Developer: Camel 101
Publisher: Bigmoon Entertainment
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC, Mac
I’ve always been a fan of sci-fi horror games with titles like Alien Isolation, System Shock, and Dead Space being a few of my favourite releases over the years. Naturally then, I’d been eagerly anticipating Syndrome – a game that released on Steam last year but has finally made its way to consoles.
Whilst Syndrome desperately wants to offer a sci-fi horror experience like that found in the aforementioned titles though, it falls short with almost every aspect of its gameplay being bettered before by those other releases in one shape or another. It leaves the game feeling like a bit of a shoddy mess that even the most die-hard of sci-fi horror fans will have a hard time enjoying.
Syndrome sees you waking up from cryosleep on a spaceship and finding that something isn’t right, which is made obvious thanks to the mysterious voices telling you that everything has gone wrong and the fact that a lot of the other passengers of the ship are either missing, dead, or have turned into some strange creatures. It’s up to you to unravel the mystery of what exactly is going on, how you can fix it, and how you can escape with your life.
It’s not the most original of premises (nor does it develop into anything you wouldn’t have seen before), but it does enough to keep you feeling at least a little invested in the world. This is a sci-fi horror title that doesn’t focus on offering an in-depth narrative, but instead trying to provide thrills. The creepy atmosphere helps that, but the narrative itself can feel pretty forgettable in your adventure across the ship.
You’ll be doing a lot of sneaking around to evade enemies throughout Syndrome, which in effect could create some tense moments but in execution is a little bit naff. The game challenges you to sneak around, but there aren’t any effective stealth elements in place; you can’t carefully look around corners or hide from foes, but instead have to wing it and simply crouch-walk around and hope for the best. Now enemies do follow specific patrol routes so you can work out how to approach it in that sense, though that also means there’s plenty of trial-and-error involved and with enemies being quite tough it means you’ll suffer plenty of deaths from just trying to work out how to avoid them. Saving is a manual process at specific points too, so you there aren’t any real forgiving checkpoints in place to offer you a bit of a safety net in your approach.
It shows how one-dimensional the game could be; I never felt like levels were designed to offer the flexibility to find your own way around to evade enemies, but rather that there was a fixed route that you just had to time perfectly. It’s not the best approach for a game that focuses on a lot of stealth elements, especially when they’re so poorly executed.
Of course, you could take on the enemies in combat, but to be honest that’s just as flawed as the stealth mechanics. Whilst your melee attacks don’t really pack much of a punch, enemies are also incredibly quick and can dish out a lot of damage fast – they’ll also disrupt most of your attacks anyway, so unless you’re packing some heat you’re done for. You do get some weapons that can be more reliable, but in true survival horror fashion ammo is scarce so it isn’t the most effective means of getting through the game. Instead, the best approach to take is to try to sneak around or simply run from your foes, which as mentioned isn’t particularly great…
At least you’ve got the advantage that enemy AI is really stupid though, with enemies constantly getting stuck in the environment or walking into each other. It’s easy to trick them into simply running on the spot or into an object if you stand behind it too, leaving them completely stumped as to how to reach you. It’s a big flaw, but admittedly it’s something I took advantage of a lot throughout the game to evade some tricky situations, so I can’t complain too much.
I actually had to delay completing Syndrome because of a bug in the game that didn’t allow me to progress past a certain point, but at least a patch was released to fix this. It just shows there isn’t a whole lot of polish to the game though, which is also evident in other small bugs I encountered throughout the game such as getting stuck in the environment, seeing animation glitches, or suffering the occasional game-freeze here and there.
Syndrome’s main problem though is just that it isn’t a lot of fun to play. Whilst I’ve criticised the stealth and combat sections, there are moments during gameplay where they can work. However, the objectives you follow are just typically made up of boring fetch quests that’ll see you constantly backtracking across the same corridors over and over again. There’s no real excitement or sense of progression to proceedings, leaving me not only feeling baffled at what I was meant to be doing at times but also a bit bored too.
At least Syndrome does have some tense moments though – it is a horror game after all, and it does deliver plenty of tension as well as your typical jump scares and eerie noises that go bump in the night. Being a horror game fan this was something I could appreciate and Syndrome certainly had me on the edge of my seat at times. It’s just a shame that the gameplay wasn’t there to back it up.
Whilst the gameplay mechanics aren’t particularly great, the visuals don’t hold up as well either with some bland textures and poor character models on show throughout. The lighting effects can set up a good atmosphere at times and there are certainly areas of the ship that can be interesting, but for the most part it’s corridor upon corridor of drab greys and darkness.
It didn’t even manage to replicate the feeling of outer space that well; I looked out of a window to the stars early in the game, but it simply felt like a wall of repeated textures as opposed to a deep and vast galaxy. It’s probably a harsh criticism since most of the action just takes place within the ship anyway, but it did leave the exterior space setting feeling just as isolated as the ship itself.
One neat feature that Syndrome does offer is the inclusion of a virtual reality element to the game, with a survival mode on offer that pits you against waves of enemies. I tried it out for a bit on Playstation VR and there was definitely potential there for it to be quite neat, though the aforementioned drab combat mechanics prevent the experience from being a long-lasting one. Still, it’s a bonus for VR owners and gives them something interesting to try outside of the main campaign.
Being a horror fan, I really wanted to enjoy Syndrome. Unfortunately, some very lacking gameplay mechanics and a bland setting stop it from offering the gripping sci-fi horror experience I was hoping for. It just doesn’t get much right and whilst I can appreciate it was made by a smaller team on a smaller budget, there are simply too many better sci-fi titles available that offer a much more refined and gripping experience than Syndrome.
It can set up some tense moments throughout your adventure and the inclusion of a VR supported mode is a nice touch, but in all I’d find it difficult to recommend Syndrome to even the most die-hard of horror fans.