FLOATING IN A TIN CAN
Syndrome opens with the main character awakening inside a cryostasis pod aboard a large space vessel. Things immediately go awry when he discovers his fellow crewmates are not only missing from their pods, but also quite dead with their intestines inconveniently used as makeshift Halloween decorations. Don’t you hate it when that happens?
Contacted by two separate survivors who each claim the other is behind this, it’s up to you as the generic protagonist to traverse a drifting ship, get it started, and survive whatever horrors await. Unfortunately, not all of them were intended by the developer.
I tried so hard to like this game, and gave it plenty of chances. The overall atmosphere is great as you walk cautiously down empty hallways in first-person, stepping over dismembered corpses, and finding ways to get around damaged portions of the ship. It not only calls back to the aforementioned Alien: Isolation with its building suspense, but also matches that game’s high quality production values — on the surface.
I haven’t played a game this buggy in a very long time. Syndrome is a PC game, but also touted full gamepad support via an Xbox One controller — and that’s important to me. I have the left hand of a shriveled, arthritic old man which makes WASD controls tough to handle. Unfortunately, the controller support was half-assed at launch.
Movement was somehow more floaty than with a keyboard, looking around was jerky and sluggish even at maximum sensitivity settings, and each button press had an unforgivably long delay. Despite this, I was willing to push through because the game was that intriguing in the first hour. Then I reached my first major glitch in the form of a frozen in-game computer screen. Once reaching the screen with a controller plugged in, it was impossible to click on anything or even back out. That was troubling, but also very early in the experience, so I was happy to start a new game and try again.
Same problem. Luckily I had bothered to save at a nearby wall console this time, so I unplugged the controller, closed the game, opened it again, and went to the computer with usable mouse and keyboard controls. Successfully unlocking the next area through computer as intended, I saved again and repeated the previous steps in reverse to use the controller once more.
Another in-game menu had the same glitch. Dammit. I quit! Surely a patch would release eventually, so I waited. To Camel 101’s credit, they indeed had a patch ready one week after release — one that fixed that progress-halting bug and also added support for Xbox 360 controllers.
Continuing from where I left off, the game’s well-crafted environments sucked me in yet again. The general eeriness is on-point, particularly in moments like when you turn down a fiery corridor and see two potentially dangerous figures waiting at the end. Drawing closer with a real sense of dread, you eventually see that they are merely two corpses hanging from cables. That’s clever stuff.
When at last you encounter bloodthirsty enemies, all of which look like the twisted merging of machine and man, things fall apart a bit. The designs are quite good (for the first enemy type, at least — I didn’t glimpse any others), but their animations are comically twitchy and unintentionally janky. Being swarmed by a large number of them was still intense, but I was laughing during the first few one-on-one encounters. That’s not good.
Sadly, I didn’t see very much of the game before giving up on it entirely. The insane sluggishness of the menus remained even post-patch, which made using health items a huge pain. Cycling through journal entries and command prompts at terminals is even more frequent and just as slow.
Worst of all, I seem to have experienced a game-breaking glitch. Upon finding the computer hacking tool and decrypting the first locked system, enemies swarmed yet again and forced me to flee. Making it to safety, I saved my game — and only then noticed that the hacking tool remained raised on my screen. Try as I might, I found no way to lower or unequip it, meaning my melee weapon was unusable as a result. Since there is no manual or any other way provided to view the game’s controls, I can only assume it’s a bug. Refusing to start another new game, my time with Syndrome ended there.
Even so, glitches and comical foes weren’t the only problems. The voice acting is also quite bad. The side characters sounded okay, but the main character’s steady, almost upbeat line readings never matched the horrors around him. Not that the script did the actor any favors. After finding a medical saw and tracking down a dead security officer whose fingerprints were needed to open a door, the main character shouted “Eww! This is so gross!” while severing the man’s hand. That’s… pretty bad.
THE VERDICT: 2 OUT OF 10
Syndrome looked to be the deranged love child of Alien: Isolation and Dead Space, but is saddled by a laundry list of problems. It should not have been released in this state, because polish and extra attention would have greatly benefited this game. It would have been playable, at least.
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