If you've ever had a job you hated - and the chances are, you've had more than one - spare a thought for Francis Young. Mr Young works for West Meld Solutions, introduced by the billboard outside as "an Aspari company". West Meld Solutions deals in biomechanical upgrades, and it seems as if Young isn't too happy here. He's just been fired for a list of crimes that includes sabotage and inappropriate behaviour.
I'm not exactly sure what Mr Young did, but I'm pretty sure it was worse than setting his colleague's stapler in a bowl of jelly.
When we finally catch up with him, he's behind a door marked "Customer Relations". He's having seven shades kicked out of him by a security guard, while another watches on with a bored expression. In any other game, we might rescue Mr Young, but that's not what goes down today. In Syndicate, we use our Breach powers to hack into the brain of one of the guards, who then promptly executes both Young and the other guard before shooting himself in the head. As the suicidal cop terminates himself, he falls through a glass window, allowing us to progress.
On evidence of this first demo, that's Syndicate in a nutshell. You can't even open a door without murdering three people first, and two of them are too busy duffing up the third to notice their impending doom.
This first demo is an excerpt from an early mission, Executive Search, in which you've been tasked with retrieving a microchip from inside the head of Gary Chang - one of the leading specialists at West Meld. I'm not going to cover the entire narrative span of the demo, as you can see it for yourself here. What I am going to talk about is the way the game looks and plays.
Since the official reveal, Syndicate has been disparaged by critics in two distinct camps: those who think the game looks like a rip-off of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and those who are dismayed that an isometric strategy game has been remade as an FPS.
On the former charge at least, it's clear that Starbreeze is taking unwarranted flak. Syndicate shares a certain affinity for gloominess and oversized video screens, but both of these have long been a staple of the Ooh-It's-A-Bit-Grim-In-The-Future aesthetic; Blade Runner references are all but mandatory for this sort of thing. In gameplay terms, the two games have little in common. Syndicate is very much a run-and-gun FPS, and where Deus Ex forces you to be sparing with your cyberpunk powers, here you'll be busting them out every other minute. A gun turret drops down from the ceiling, if you hack it (sorry, Breach it) to target your foes. A trio of guards approach; you Breach one guy's weapon so that it explodes, thinning the mob.
Since all of these powers are fuelled by kills there's a clear reward for persistent murder, even if the victim is an innocent bystander. Surprise a scientist as he uses a vending machine, and you can curb-stomp him into a wet pulp - a neat moment of irony that effectively turns a snacker into a snackee. Cinematic executions can be triggered with a quick click of the right stick, instantly recalling Assault on Dark Athena.
Indeed, it's no surprise that Syndicate recalls Starbreeze's previous forays into the first person genre, albeit with a greater emphasis on gunplay. Shooting feels solid, and this initial demo does a good job of demonstrating the range of lethal toys on offer, including the Gauss Gun - which locks onto enemies and then sprays out tracking bullets - and the Persuade Breach, which brainwashes lone foes into fighting on your side.
If you remember the original Syndicate (and there are at least five of you who do), you'll probably be frothing at the mouth now - because the old Gauss Gun was more or less a rocket launcher. On a similar note, the Persuadertron in previous games could rally vast mobs of civilians (and rival agents) to your cause, but here it appears to snare lone foes who invariably get killed in seconds. Both weapons are still fun to use, but bear little resemblance to their predecessors. The obvious concern is that this assessment will also hold true for the game as a whole - especially if you're in the second of the two camps I mentioned earlier.
Starbreeze argues that a straight-up remake of the original simply wouldn't work. I can't say I agree, but I certainly understand why a developer would be reluctant to make an action strategy game at a time when the genre is an endangered species. In any case, there's little to be gained from dwelling on what we don't have. This new Syndicate certainly has its strengths: it's grimly atmospheric and revels in detailed nastiness, much as the Riddick games did in their day. There's a good chance that this will be a decent FPS; whether or not it'll be Syndicate in anything but name, that's another matter entirely.