Syndrome is a collaboration between Bigmoon Games & Camel 101, Bigmoon being involved with Lichdom: Battle Mage, Alekhine’s Gun & Jagged Alliance: Back in Action to name a few, while Camel 101 only have one other game under their belt – the real-time-strategy title Mechs & Mercs Black Talons.
Both are pretty small studios, but they take care and pride in what they are doing, crafting their art and quick to squash bugs on reports from users. Lichdom, as an example, had a REALLY bad framerate on its Xbox One and PS4 release, but Bigmoon kept at it and now they game is a lot more playable and the framerate issues are sorted.
Syndrome takes the sci-fi survival horror of numerous movies and games and mixes things up a bit. It feels like the inspiration is taken from Alien Isolation, but also throw in a bit of System Shock 2 & Cryostasis for good measure, then add a bit of Event Horizon (the great movie starring Laurence Fishburne & Sam Neill), mixed with the claustrophobic-isolated atmosphere of the Alien movie franchise and away you go.
You wake from a cryosleep, on board the Valkenburg; dazed and confused, your radio springs to life as you learn there are a few people trapped and you need to get the power restored on the ship. As you start exploring, you notice droids are dotted about, but powered down. A lack of crew members and generally a bit too quiet, and upon further investigation you start discovering bodies with missing limbs and strung up. Dotted about, after restoring the power, you’ll find PDAs, much like Doom 3 with snippets of information in the form of personal logs and emails on computers. These items help you start building up a picture of just what has gone on here. Once a few tasks like the power restoration and getting the engines up and running (essentially after getting a keycard from the medical center), you learn some marines had brought an artefact on board and the crew started acting strange. Many have been killed, but others are now roaming the ship, mutated with mechanical fittings (think Star Trek‘s Borg crossed with the early enemies from System Shock 2).
The gameplay will take you to most corners of the vast ship and its 8 decks. Early on, you’re tasked with firing up the engine, but that, in itself, has numerous tasks attached to it. So here, you start venturing further into the bowels, to get through an adjoining tunnel – for example, you have to venture to a lower deck, retrieve a tool which will open the small access ways, in turn getting you past a fire. Then, head towards the medical bay, spotting a detention area on the left, collect an access card and then head back to the lower deck, unlock the detention centre, head back there and use a round saw to retrieve the corpse’s hand for security clearance and so on. There’s a lot of back and forth in this game, going down various dimly-lit corridors, and the like.
Now, the enemies – in Alien Isolation, there is just one creature and numerous robots to avoid/hide or destroy. Syndrome sees the crew mutated so you have the option of stealth or out-and-out combat. The tool you get, which is like a large rigger’s wrench, is also a weapon. There are guns, but ammo is very sparse so keeping hold of them is a must for harder encounters that escalate. I have found, in most cases, the stealth goes out the window (I do like stealth games, but Syndrome is really hard going), and you can take enemies out in the same way as System Shock 2: step forward and hit then step back, rinse and repeat to take them out. Like I have mentioned previously, you’re contacted occasionally with various objectives from a crew member who’s holed up somewhere. At other times, you’ll need to find PDAs that have specific door codes, often searching proactively search to locate these if you hit a dead end.