If there are two things I inexplicably love in gaming, they’re horror and sci-fi survival games. Bonus points if they take place on a spaceship. Or in space. As long as they’re scary, really. This is strange, because I’m an absolute scaredy-cat and literally everything known to man spooks me. But I love being scared! And so when I heard about Syndrome, a new horror release by Camel 101, I had to check it out.
With a host of other survival horror games out there, how does Syndrome do on the spook-o-meter? Here’s my Syndrome review, including all the gory details of how absolutely terrified I got.
Doomed Starship? Sign Me Up!
Syndrome is a sci-fi horror game that takes place entirely upon what Camel 101 has called a “living hell inside a doomed starship.” Sounds just peachy, right? Within 10 minutes of gameplay I could already confirm they were not exaggerating. The premise is pretty simple and familiar: you’re mostly alone and you have to figure out what happened to your crew all while being hunted down by various enemies.
The player starts inside a cryo chamber and seems to be the only one who managed to survive. As you progress through the ship you hear eerie and unhappy sounds. Nothing too spooky yet though, or so I thought.
Within a few minutes, after unlocking doors to explore the ship, you end up in a quarantine room. During this sequence, you discover you’re not alone on the ship as a fellow crew member speaks to you over the ship’s communication system. It’s here that you receive your first real mission — restore power and meet up with the surviving crew.
As you traverse the ship, you discover there’s something wrong and it becomes difficult to know who to trust. Enemies start appearing, at first just moving past your peripheral vision and making you doubt your safety, but soon they become a lot more dangerous and you have to run or fight back to survive.
Hell is Only a Word, Reality is Much Worse
I use the quote above very intentionally. It’s from Event Horizon, a sci-fi horror movie that takes place in space. Something about Syndrome is reminiscent of Event Horizon, which I think is a very good thing. That movie terrified me when I first saw it, and Syndrome does well to make me feel incredibly uncomfortable. In my experience, that is what sets a player up for a good scare: constant discomfort, tension, and unease. Then frighten them when they least expect it; put them back into situations where it’s dark, eerily quiet, and they don’t know whether they’re safe or not.
The scares came thick and fast in Syndrome. I didn’t often feel like I had time to relax, so I was constantly on edge while playing. Every time I walked around a corner I expected something bad to happen, and even if it didn’t, I couldn’t fully relax. Moments later, a dead body would gasp and reach out for me or a shadowy figure would dart off down a corridor.
Haven’t I Been Here Before?
There were, of course, a few things that felt awkward or took away from the experience. For example, at the very beginning during the quarantine sequence, it felt like it took an awfully long time to count up to 100% while Neomi spoke to me over the ship’s comms. I would’ve preferred to be walking around the ship and exploring instead of being locked in an area I couldn’t leave. I think this decision was made due to the smaller size of the map. Allowing players to explore before the story is ready for them to do so would’ve made the ship feel much smaller.
However, because of this, some parts of the game felt repetitive. The ship is large, but when you’re confined to one place for an extended period of time, there’s only so many places you can go. This means there’s quite a lot of backtracking to complete objectives. This is compounded by the fact that you can only save at designated save points on the map, which makes some minor mission objectives feel long and tedious.
Objectives were also often frustrating. They were sometimes confusing or convoluted. I found myself running around the same areas not knowing what to do. I’d then realize that a new area was now accessible and was where I needed to go for the next part of my mission.
Combat was infuriating at times. While evading seems to be the better option, the run and hide mechanics were clunky, and I found myself having to swing at enemies to defend myself. On one occasion I was completely overwhelmed by three enemies and trapped in a corner, which of course ended in my inevitable death. I was then sent back to my last save, meaning I would have to figure out how to handle them all over again. This also meant having to repeat objectives since my last save, which quickly got quite old.
I eventually hit a wall in my playthrough a few hours in where I was completely lost and my objective and map were of no help to me. After traipsing around the starship’s decks for a while I had to admit defeat. The game is enjoyable enough for me to want to tackle it, but I feel like I can only do so in small bursts because I find some of the mechanics quite frustrating and the missions not as self-explanatory as I think the developers hoped they’d be.
Syndrome nails the quintessential horror aspects very well. While I found combat frustrating, it’s nice to have a game where I can defend myself but not feel overpowered. This definitely added to the horror aspect – I was still scared despite having weapons to fight back with.
While I feel like it was suitably scary for a horror game, and the story was simple but effective, Syndrome started to feel a bit repetitive as players had to return to the same areas repeatedly throughout the game to complete objectives.
Some may find the scares cheap, but when coupled with the excellent visuals and sound design, I thought they generated plenty of near heart attacks! My only major complaint was that the enemies felt quite frustrating when I had to actually deal with them, instead of them being a tool used to frighten me. In my opinion, a game has to have either good running and hiding mechanics or good combat. Syndrome felt pretty clunky in both. Hiding didn’t seem like much of an option from my experience, so it was more about evasion when there were multiple enemies.
Syndrome didn’t try anything new or risky. That said, it did play around a little bit with spatial manipulation. This is relatively new to horror games and is something I personally really love and find very, very frightening. In the early parts of the game, vents stretched ahead of me and then rubber-banded back as I crawled through them. This had me feeling very tense. Later on, there were areas where I’d go through a door and my environment would seemingly shift around me, which was another excellent example of using this feature. It’s not exclusive to Syndrome, but it’s definitely something that should be used a lot more in horror games. I was very happy to see it here.
The graphics actually surprised me. Camel 101 used lighting and sound to great effect in Syndrome. The visuals are dark and grainy, and despite not being completely triple-A levels, they work very well with the theme. Sound, on the other hand, was very spooky. In fact, the sound made the game feel incredibly immersive,and is definitely what struck me most. In the first 10 minutes I encountered a disturbing scene, but it wasn’t the gory visuals that got me. It was the use of music and booming sound that had me almost jumping out of my seat.
Each time I encountered an enemy, seeing them was certainly disconcerting, but the audio crescendo had me tense and on edge. Even when there were no enemies and it was seemingly my character flipping out, the sound and warping visuals were incredibly well done.
Value for Money 7/10
Even though the game is a little repetitive after a while, it kept me on the edge of my seat. The graphics and sounds alone make it worthwhile for a horror game fan looking for another fix, especially with Halloween around the corner. The graphical style and sound design plus the healthy amount of gameplay hours make it worth the $24.99 in my opinion.
Syndrome is a fun, frightening reminder that space is a scary place. Being trapped on a spaceship is terrifying and isolating. However, it could be quite frustrating at times. I couldn’t play for extended periods of time because I don’t enjoy repeating objectives or areas over and over. That said, it was atmospherically wonderful. The visual and sound design alone make it a great game for horror fans, especially those with a love for sci-fi.
+ Excellent use of lighting and sound for an immersive, scary experience
+ Doesn’t entirely focus on jump scares, instead succeeding in horrifying players and creating tension and discomfort
+ Spatial manipulation with extending and warping environments
– Very similar premise to existing games and movies, with a somewhat shallow plot
– Repetitive, as players have to run through areas they’ve been to before
– Objectives can be a bit confusing
– Frustrating hide mechanics and clunky combat