Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Syndicate Gets Gimmicky

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 20 Mar 2012 12:00
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Syndicate brings up a topic worth delving into, and that's gimmickery. It's a nice convenient criticism to make against a game that its features are "gimmicky", but this smacks me as another candidate for the pretentious game critic glossary. What exactly do I mean by a gimmick? Well, according to Wikipedia, the standard marketing definition of a gimmick is a unique feature on a product. Which is good, right? The unique selling point is the driving force of innovation. But! Wikipedia goes on to say that a 'gimmick' generally also means a unique selling point of little relevance or use. Like a digital clock built into the side of another, larger clock.

The thing about videogame gimmicks, though, is that they're not necessarily useless. They can be as functional as you like and still be a gimmick. But what is it that makes an aspect of a game a "gimmick" rather than a well-implemented mechanic? Let's take a voyage of discovery together.

The gimmicky aspect of Syndicate is the enemy hacking abilities. You press your hack button and without so much as a single quick time event, you successfully hack an enemy to either shoot themselves in the face, shoot their friends in the face, or make their gun shoot itself in whatever its equivalent of a face is. What makes all this feel gimmicky is that it's functionally the same gameplay as the boring old standard shooting mechanic and with much the same effect. You point at a meanie head, you press a button, and the meanie head is killed or disabled.

The persuade ability is better, but converted enemies don't do much damage and what's most disappointing is that they shoot themselves when they're the last man left standing. I fondly remember that the original, isometric Syndicate had no upper limit on party members, and if you had a Persuadertron you could end up walking around with a massive entourage of civilians, enemy soldiers and kidnapped scientists. But no, videogames must maintain the precious status quo battle to samey bloody battle. I'm sure I've complained before that regenerating health basically turns shooters into sequences of completely unconnected shootouts that reset themselves in between each one, but it's worth complaining about again. GRR.

The other aspect that made the hack powers gimmicky is that they only work on the low-level mooks, not on the boss fights. All you usually do to the bosses is shoot them a whole bunch from half-way behind bits of wall. And since in the past we have learned that boss fights in video games are crash-course final exams in the essential mechanics of the game up to that point, this tells us two things: firstly that the hack powers are pointless gimmicks, and that the core gameplay of Syndicate is shooting things a whole bunch from half-way behind bits of wall. In other words, the usual tedious rubbish.

Another reason why gimmickery is my hot topic is because I've been playing a lot of Mass Effect 3 lately in an attempt to blow through to the apparently reviled ending within the four days available, and after writing my review (coming soon) it occurred to me I'd forgotten to mention the big gimmick: the Kinect voice controls. So I'll mention it here before anyone gets disappointed.

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