Once upon a time there was a devel­op­ment stu­dio called Bullfrog Productions. Veterans of the PC gam­ing world will like­ly remem­ber them with a mix­ture of fan­tas­tic mem­o­ries spent pour­ing hours into their cre­ations com­bined with a bit of stale anger at the fate of the stu­dio. For those who haven’t heard of them, you are play­ing games influ­enced by their works to this day still.

Founded in 1987 by Peter Molyneux and Les Edgar, Bullfrog Productions was a promi­nent devel­op­ment stu­dio that pro­duced hit clas­sic series such as Populous, Magic Carpet, Theme Park, Dungeon Keeper, Syndicate and more. Though not every one of their series was a hit, you could always count on Bullfrog to come out with inter­est­ing titles and Bullfrog helped define strat­e­gy and sim­u­la­tion ideas in the indus­try. Fans of Bullfrog Productions will still speak fond­ly of the devel­op­ment house despite their uncer­e­mo­ni­ous slay­ing by EA in 2001.

I am here today to talk about one of their fran­chis­es that I was lucky to get into as a teen and helped define tastes and ideas of mine to this day. Syndicate with its themes of cor­po­rate espi­onage, and con­spir­a­cies of con­trol set again­st a cyber punk dystopi­an future wears its inspi­ra­tions on its sleeve while pro­vid­ing evi­dence that term “mature game” does not have to just mean scant­i­ly clad peo­ple or canned roman­tic dialog trees.

800px-Syndicate_MD_US_BoxSyndicate was released in 1993 for DOS and Amiga, and was port­ed to many oth­er sys­tems includ­ing Mac, and Atari Jaguar with watered down ports even reach­ing Sega Genesis and SNES. Produced by Peter Molyneux and designed by Sean Cooper who had worked on Magic Carpet and Populous, and with tracks com­posed by Russell Shaw, Syndicate def­i­nite­ly had a cer­tain pedi­gree that it lived up to in my opin­ion.
Syndicate, and it’s fol­low up Syndicate Wars, is a great mix of top down iso­met­ric squad action dur­ing mis­sions, inter­wo­ven with strate­gic ele­ments. Putting you in con­trol of a mega cor­po­ra­tion, Syndicate allows you to research and choose upgrade options for your four agent squad while direct­ing your teched out goons in vary­ing mis­sions around the world. Choosing opti­mal weapon load outs for mis­sions and keep­ing on top of the lat­est avail­able cyber­net­ic enhance­ments was para­mount in your mis­sion for noth­ing more than cold cor­po­rate dom­i­na­tion of the globe.

I was first intro­duced to Syndicate at a friend’s house as a young lad when he rent­ed the Sega Genesis ver­sion for the week­end. What teen that just watched Blade Runner could resist box art like that? Having bliss­ful igno­rance that it was an infe­ri­or port for con­soles, we spent near the entire week­end immersed in the game’s blend of action and strat­e­gy.


Thankfully I had got­ten my first PC not long after this time and was able to expe­ri­ence the DOS ver­sion in all its glo­ry, though I still look back on that con­sole ver­sion with a cer­tain amount of fond­ness for what it was. You can find Syndicate at which includes the expan­sion pack American Revolt, and still holds up as an enjoy­able game. Just make sure to read the man­u­al, where you will find most of the sto­ry ele­ments. It is a fair­ly deep and rich set­ting for the time that I do not want to spoil you on any far­ther! Just go check it out now at

Syndicate and its expan­sion enjoyed fair­ly good suc­cess, so in 1996 the inevitable sequel titled Syndicate Wars was released on the DOS world. A year lat­er in 1997 it was hon­ored by great Playstation 1 port that took advan­tage of the four con­troller Multitap acces­so­ry allow­ing my cir­cle of drunk­en friends to enjoy dozens of hours of glee­ful destruc­tion as we plot­ted the glo­ry of our cor­po­ra­tion. As a sin­gle play­er game on PC and PlayStation it was a fun expe­ri­ence, but real­ly shined when played as mul­ti­play­er co-op may­hem with close friends.

Syndicate Wars was designed by Mike Diskett this time around, who worked at Bullfrog as a pro­gram­mer on the first Syndicate and its expan­sion as well as QA on Magic Carpet. With Glenn Corpes on the team, who was a long time Bullfrog alum­ni with a his­to­ry of work on Populous, PowerMonger and Magic Carpet series, and with anoth­er fan­tas­tic sound­track by Russell Shaw, Syndicate was aim­ing to be a well-executed game and it did not dis­ap­point in my eyes.

562482-syndicate-wars-dos-screenshot-fireworksSyndicate Wars kept the top down iso­met­ric squad action of the orig­i­nal, this time opt­ing for a 3d engine based on a mod­i­fied ver­sion of the Magic Carpet engine and fea­tur­ing ful­ly destruc­tible envi­ron­ments. The new engine also allowed a rotating/tilting cam­era, and the sto­ry side of the game was enriched with more fla­vor (as well as not need­ing the man­u­al to fol­low along with) and given more depth with the addi­tion two playable fac­tions instead of just one. The themes of cor­po­rate con­spir­a­cy were amped up, and the sto­ry of the two fac­tions inter­play is a rich cau­tion­ary tale. I will not spoil the­se sto­ry ele­ments either, because it real­ly should be played and expe­ri­enced to ful­ly appre­ci­ate. You can also find Syndicate Wars over at, and even get it in a pack with the first game. Go get it!

Things were qui­et on the Syndicate front for over a decade after Syndicate Wars as Bullfrog was enjoy­ing suc­cess from the acclaimed Dungeon Keeper series, as well as putting out more titles in the Theme sim­u­la­tion series until the icon­ic devel­op­ment house was dis­man­tled by EA in 2001. EA; who, as they are wont to do, ignored the fran­chise for years until they decid­ed to dust off the IP for a reboot in 2012.

I won’t hide my bias here, I loathed this game and felt betrayed by its exis­tence. Originally envi­sioned as a strat­e­gy based reboot, EA made the choice to take it into the FPS realm. The rep­u­ta­tion of the project would nev­er recov­er for me, nor oth­er con­sumers if you look at the dis­mal sales num­bers.

All seen and heard, the 2012 Syndicate reboot was a com­pe­tent FPS. Not entire­ly ugly, and with a cast of decent voice act­ing and “hack­ing” skills that do vary up game­play from the stan­dard shoot shoot bang bang. Extreme bloom, and lens flare use JJ Abrams would be proud of aside it had a cer­tain atmos­phere that tried so very hard to be Deus Ex that it could be enjoyed at times. The mul­ti­play­er was more rem­i­nis­cent of the orig­i­nal series, but was still bland to me and not worth the price of entry. The PC port was atro­cious, lack­ing in graph­ics cus­tomiza­tion and being bug­gy on release. It received rel­a­tive­ly pos­i­tive review scores from crit­ics, though was panned by the con­sumers.

Just like that, EA games killed my beloved fran­chise as mad­den­ing­ly as they did the orig­i­nal devel­op­ment house that birthed Syndicate and oth­er acclaimed fran­chis­es into the world. Speaking with Computer and Video Games Frank Gibeau, an EA exec, said “Syndicate [2012] was some­thing that we took a risk on. It didn’t pay off — it didn’t work.”. The devel­op­ment stu­dio that made the reboot, Starbreeze Studios, stat­ed in 2014 that only an esti­mat­ed 150,000 units shipped world­wide.

In my hum­ble opin­ion, it was the change of gen­re into an FPS that was the dis­as­ter of the game. In a clas­sic lesson the indus­try is learn­ing, in try­ing to mod­i­fy a fran­chise too extreme­ly to appeal to a new audi­ence, EA man­aged to alien­ate the orig­i­nal fans of the series while not mak­ing a com­pelling enough game to engage new­com­ers. Killing all hype and hope by not hav­ing the fans approval, com­bined with EA assum­ing an FPS would always be more appeal­ing than any­thing strat­e­gy relat­ed is a mis­take they have made before. They turned a rich and deep uni­verse into anoth­er for­get­table 6 – 8 hour shoot-fest. All in all it was a very ser­vice­able shooter, espe­cial­ly when tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the bud­get con­straints of the dev team. It just wasn’t Syndicate.

EA is a sad sto­ry though, and I prefer to focus on the pos­i­tives. All is not lost for the spir­it of the Syndicate fran­chise, as peo­ple pas­sion­ate in their ideas will nev­er lie down.

satellite-reign-review-pc-490315-3Now I don’t per­son­al­ly sup­port ear­ly access games (except on rare occa­sions), so I will not pro­mote pur­chas­ing an unfin­ished pro­duct. I DO high­ly pro­mote going and check­ing out
their web­site, videos of their devel­op­ment process on their Youtube chan­nel, and their Early Access Steam page. I have high hopes for this game from see­ing the back­ground of the devel­op­ers and the love they have for this project. If you are a fan at all of the orig­i­nal Syndicate and Syndicate Wars, Blade Runner, or games with cyber­punk and cor­po­rate espi­onage themes then I sug­gest check­ing them out!In 2013 Mike Diskett, lead design­er of the orig­i­nal Syndicate Wars, along with oth­er indus­try pro­fes­sion­als teamed up to form 5 Lives Studios. Their first for­ay into devel­op­ment is a game titled Satellite Reign, a play on words of the name of a high pow­ered orbital strike deploy­able in Syndicate Wars of which the project aims to be the spir­i­tu­al suc­ces­sor to. Through a high­ly suc­cess­ful Kickstarter, and their indus­try expe­ri­ence, they were able to stream­line an amaz­ing work­flow and will have a playable ver­sion out as ear­ly as December 11th 2014 when it will be on Steam Early Access.

Who knows, depend­ing on how the ear­ly access looks, I may be back here with impres­sions on it.

Thanks for read­ing my lit­tle tale, stay excel­lent to each oth­er out there! BrayPC RetrospectiveBullfrog,Syndicate,Syndicate WarsOnce upon a time there was a devel­op­ment stu­dio called Bullfrog Productions. Veterans of the PC gam­ing world will like­ly remem­ber them with a mix­ture of fan­tas­tic mem­o­ries spent pour­ing hours into their cre­ations com­bined with a bit of stale anger at the fate of the stu­dio. For those…
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Josh Bray
Josh has worked in IT for over 15 years. Graduated Broadcasting school in 2012 with a focus on A/V pro­duc­tion. Amateur pho­tog­ra­pher with a pas­sion to make things work… by any means nec­es­sary. Leader of the crazy exper­i­ment called SuperNerdLand
Josh Bray

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