Ladies and gentlemen, I’m a simple man who enjoys simple pleasures. You need look no further that my personal tastes in entertainment. I like horror. I like sci-fi. I like it when horror and sci-fi are splashed together in a delicious cocktail of blood and that weird, glowing blue liquid everyone seems to drink in space. However, when it comes to video games, I need a little more. I need the atmosphere, the spooky, creepy, scary stuff. But I also need the gameplay, the systems, the fun.
I present you with Syndrome, a first-person horror/sci-fi game released on Steam, thrown into the mix with many other first-person horror games available on the platform. You play as Galen, a man who was cryogenically sleeping before all hell broke loose. Upon entering the game you wake from your deep freeze to discover that you have no idea what’s going on or why it’s happening.
Soon enough you are contacted by some folks via radio, and before you know it you are on a grand tour of the spaceship. “We need you to go to deck 4 and restore power in the engine room. However, the engine room requires a passkey to get inside. You can find the key in the security office. However, the path to the security office is blocked. You’ll need to take the vent in the supply closet that connects to the security office. However, you need a special tool in order to open the vent, which can be found inside the Human Resources office.” Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating slightly. It’s more piecemeal, one at a time directions, but after a while I was wishing I could sprint forever instead of having the usual endurance bar found in so many games now.
That type of formula has existed in video games for many years. Heck, Dead Space is guilty of similar issues of “go here and press that”. However, the difference with Syndrome is that much of the time it feels contrived and over thought. Do I really need to mess with ship stabilizers and ship clamps? Why am I doing this? Don’t we have bigger problems to solve, such as not dying?
Speaking of not dying, you are given weapons to ensure that you can at least try your best to survive. I picked up a wrench, a pistol, and even some SMG ammo during my play-through, but unfortunately no SMG. But I’m not sure it would have mattered, as the combat feels very stiff and unconvincing. Indeed, the only weapon that elicits a response from the baddies is the wrench, momentarily stumbling opponents when struck. The pistol had no stopping power at all and it was difficult to tell if I was even hitting my target due to the absence of any kind of visual feedback.
The monsters that infest the ship are indeed menacing. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where flesh begins and metal stops! The designs are reminiscent of the type of creature you might see from a Clive Barker movie. But, for how intriguing they are to look at, the animation supporting the monsters leaves a lot to be desired. Watching the blind creature that can hear your every move chicken walk around isn’t unsettling, it’s just kind of goofy. And don’t get me started on the kill animation. The animation just doesn’t support the creatures in a way that makes them seem real or threatening.
It may seem like I’m just hammering Syndrome with negativity, but I think there is some meat on the bone, and I’ll get to that in a second. But first, I need to air one major grievance I had with the game. One issue so bad that I could no longer continue playing. Save points. You manually save your game at save points stashed around the ship. This lead to many situations where I would die, have to reload the save game, run back to where I died, figure out what I was supposed to do, die again, repeat. Sometimes it’s not very clear how to proceed, and if you forget to save… oh woe is you.
However, it’s not all bad in Syndrome. To a certain effect the sound work is pretty good. There’s a lot of ambient sound that delivers a spooky atmosphere, in conjunction with the music. Every so often I felt like there were certain sound effects that triggered randomly, sounding more like a staged haunted house than an infested ship, but overall the sound design is solid. The voice acting, for what it is, is also decent, although some performances are weak.
The visuals are top-notch, with lights beaming from the darkness, or fires casting dancing shadows on the cold, metal walls. The environments aren’t exactly thrilling to look at, (you’re gonna see a lot of crates), but what is there looks cohesive. I noticed some pop-in when travelling down long hallways, and it wouldn’t be so noticeable if you weren’t already looking for monsters to pop out from anywhere at all, but it is there. I would say the visuals and the sound work are the real strengths in Syndrome.
So what does it all come down to, I hear you ask. Well, for me, there is something here that could be interesting, especially to die-hard sci-fi horror fans. But at the end of the day Syndrome still feels like it could be an early-access game. There are just certain aspects to the game play that aren’t fun. I could overlook that if there was a story here that grabbed me or some characters I cared for. This is a game created by a small independent developer that has a heavy focus on video game engineering, and it shows. It looks good, it sounds good, and for the most part it plays fine. But at the core of Syndrome, much like the monsters in the game, it has a cold metal heart. (It’s undetermined if the monsters really have a cold metal heart, but I thought it sounded cool.)
Syndrome is available now on PC via Steam for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and will be available on PS4 and Xbox One in early 2017.
Syndrome was reviewed using a Steam code provided by the publisher. You can read additional information about PSVG’s review policy on our disclaimer page here.