If you, like me, at one point in your very earliest days of gaming owned a Sega Mega Drive you may have stumbled upon a game called Syndicate (Yes, it was on PC too!). I, the lad that I was at the time, had no idea what renting out this game from a local video store would eventually culminate in. If I ever had an origin story, they’d put that moment in there. It’s right up there with Batman’s parents getting got. But holy hot potatoes, did I play that game every single weekend I could persuade (read annoy until they gave in to my evil demands) my folks to rent it from the store for me. And eventually the store gave me the game on my birthday.
It’s now almost two decades later. And to be honest, when Geoff asked me to review Satellite Reign I had already forgotten about Syndicate (even after he literally said “it’s like Syndicate”). But as I watched the trailer for the game on YouTube, somewhere deep down in the folds of my aging brain, a spark met another spark and things happened. And I remembered.
Let’s just outright say then that I’m a fan of all things Syndicate and this game is very much Syndicate inspired. The title is another one that was in Steam Early Access and only came about thanks to the many backers who wanted the game to succeed in the Kickstarter campaign. The minds behind Satellite Reign are 5 Lives Studios, who it looks like came together specifically with this game in mind. With no stone left unturned, my very serious research (okay – I just visited their about us section – caught) revealed that some of these industry veterans had worked on the original Syndicate!
So for those of you who didn’t have a very interesting childhood, Syndicate was a game set in a cyberpunk future and saw you control four cyborg agents as you went about beating your rivals (as usual Corporations have taken over the world) in various imaginative ways in a fix isometric view. So it should come no surprise when I tell you that the premise behind Satellite Reign is very much identical in many, many ways. As someone’s father has undoubtedly told them, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Satellite Reign takes place in the near (but not too near that you’re ever uncomfortable) cyberpunk future. In the tutorial you are introduced to each agent as you free them. Your four agents are the soldier, the support, the hacker, and the infiltrator.
Now to the major plot question you’ve all been dying to ask. WILL I PLAY AS A FRIGGIN CYBORG INSTRUMENT OF DEATH!? Sadly the answer is no. But the alternative is, to be pretty frank, friggin awesome. You are essentially just some chunk of flesh and your consciousness can be freely moved from one meat suit to any other meat suit. And, also, if you really like this particular meat suit when you die a clone is made of it that you’ll continue to play as. So what really does this mean for gameplay? Well say you’re walking up the street and you see a particular enemy who has tons of HP, HP regen, but low energy gains and pretty average speed. But you think it’ll be great for your tank Soldier. Great. Head up to that civ and mindzap that fool so you can steal their body. Then you can use it as the template for your agent.
This effectively means the entire pool of humanity in the game is available to you to really craft the soldier, hacker, infiltrator or support you want. New bodies mean fresh stats, because if you keep dying and keep cloning one particular body those stats actually start to degrade. So with each death you suffer real loss to your stats. It’s a really refreshing gameplay mechanic and punishes you fools who don’t like the stealth approach! Go in guns blazing? Bye bye stats.
Each agent has skills that you can invest in to make them pretty good at particular jobs. And there is a real sense that you don’t ever have to play an agent one particular way (although by the late game you do eventually access a lot of the skills – if not all). For instance I heavily invested in my Infiltrators sword ability as well as their cloaking ability. Then I went about and chopped people up with my katana. Life is good, I’m telling you. At times you can send in a single agent to do particular missions, but often you find you need all four of your agents at various points in a facility to really get the job done.
You can also freely choose to do any single mission via the stealth option (silencers can be equipped to most weapons) or the loud option, since you can just pull out a gatling laser and just start shooting up the place whenever the heck you please. You’re never penalised for this, however you just have to make sure you come out alive or you’re gonna have to take on that entire corporation all over again from the front door to the fully protected vault at the back of the facility.
The main idea in the game is that you play as part of a Corporation who wants to undermine the control of other corporations. Your team of four agents can go about freely in each district in the city and pretty much do as they wish. In each district you have various goals (i.e. get into this corporations headquarters and steal all the stuff) to fulfil in order to effectively be able to progress to the next area.
Some side missions related to these goals will have you assassinating targets and buying off traitors, or getting some poorly equipped civilian into the most fortified HQ known to humanity. Your informant NPC brings a pistol while enemy soldiers have GATLING LASERS! ARE YOU SERIOUS?! You will find many blueprints you can use to research guns, equipment, augmentations (think Adam Jensen, if he were like a baby and now you had access to Real Manly Augs), and various other goodies. These all integrate into the gameplay style you want to play in a whole bunch of interesting ways and make your agents feel both unique and indispensable throughout. Money is as hard to come by in Satellite Reign as I remember it being in Syndicate. Except now you can access a more regular flow of cash by hacking ATMs. This essentially gives you access to a very low revenue stream (but it is constant). This can then be boosted by getting your hacker agent to the local banks servers and hacking them directly so they can’t detect your ATM hacks. I’m currently sitting on $12 a real time minute. It adds up.
In a game like this a lot of focus is on your four agents and how you choose to go about doing the things you have to do to progress in the game. There is not really much in a way of a story beneath the Corporation v Corporation theme and various uncovered emails, data entries, and phone logs you find all do a good job of giving you a lot of the back story if you want immersion. However I found that a lot of my time was spent sneaking about places I wasn’t supposed to be in and generally stealing everything that was available in the enemy vault.
But to do that you need to be hacking terminals to unlock doors, switch off cameras, turn off sentry guns, avoid detection from actual guards (and robotic guard dogs). And at one point I decided to gauntlet run past a giant friggin SPIDER TANK. So for those of you run and gun types, you’ll have your work cut out for you. But in those moments that I did opt for the fire fights, they were really amazing and I was never too strong for engagements.
Some concerns did crop up while I was playing the game, though. For instance, there is still a lot of bug work to be done here. Unit pathing is honestly a mess at times. The number of times I’ve watched my infiltrator using up his precious energy while stealthed because he keeps running into invisible walls is the most frustrating thing in the Universe. Another concern is a lack of overall stats for each agent. A lot of mods, weapons, and augmentations focus on giving you + this stat, or – this stat. But you never really see a page that tallies all of these up so you have a good idea of what, for instance, your accuracy is sitting at for each agent after all the gear is taken into account. And since so many gear choices reflect a pro and con approach you’d really want this to make better choices.
Unit customisation is pretty basic, but even so the eyewear/face/mask options seem tied to what the original body had available at the time. Some of the cyberpunk gear is so awesome it’d really just be awesome to have access to all those options at all times. These are honestly just some of the little niggles you’ll experience while playing the game and they don’t do a good enough job of detracting from your experience that you’ll even remember them for a minute after you experience them.
Last Updated: September 4, 2015