Now-a-days, it seems that most horror games go down two certain design paths: Either the route of Outlast and Amnesia where players must frantically run and hide in order to survive overpowering enemies, or the route of P.T. which often becomes just a haunted house of timed scares and thrills. Yet there is another way; a way one developer seems determined to bring back to its former greatness with a FPS horror title that brings together lateral thinking, brutal combat, and the nerve-wracking, high-tension experience of hide and seek all rolled into one. Maybe horror could become more innovative once again instead of being clones of one another?
Syndrome is set aboard a drifting space craft, where you awaken from a deep hibernation (like any other FPS horror game) and find everything has gone awry. Dead bodies litter the corridors, fires rage from debris, and people have very neatly written out, in blood, words like ‘pain’, ‘suffering’, and ‘oh dear, my head hurts’. So, as you can imagine, everything is going swimmingly for our protagonist, though it’s not going as well from a creative point of view. What didn’t sit well with me within the first half-hour was the lack of originality or anything engaging.
To be fair, the majority of visuals are pretty excellent and the game does feature some superb sound design. The lighting is, properly, the most gorgeous aspect in terms of the visual presentation, with the bloom effects and the vast detailing that shadows create making an organic-looking game world. There were some areas which held a vast amount of detail while others looked unfinished and empty with repeating textures on the floor and walls, which just made it looked rushed and lazily put together. The main thing that really bugged me for a couple of hours was the intense darkness engulfing most of the game world. Yes, you do get a flash light, but it was only after 3 hours of stumbling around in the dark that I got one.
The lack of lighting in some places does not help with navigation. I found myself easily lost most of the time though, to the games credit, it does make exploration an important game element. But finding objects can prove a little difficult as many don’t stand out or grab your attention at first glance. This is where the lack of lighting in the beginning doesn’t help in tracking down objects in some of the dark areas. But I did like the aspect of having to find things for myself. One or two moments did change the old formula of finding a key for a locked door into something more aesthetically interesting, even if the designers did take an idea from Doom revolving around cutting a hand off a body to pass a hand scan.
I’d get annoyed when repeating my tracks over and over again. This is due to the rather lazy format of mission objectives. Usually I found myself in a dull and painfully slow process of ‘go here, go back with new item, then return back to the original place’ and just keep going around in circles. For most of the game, I just kept going back and forth needlessly to complete an objective and the clunky movement just makes traversing sluggish and slow. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but for the first two hours of playing the game no combat took place to keep me on my toes.
Two hours of nothing but walking without any engagement of NPCs.
Syndrome works in a similar nature as Alien: Isolation, where you’ll have the ability to fight off your enemies or, in those extreme moments, run away and hide. It’s great that you have the choice to do either but, from what I played, NPCs aren’t a major obstacle in the game. Only once did I hide briefly from two enemies chasing me, but this wasn’t out of fear — I forgot you could block. Once I remembered, taking on even two enemies was fairly straightforward. Enemies are pretty easy to fight and, when I first saw the NPC-type I would face, I wasn’t scared. I actually just felt nothing. I charged at it to see what would happen and the fight and end result was disappointing.
With Alien: Isolation, you either get killed in one hit or are overwhelmed to the point where you just have to run. It makes sense to hide or run away from something so powerful compared to you. I hope bigger enemies emerge in the full version of Syndrome. Something that would actually kill you in one hit would make the experience a little more exciting and make better use of the hide mechanics, which are also limited to you hiding in lockers.
The build-up was more interesting, at least for the first half hour. Over two hours of exploring and nothing happened. Then, when I did come face-to-face with the first NPC, it was a rather dull introduction.
So, with 4 hours of play under my belt, what do I think of Syndrome? Not great, but with certain tweaks it could be a rather interesting game. It just lacks anything dynamic or mechanics to make the survival aspect compelling. It just feels like a long winded exploration game with minimal impact from NPCs and a rather unoriginal aspect of horror on display. It reminded me of those average mid-2000 PC games which felt clunky and out dated, but at least had some charm or interesting gameplay aspects. Syndrome looks to grab your attention but feels painfully average at times. It really didn’t make me feel invested enough to want to play more.
I do hope the full release shows more compelling enemies and less repetitive and long winded gameplay elements.
A preview code for Syndrome on PC was provided by Camel 101 for the purpose of this preview