We’ve covered Syndrome before and even spoke to the gentlemen at the developing studio Camel 101 about their day to day. Following this, they were gracious enough to send us a preview build of the upcoming title so we can give it a try. And a try give it we did!
In Syndrome you play Galen, whom I deduced from various in-game sources is a military man part of a unit of sorts which booked passage aboard a space ship, was put in cryo-stasis and, of course, as these things go, awoke to find nothing but chaos around him. Yes, we’re back to the space thriller genre. It’s been tough for fans of the genre for a while until a few years ago when titles like Dead Space, Alien Isolation or even the excellent point and click Stasis started to bring it back. Syndrome does little to break from the mold, seeming intent on delivering exactly what one might seek from it. Mechanically and in terms of level design it seems to take a lot out of Alien Isolation‘s playbook, but delivering slightly more claustrophobic environments and breaking from the anachronistic nature of the technology in the Alien Universe.
The game is quick to introduce a couple of survivors, each pulling at Galen in a different direction and swiftly establishing mistrust and paranoia as themes in Syndrome. Progress the plot just a bit further and you’ll run into those that have changed in grotesque and horrific ways. While hiding from your assailants is yet another element that draws from Isolation, the mechanics behind it are not simply one button presses, but rather rely on your opening and closing doors yourself when hiding in closets or nooks and crannies.
There’s also a bit more of a pronounced survival element, as you’ll find food and healing items to replenish your health and (at least in the stretch I’ve played) you can use a large wrench as a weapon with moderate efficiency. Later in the game you’ll also find firearms, but ammo is scarce and you should use your weapons wisely. At one point I was throwing bottles I found on the floor to distract the enemies that were chasing me or trying to deliberately run them into one of the exposed electric cables that were across the floor. Whether or not I succeeded I couldn’t say, since I was too busy hightailing it out of there.
Syndrome looks damn fine given its origin as an indie project developed for the most part by three people. Of course it doesn’t reach Triple A levels of fidelity but it does show a reasonable amount of polish and a decent array of graphics options. The only thing I could say really bothered me was the lens flare effect which created a distracting set of blotches on the screen. Luckily, most post-processing effects can be turned on and off as you desire.
The sound design is pretty standard as horror games go. The eerie ambient sounds, the occasional scare chord or distant noise. What felt a bit odd to me was the voice acting. It was not bad, or amateur, as the devs do go to professionals for their voice acting work, but it was a bit obvious to me that the actors received their direction remotely. Their tone doesn’t always match the situation at hand and it can be slightly off-putting. However, I strongly doubt there are many people out there that would be bothered by it. I’ll always take slightly mismatched voice acting over no voice acting at all and I commend the effort put in.
In fact, the only issues I’ve had with Syndrome were with some of its design choices. A lot of the first stretch of the game had me constantly go back and forth between two decks of the ship with little happening between trips. I assumed I was supposed to familiarize myself with the ship, but when the time came for me to actually have to get somewhere in a hurry I found myself quite lost (and in a lot of trouble). You do have a map of the ship, but accessing it doesn’t pause the game (nor do I think it should), so it seems like exploration before the shit hits the fan will be fairly rewarding in Syndrome. I did have some other issues with the way the UI was designed and the fact that interacting with its elements requires an inordinate amount of clicks, such as using inventory items or navigating menus.
As for bugs I was pleasantly surprised with their absence for the most part. There are some issues that will no doubt be ironed out before the game’s release, such as being able to bring up the inventory while interacting with a keypad, confusing the UI layering or not being able to navigate some option menus with a controller. Other than that the game performed fine, with very short loading times (for reasonably large levels) and no dips whatsoever.
I don’t think Syndrome is any sort of genre revelation and I don’t think it even tries to be. It seems to aim for a very standard space thriller experience and set to deliver just that. If Alien Isolation left you craving for more, then Syndrome might be what you’re looking for if you’re willing to accept the hallmarks of a much lower budget being made the very most out of. It’s going to be out soon, some time during Q2 2016 and I think it’s worth checking out.