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Fuck This Game In Particular, I Guess

Syndicate, published by Electronic Arts in 2012, may as well have never existed

I finished my annual playthrough of Mirror's Edge the other day and, while ruminating on just how special its insistence on maintaining the first-person perspective at all costs was--even to its occasional detriment--I got to thinking about other older, first-person games that were just as admirable in their intentions.

Starbreeze's 2004 Riddick game was very good at making sure you were immersed in every single action, no matter how tedious. So were Machinegames' most recent Wolfenstein games, though I use the word "recent" relatively, since New Order is now somehow 10 years old.

Interestingly, those two games came at opposite ends of a development timeline that saw many of the original crew of Starbreeze games depart and form Machinegames. Right at the point that shift took place, though, a middle game was released under Starbreeze's banner that I also remember fondly: Syndicate.

It was pretty good!

Published by EA, released in 2012 and based loosely on an excellent series of PC games from the 1990s, Syndicate isn't spoken of with anywhere near the same reverence as any of the games I've listed above. That's partly because it wasn't quite as good (despite some fantastic moments), but it's also down to the fact that while it's easy to revisit those other games, and thus write about them lovingly, it's almost impossible to buy and play Syndicate in 2012. Legally, anyway.

I found this out last week, after that Mirror's Edge playthrough and my subsequent first-person thought experiment. I remembered playing Syndicate, enjoying it, then realising that unlike those other pioneers I hadn't played it since. So I went to download it.

Being in Australia, this wasn't going to be entirely straightforward. Back in 2012 the game had actually been refused classification here, essentially banning it, because it featured some pretty extreme violence. Australia's outdated classification system, designed back when it was believed only kids were gamers, didn't allow for an adults-only video game.

I'd got around this and played it in 2012 (for work!) by, uh, acquiring it via alternative means. Assuming that it's been 12 years, and with Australia now boasting a slightly more contemporary classification system, I figured I could just jump onto a shopfront and buy it for like $5.

Nope! My first stop was Steam. It was never released on Steam, because back in 2012 EA were trying to force everyone to buy PC games through Origin, and it just never made it back over there when EA and Valve made amends. My next stop was Good Old Games and...not there either. So I went back to the source, EA's own shopfront, and it turns out the game had been delisted and removed from sale back in 2020, so wasn't there either.

Turns out that, if you want to buy and download this game on PC, it's pretty much nowhere to be found. You just can't buy this game anymore. I mean you can, technically–you can pay a shady key reseller (no thank you), buy an old disc version (no thank you) or, I've been told, try to buy a $20 key from an old Walmart link. But if you wanted to do the normal and expected thing, which is visit a popular online store and pay a small fee to buy the digital version of an old video game, you are shit out of luck. For all EA cares, this game never existed outside of a skrillex video with 2 million views and a half-broken website.

This seems incredible to me. This was a major release by one of the world's biggest publishers as recently as 2012. That's only 12 years ago; old enough for this to no longer be a going concern for EA, sure, but hardly as old as some other classics from the company's back catalogue that are still widely available. Mirror's Edge, for example, is also an EA game, is still available on multiple shopfronts and was released back in 2008.

Of course this is nothing new. The disappearance of games and their increasing unavailability, even if someone like me is sitting here trying to spend money on them, is a pattern being repeated across all of gaming. History is lost every time a game is removed from shopfronts, disappearing from our collective consciousness even as publishers fight to stop attempts to preserve them, mounting legal challenges to maintain ownership of games they don't even want to sell anymore.

Syndicate is just one example among many, a microcosm of what a larger tragedy looks like on an individual basis. Leaving me once again, all these years later, returning to the same way I'd played it last time, even though this time I really did want to give someone money for it. Oh well!

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