my USB peripherals out so the game doesn't think my camera is a controller and force support. That, in a modern game, is unacceptable.
While Syndrome does some things that are vaguely admirable, most of it is not. This is a game best left avoided, even before one gets to click "play." I wish it were something better, but it appears we've reached the nadir of the survival horror genre and will probably never learn.
Final score: 2/5
Full disclosure: The reviewer received a steam key for the purposes of reviewing this game