Big Boss Battle has shot into orbit, landed on a spaceship, awoken from cryosleep and found itself in a bit of a mess. I, Ben, have taken the task to explore the ship and find out what exactly is happening.
It turns out the story is as follows. You awake on your ship, the Valkenburg, and are introduced to what appears to be a barren, vandalized, deserted ship. eventually you find mutilated bodies and begin to realize that you are not alone. Something is still on board. You are contacted by a crew member who seems to want to help you restart the ship and escape, but it’s then that you learn you have to survive on this damned ship while you follow the plan.
The monsters that now roam the ship are in fact your crew, now transformed into nightmarish beings by an “artifact” that was brought on board. And with your character experiencing tremors, headaches, and hearing voices, could you be turning too?
Now see, with horrors, it’s essential to get the atmosphere perfect to really keep the player on their toes; Syndrome certainly has this covered. The shading is incredibly high quality, although I did had to bump up the gamma, not because I was terrified, but because it’s actually very hard to see anything. The level design is wonderfully laid out, and manages to show through the debris, and destruction, glimpses into a window that shows what could have been a rather prestigious, bright ship, now tainted with the blood of the fallen, and limbs of your buddy, Jake. The hallways coated with darkness, occasional lights still operate and turn on when motion is detected, and some rooms are sprinkled with a load of dust, creating an uneasy, eerie atmosphere. There are eight decks of nightmarish hell to explore abroad the Valkenburg, and they are all linked through mandatory objectives.
Regarding what type of horror this game is, is also an important factor to mention. You generally have two types of horrors; ones similar to Amnesia, or Penumbra where you are weaponless, and being hunted and your target focus is to run and hide, or the ones where you get a weapon, but have to attack to survive, such as Silent Hill, and Resident Evil. Syndrome takes both elements and puts them together in a panic fueled mix. You are given a melee weapon, a tool, that you can use to block, or attack. Or you can just run and hide, and hope the creatures don’t catch you.
Best thing to do before playing this, is going and buying some adult nappies, you’ll grow bored of going to the toilet every time you get scared…
The thing is, this system seems to be slightly flawed, whilst it may work, you do find your stamina running low incredibly quick, which ends up creating even more panic and bringing forth the question, “Why am I so unfit!?” Admittedly it does add that extra surge of adrenaline, but it would be useful to not be limited to the extent that you are. As it turns out, striking with a melee weapon will reduce stamina too, so if you choose to fight you may as well stick with that decision, as you’ll have no stamina for a successful getaway…unless you’re lucky.
Supplies in Syndrome are, as usual for a horror, very scarce. Every deck contains a number of rooms, the types of rooms indicated by the above door neon signs, or by the map that’s available by slapping down that TAB key, showing legends floor plans. Normally each room doesn’t contain pickups, but when they do, they’re not random objects just thrown in there for making it easy to survive, the objects in the rooms suit what type of room they are. Need a saw to cut an arm off? Head to the Medical Bay. Need loads of burgers? Find the kitchens. It’s clear that each room has been cleverly laid and was used for a specific purpose, and that each deck serves a purpose as a real ship would. What would be nice however, would be having an objective marker on the map. While I’m cool with the game continuing to run in the background while the map or inventory is open, the actual map would be quicker to navigate if there was some sort of, “boarder” or “blip” to direct you in times of rushing. Talking about blips though, there’s also a hacking element that doesn’t come with instructions, and rather embarrassingly, it took me nearly fifteen minutes to figure out, that to use the hacking device, you have to quickly match the symbols.
Combat wise, ammo is scarce, and when you finally find a gun, when you do eventually choose to use it, there’s no realism to it, there’s a poor amount of recoil, and it feels like operating a BB gun. Sure, it’s a sci-fi, but the gun resembles the characteristics of a modern day gun, and sounds like one, but unless there was some scientific breakthrough with weapon recoil, I feel like this is just an area that got overlooked. Mainly because you won’t be using it much anyway, the majority of my time with the game saw me running, blocking, and whacking creatures on the torso in a panic. The melee is pretty good, and the better combat mode to opt for.
Let’s talk about the creatures. They are…creepy. You seem to have a fair few variations of them roaming the ship. The first ones you encounter are the towering, half naked, sweaty, greenish monsters that let out a growl and can pack a fairly decent punch. They can also come in packs, so if you find yourself facing a fair few…run. There’s also some dark, red eyed, aerobic creep that comes from the ceiling, or runs round the corner towards you. These two creatures kill you in the same way, with the same animation…so death grows fairly boring. There’s one creature that terrified me, and that’s some type of weird, crab-legged humanoid mutant, with sensitive hearing, but is blind. This creature forces your hand to crouch around, which is a very, very slow method, but at least it’s safe. You can run, but it’ll hear you and begin chasing you, but if you’re quick enough, you can hide somewhere and watch as it listens out for movement, before retreating back onto it’s patrol. One thing that bothers me about the sneaking element is once something happens to scare your character, the screen distorts and remains that way roughly until the end of the event. Just a touch distracting, but a very cunning tactic to scare you even more.
One thing I liked is the sound effects. It’s always the way in a horror, you hear noises that you can’t see. In Syndrome, there’s a huge variety of noises that will have you swinging your camera round to face several directions. Footsteps, growling, screeching, clicking, beeping, hissing, buzzing, humming, creaking, fizzing, and many other science fiction inspired beeps and boops keep you on your toes. There doesn’t seem to be a soundtrack that drives the game; instead the ambiance noise creates a haunting environment of fear, with mechanical humming purging through the speakers. Funnily enough, even though a fair few objects can be knocked and generate noise that the creatures will inspect, the actual sound of the object hitting the floor, or rolling, doesn’t come across that loud. Pushing a chair over sounds like dropping a pen.
Syndrome sets itself up as a science fiction horror, and exceeds expectations. I hold this alongside Alien: Isolation in terms of atmospheric terror.
There are some nit picky elements such as the pistol feeling incomplete as a function, and the character models textures may not look as good as the surrounding environments; but there are some things that genuinely bothered me. To start, the standard gamma settings were incredibly dark, but thank the options menu for the option to bump that up. There is also no keymapping, for neither keyboard/mouse, or controller. Hugely irritating as I tend to set my crouch to CTRL, and having to hold C while trying to move with WASD ended up becoming a game of finger Twister. There was also a moment in which, during hacking the field stabilizers, the hacking device, once successfully hacked…wouldn’t go away, my character was unable to move except flapping around the device, and even the ESC menu had borked; and this leads to my other aggravation of the game…save points. You see, at the time the situation I just wrote about happened, I had to close my game and reboot, thus losing my progress as the game doesn’t come with an autosave feature. There are, dotted around the decks, save points that you slot your glorious arm into, and save it, but they aren’t marked on the map, and to find them as you’re wandering around isn’t that simple, they may radiate a light cyan light, but this gets lost amongst the worlds lighting. So basically, don’t find a save point, die, you’re back to having to re-do several objectives again. Annoying, especially when you only just survived a battle by the skin of your teeth and then get killed by a sliced electric cable on the floor…something that totally didn’t happen to me…
Overall, Syndrome is amazingly atmospheric, and it pulls of the “trapped-in-space-everything-is-going-to-****” feeling, and it is wonderfully claustrophobic. I certainly enjoyed playing it, and hope to maybe see some features improved in later updates; but for now, it’s a fairly solid game, it’s jump-scare perfection, and I love the freedom to choose whether you fight or flee. It’s available on the steam store, just click the boxy below, and have a nosey!