Game Review: “Syndrome” Brings Stellar Scares!

VITALS:

  • TITLE: “Syndrome”
  • DEVELOPER: Camel 101 / Bigmoon Entertainment
  • PUBLISHER: Camel 101
  • GENRE: First-person Survival Horror / Sci-fi
  • PLATFORM: PC
  • RELEASE DATE: October 6, 2016
  • PRICE: $24.99 USD

As a sucker for a good sci-fi story, and a fan of horror-games in general, Syndrome was a game that I was looking forward to digging into. What made it more interesting was that it was developed by Camel 101 in partnership with Bigmoon Entertainment, a company that is working on a really neat RPG called Demons Age that I previewed not too long ago. Plus, given that the Halloween season is upon us, this seems like a good game to cover.

The game begins with the player, identified by the computer as Chief Technician Galen, waking up from cryosleep aboard a ship called the Valkenburg somewhere in the Gliese star system. It quickly becomes apparent that something isn’t right. The ship’s computer reports that over 350 individuals are dead while only seven healthy and three injured people remain. Upon exiting the section of the ship he awoke in, Galen is contacted via radio by Commander Neomi, leader of a marine detachment locked in the lower deck of the ship, who asks him to power the ship so that they can get out of where they are and try to restore order to the vessel. They also warn him not to trust anyone else that he comes in contact with. Later, he is contacted by a crew member named Jimmy who also offers him assistance, yet Jimmy’s story is different: Neomi and her marines killed the entire crew and he only managed to stop them by sealing them away in a lower portion of the vessel. He wants to restore power so that he can get the ship moving and seek help from a nearby colony.

It’s not clear who Galen can trust and this uncertainty adds to the unsettling nature of being stranded in space on a vast, desolate vessel. Yet, what starts as a lonely, mysterious, and unnerving journey quickly takes a turn for the worst. Most of the crew of the ship appear to have been mangled and torn apart by some sort of vicious creatures. Bodies are burned, hung upside down by torn electrical cables. Blood lines the walls. Is it really possible that a small marine detachment did all this? Can Galen trust Jimmy? What’s really waiting for him as he goes deeper into the ship?

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At first, the game starts out rather atmospheric. You’ll find yourself looking behind you to make sure that nothing is following you and you’ll find yourself apprehensive about trekking down dark hallways and into narrow, confined spaces. In the first hour or so of gameplay you’ll encounter a few jumpscares (nothing cheap, though!), but you’ll be relatively safe. Things quickly change, though, because as you get a little further you’ll actually start to be in very real danger from things that want to tear you apart. Thankfully, this isn’t a game where you have to run and hide to stay alive because you will be able to pick up both melee and long-ranged weapons to defend yourself with. However, the game does encourage stealth and conservation of ammunition because even though you might be tempted to unload your weapon on your immediate threat, you never know what’s waiting for you just a little further in. There are creatures that are significantly tougher than the rest, so having more ammo to use to take them down is key to survival.

Hiding is something that actually can be beneficial, particularly if you are low on ammo. The game is rife with dark corners, little nooks and crannies, and even lockers that you can shut yourself in to stay away from dangerous predators. However, enemies are smart in this game: hiding only works if they don’t see you going into the hiding spot. Unlike some games where there’s a clear “cone of aggression,” if an enemy sees you running away and shutting yourself in a room, it’ll follow you into that room and seek you out!

While it isn’t immediately clear when the game takes place, evidence suggests that it’s sometime in the early-24th century. However, the game provides you with a fair amount of backstory in the guise of data logs that you’ll discover as you explore the ship, some dating back to the late-22nd century. Some of the information is just a bit of backstory on the other crew members of the ship, yet it’s clear that it’s also building up to tell you a larger story if you want to hear it.

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Syndrome‘s graphics are very detailed and thankfully the game’s engine (built with Unity 5) handles quite well. I was running the game at 4K with all of the settings maxed out and the game was super smooth and never once hit any areas of performance stutters or slowness. I will point out that the game is quite dark in places by nature, so you’ll definitely want to make sure that you’re screen doesn’t have any artificial darkening settings (such as Dynamic/Adaptive Contrast) turned on as that might make the game hard to see.

Also, as with any horror experience, audio is quite important. The soundtrack fits very well with the game and the ambient sounds as you explore the ship definitely will keep you on your toes. The voice acting by way of the main character, Jimmy, and Commander Neomi is also done exceptionally well, so everything fits together into a nice, creepy experience.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Syndrome does a lot of things right and will definitely scratch that sci-fi horror itch if that’s what you’re seeking here, but it also plays off a few too many tropes in my mind (waking up from cryosleep, lack of memories, strange encounters in deep space, and an unreliable narrative). However, tropes or not, everything fits together smartly and tells an overall fun story that is very tense at times and also quite unsettling.

For $24.99 on Steam, I think it’s most certainly a worthwhile investment for any horror fans.

Overall, I’d give this game a solid rating of:

“VERY GOOD”

Jessica Brown

Retro Games and Technology Editor. She'll beat pretty much every Mega Man game without breaking a sweat.

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