Satellite Reign: Fun missions, but tedious briefings

Satellite Reign: Fun missions, but tedious briefings
Screenshot of Satellite Reign. a real-time tactical action game.
PHOTO: 5 Lives Studios

Satellite Reign is the spiritual successor to Syndicate, a real-time tactical game released in 1993, which I loved playing back in the day. In the game, you control up to four cyborg agents who will bribe, steal and hack to help your syndicate achieve its global dominance goals.

The sequel Syndicate Wars was released in 1996. But after that, the series fell largely silent.

Two years ago, 5 Lives Studios, which included a few developers from the original Syndicate Wars team, launched a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than £460,000 (about S$1 million now) to create Satellite Reign. I was one of the backers.

Satellite Reign follows the same design, gameplay ethos and storyline of Syndicate. Mega corporations control the world's governments, with corporate police maintaining order through brutal means.

It was like a walk down memory lane when I powered up the game and the familiar isometric view.

The 3D graphics, animation and texture are all much improved. The Blade Runner-style cyberpunk world harks back to the original game, but the details - from buildings with neon signs, to rain-soaked streets crawling with pedestrians and police - are terrific, especially when you zoom in on them.

But unlike the original, where you can rotate the camera by 360 degrees, you can do so by only 90 degrees here. Or you can leave the camera on auto-rotation.

Each cyborg agent has its traits and specialisation. For instance, it can be a soldier, hacker or infiltrator. You can augment its skills, vision and weapons. You can also use agents to recruit researchers to help your syndicate improve its weapons, or exert mind control on civilians and get them to carry out tasks for you.

Civilians and police will react to what your agents do. So if the agents are caught siphoning money from ATMs, infiltrating enemy barracks or holding a rifle in public, sirens will sound and the police will give chase.

But you can run away from fights or surrender without being killed. Even if your agents die, you can easily re-clone them.

In the old Syndicate games, missions are broken up into different cities. But in Satellite Reign, all missions occur in the same large city, where you can move between districts. While this might sound like fun, finding your way around is not as straightforward as in the old game.

This is not helped by the long, convoluted and mostly text-based instructions, for which only a few have voice-overs.

Several times, I got so impatient I gave up trying to read the briefs and dived straight into the missions.

But doing so led to more frustrations as the briefs would contain important information, like how to bribe someone to lose his pass. So I ended up sending my agents, guns-a-blazing, to their doom.

That said, the missions are still fun to play and I enjoyed the different strategies. For example, you can sneak an agent into a building to retrieve prototypes, charge in with guns, or hijack an enemy's brain to turn it against his own.

On the downside, the constant, long mission briefs do not translate into a cohesive storyline. There is also no multi-player mode, due to insufficient funds raised for the game's development.



PRICE: $29 (PC, version tested, Linux and Mac)
GENRE: Real-time tactical action

Verdict: Satellite Reign is a great tribute to the Syndicate franchise. It was fun, but could have been much more if the storyline was more immersive and better presented.

This article was first published on September 25, 2015.
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