Satellite Reign – What We Think:
Satellite Reign is billed as the “spiritual successor” to the Syndicate series, the legendary open-world cyberpunk games of the ’90s. 5 Lives Studio is actually the new development team created by Mike Diskett, the lead designer for Syndicate sequel Syndicate Wars, and funded the project through a massively successful Kickstarter campaign.
This isn’t a game “inspired” by the Syndicate series, it’s a legitimate follow-up (technically, there was a Syndicate reboot in 2012, but while it retained the setting of the original series, it was a first-person shooter, not a tactical squad-based RTS).
The good news? Satellite Reign nails everything that was awesome about Syndicate Wars. The bad? It has a lot of the same problems; you’d probably forgotten about most of them, thanks to the magic of nostalgia, but Satellite Reign is here to remind you why Syndicate wasn’t as perfect as you remembered.
As this is an updated “spiritual successor” coming almost two decades after the original, it’s also brought along some more contemporary performance issues more befitting to the current era of PC gaming.
Grand Theft Hovercar
In the simplest terms, Satellite Reign is an open world game, a little like a cyberpunk version of Grand Theft Auto. You’ll guide your crew of four cyborgs with various specialties—from explosives to hacking to stealth—through a persistent city environment with multiple mission choices in real time. To get money and to improve your weapons and other gear, you’ll break into corporate and military facilities. Whether that’s through hacking, stealth and subversion or full frontal assault is up to you.
The game seems to reward the stealth method, providing you with a broad toolbox of techniques that include hacking, hardwiring into the electrical grid, and using a digital “world scan” view to see how security cameras and gate terminals connect to one another and to local power supplies. You also get experience bonuses the more you stick to cover on a given mission.
Stomp the Yard
Thanks to less-than-ideal pathfinding and AI, however, it’s pretty easy to run afoul of security cameras and/or enemy guards, even if you’re micro-managing your squad. Sooner or later (probably sooner), you’ll end up in a shoot-out. That gives the AI on both sides additional opportunities to disappoint and aggravate you.
You might find your characters wandering out from behind cover directly into the line of fire, or you might see enemy guards sharing cover with your own characters, ducking down behind a concrete barrier as if there isn’t an enemy shooting them point blank.
These kind of errors aren’t constant, but they’re frequent enough to be annoying, even if they sometimes end up in your favor. Sometimes, for example, guards will walk directly on top of you without seeming to realize you’re there.
They’re also compounded by performance issues. The more people in an area, the more things slow down to the point that if you get in a confrontation in a public place, like the market, things can slow down to a crawl, especially if your system isn’t the latest and greatest.
Admittedly, you can go into the settings menu and reduce the number of random civilians, but that’s kind of a drag, because the city is the real star of Satellite Reign.
And what a city it is! With its constant rainfall, darkness and garish neon signs, it’s Blade Runner meets Neuromancer meets every other awesome cyberpunk metropolis you’ve read about in a novel, seen on a movie or explored in a video game. And it’s populated by tons of citizens, from the destitute sprawled in the gutters or warming themselves in front of trash fires to the ultra-rich, slumming it in clubs and massage parlors, they’re all here, all living out their digital lives, and all decked out in goofy cyberpunk fashion.
A Clone Again (Naturally)
Because your four agents all rely on cloned bodies, you’ll need to replenish your supply by hijacking civilians. This turns out to be one of the game’s most engaging aspects: scanning passersby, picking the best ones based on their statistics (or perhaps on their crazy hairstyles and cybernetic implants) and adding them to your stable of spare clones.
It’s almost a whole game in and of itself. Admittedly, 5 Lives Studio probably didn’t intend for Satellite Reign to be a cyberpunk action figure collection sim, but there’s no real “wrong” way to play a sandbox game like this one. After all, some people play Grand Theft Auto by assiduously driving the speed limit and avoiding violent situations.
The Sim of All Things
Perhaps the biggest problem with Satellite Reign is that it has arrived in the midst of a bounty of excellent competitors. Last year’s Shadowrun: Dragonfall, which made our Top 10 Best Indie Games of 2014, nails a similar setting with a more story-driven RPG campaign, while this year’s stylish Invisible, Inc. does cyberpunk noir stealth and hacking perhaps better than they’ve ever been done.
Satellite Reign doesn’t play quite like either of these—it’s sometimes chaotic small-scale RTS tactics are closer to Kyn than anything, even if the games have little else in common—but does share a similar setting and overall mood.
What it does offer is a more open world. Whether you spend the game following the storyline as closely as possible, simply wander around the city soaking up the atmosphere or even go on a random murder spree, Satellite Reign can accommodate your preferred play style. It’s not perfect, and the closer you hew to what seem to be the most obvious or intended method of play the less perfect it gets, but despite its flaws, this game has a compelling setting that’s worth exploring at leisure.
Watch the trailer for Satellite Reign below: