Syn-Factor / Symbiocom

Developer/Publisher:  Piranha Interactive
Year Released:  1998

Review by Gordon Aplin (March, 1998)
synf.jpgSyn-Factor is an interesting game with an intriguing story and a good dose of mystery that makes you want to play it through to the end just to find out what happens. It is a first-person perspective adventure within an intelligent, but unrelieved science-fiction setting. By 'unrelieved' I mean that the whole game revolves around exploring fairly sterile, claustrophobic and largely uninhabited environments including your spaceship, a space station, and corporate complexes. Everything, including the interface, is metallic or synthetic and even the planet you land on in the final section of the game is washed out and lifeless.

Follow the lead
The story begins with you as the only person left aboard the now crippled space ship, I.S.T. Rident. The passengers and the rest of the crew have disappeared following an attack on the Rident by the mysterious "Dog Ships". It's up to you to learn what happened and why, and the best way to do this is to follow the attackers ... but you're not going anywhere just yet. First you must carry out some repairs and at least try to get some crucial information. You will find out what must be done as you explore the parts of the space ship that you can access.

Fortunately, you are not completely alone. Inside your head is a SYM chip, a 'bio-tech' implant from SYNSYM Corporation that can help you make sense of your surroundings and enable you to link to other artificial intelligences and databases. In five self-contained episodes you will pursue the Dog Ships back to their base, learning a little more about the reason for the attack as you uncover new information. You may even learn why you were somehow miraculously 'spared'.

Puzzle solving
The puzzles are not too difficult for experienced adventurers and are logically consistent within the game world. You will spend much of your time getting equipment working, trying to find coordinates, access codes and passwords, and generally piecing together the information you gather. This means a lot of snooping around and careful reading of electronic mail to extract significant words. And, no, a birth date won't do as a code for accessing a computer or a locked door, you'll have to look further than that.

Your SYM implant provides a text description of the various things you can interact with and even offers clues if you are prepared to read carefully. You can also search for information on persons and places in your personal database and there is an on-line 'hint' feature here as well but, be warned, these hints are fairly explicit in telling you what you must do next. My advice is to access them only if you are well and truly stuck.

Search carefully
The way to avoid that brick wall in Syn-Factor is to be sure that you investigate everything, because all the clues are right there if you are diligent in this respect. This means being aware that, although the interface alerts you when there is an object to pick up and when there's a link to investigate, it doesn't automatically acknowledge all significant objects in the game environment. Some objects you must click on in order to operate them or to get a description and, maybe, a clue.

Though the interface is full screen all the action takes place in a 'window' occupying a little over a third of the screen similar to games such as Buried in Time. Immediately beneath the action window are left and right arrows for a turning movement and a forward arrow will appear at appropriate places. The text box is further below and this is where your implant will communicate with you. Text will, generally, also appear here if another character talks to you although this is a little inconsistent as on one or two occasions there is no accompanying text. To the right of the action window are buttons to access your inventory, your status information and database. The rest of the screen is an inert, metallic backdrop to the game.

There are only five save-game slots (one for each episode?) but you probably won't need more than these anyway. You can't make an irretrievable mistake, so there is little need to return to previous saved positions. It is possible to die in this game, but you will be immediately and automatically restored to the place where you made your fatal error, so there's really no need to worry.

Syn-Factor is aimed squarely at science fiction fans. Although it's a bit too metallic and sterile for my taste, I'm sure that many sci-fi fans will appreciate the particular ambience this creates. Regardless of this, the game was interesting enough to keep me playing, and I particularly appreciated that your character is both nameless and faceless so the game invites all players equally to step into the role and experience the story.

If you are interested in Syn-Factor, a word of advice, you might have to search for it carefully. It's packaged in a dark, mean-looking box that suggests 'action' and 'attitude'. The blurb on the back gives the same ominous message. Don't be mislead as there's no combat and nor is it a space strategy/sim. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1998. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
Minimum: Microsoft Windows 3.1, 486DX/33, 8MB RAM, 2X CD-ROM drive, SVGA display at 640x480, 8bit graphics (256 colors) Windows compatible sound card.
Recommended: Microsoft Windows 95, 486DX2/66 or faster, 16MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM drive, SVGA display at 640x480, 16bit graphics (32k colors) Windows compatible sound card.
Minimum: 68030 or higher, System 7.1 or later, 8MB RAM (4096K free) 2X CD ROM, SVGA display (640x480) 8bit graphics (256 colors)
Recommended: 68030 or higher, System 7.1 or later, 16 MB RAM (4096K free) 4X CD ROM, SVGA display (640x480) 16bit graphics (32K colors)