Syndrome: Scary Space Survival on Steam

From space babes to scary space survival, to chairs quaking with fear. Syndrome is another hat tossed into the “horrifying stuff happens in space” bucket. And not altogether a bad one at that.

I may not be quite the gamer I once was. But when I’m not making things, photographing things or trying to make witty comments on Twitter I still enjoy the odd computer game. This is why, when presented the opportunity, I jumped a little too hastily at the chance of trying out Syndrome.

Hastily, I add, because I really don’t have all that much time to try it out, and I’m absurdly terrible at focussing on anything like this long enough to really give it a thorough run for its money.

Still, I’ve enjoyed playing Syndrome. I’ve laughed. I’ve cried. And I’ve relentlessly mocked some of its shortcomings and bugs on Twitter.

After waking up from cryo-sleep, disorientated and amnesiaddled (that’s totally a word now), I began my journey stumbling blindly through a ship that, far from the conventional idea of structures in zero gravity, is far too rectangular and elevatory for my liking. Seriously, though, why are so many videogame space ships built exactly not like good science fiction ones? Why would you need an elevator when you have an abundant source of anti-gravity? I suppose until we venture out into space in force, we’ll never know.

It’s okay, though, because level design aside this game is so scary even the chairs are terrified:

At this point I hadn’t yet reached the point where I rage quit and came back throwing all caution to the wind. Syndrome, like many games of its ilk, starts slow and steady, building the mood and the environment, letting you familiarise yourself with the concept of holding down “W” and terrify yourself with your own imagination.

However, not soon after I was beset by some of the bugs in the early Steam release, many of which have now, thankfully, been fixed. After picking up the first weapon in the game, totally not a crow-bar I promise, I was beset by monsters and seemingly unable to attack them. It’s not that I couldn’t press the buttons to attack, I’m pretty good at pressing buttons now, but that the game just decided to freeze my not a crowbar in one place and ignore my frantic button mashing. Oh well. Software is complex. Bugs happen, right?

After returning to Syndrome I faced the game with a renewed confidence. “I’m not going to waste time being afraid,” I told myself. Armed with my not-a-crowbar I decided to take the Half-Life approach of bashing everything I came across, and reloading from the nearest save if I lost too much health. I bashed my way through some more of the game until this:

Nothing quite so scary as a monster hiding behind a glass door. Oh well… rather than toss a glass bottle to distract it… thwack thwack thwack!

It’s okay though, ‘cos right after this section is a kitchen brimming with tasty health-restoring junk food. Wait. What? Where the hell did all this junk food come from? How long have I really been asleep? Was a functional crew here literally minutes ago, or is this crazy future food that never spoils?

The pessimist in me wants to say the developers just found these 3D models on some store and chucked them in to fill out that vital function of “restoring small amounts of health”. What’s wrong with herbs, damn it?

After stuffing my face with junk food I still fit into the vents. This is fortunate, since shortly after this section you need to crawl through the longest vent that’s ever been placed in a game:

VENT SIMULATOR: 2016.

At this point it’s worth noting that the save location is before this long-ass stupid vent. You’ll realise why this nearly made me quit shortly.

Of course I *had* to negotiate the vent, because the main corridor was slightly cluttered by a small pile of boxes that no human being in the harsh environment of space could possibly ever climb:

It’s clear the real foe in this game is small obstructions that your ability to jump or shimmy or squeeze prevent you from passing. Or perhaps you’re really a giant cube on wheels, and only when you find a mirror in the late game does this dawn upon you?

It’s after the vent crawl that the game decided to raise my “beat everything with a crowbar” approach and introduce really-big-creepy-horrible-monster-who-is-totally-immune-to-bullets-despite-me-just-acquiring-a-gun.

So I hid in a cupboard to try and avoid him.

Oh crap! Silly me. I actually clipped *through* the cupboard and became incapable of getting out. Faced with the incredible frustration of stupidly-long-vent again I decided to go out with a bang. That is, I fired every round in my newly gained pistol hoping to attract big scary monster to finish me off and make for a good little video.

Unfortunately it totally failed. No monster appeared.

Fortunately:

SPACE BAAABBEEEEESSSSS!

Who cares when you’ve got space babes? Right?

At this point I quickly descended into madness. I think the game did too.

But in the end I finally came out of the closet.

I actually played on for quite some time, and despite these quirks I keep picking up Syndrome for a stint every now and then. It’s not an outright terrible game, it has some plot, some twists, some suspense and a generally intriguing atmosphere. I will probably finish it one day!

I think my major complaint isn’t the glitches, but the backtracking and the elevator. You see, the elevator is really just a device to explain the loading between different decks. We’ve had games with totally seamless environments for years now, but they’re *hard* to make. Syndrome takes the classic half-life approach of snipping the environment into manageable chunks. What it doesn’t do, however, is hide the loading particularly well. A trip into the elevator will send you straight back to an immersion breaking loading screen while the next deck loads. No nice elevator animation. No kinda spooky glitchy elevator failing and having to occasionally climb a ladder to the next deck. Nada. Zero. Immersion breaking is bad in this kind of game and since you have to zip back and forth between decks constantly I think they really missed an opportunity here.

If you’ve got a thirst for moody, space bound survival horror and can forgive the quirks pick it up! It’ll pass some time.

I guess we’ll find out when I send over the link?…

YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF MEE!!!!!