Satellite Reign: A Nostalgic Sort-of Review
I tried out a little indie gem on a sale and a whim called Satellite Reign. I was drawn to it because it had an interesting title and a nice, low price, but more because it reminded me both visually and spiritually of Syndicate, an old video game from my childhood made by Bullfrog Entertainment, maker of several early video games series like Populous, Dungeon Keeper, Magic Carpet, and the “Theme” series (like Theme Hospital). Syndicate was one of my very first video games with any depth; my first, as I’ve mentioned before, was Might and Magic: Darkside of Xeen, but I believe this was my second. While they’re both “role playing” games, M&M:DX was more traditional fantasy fare, with a party of six with their portraits at the bottom, a viewscreen on the left, and information on the right.
This type of game had already entered my psyche, was already present in my mind, so while playing it was amazing and overwhelming at time, it was nothing truly new. Syndicate, though, was something else – something new. Cyberpunk was unheard of to me. The closest I’d come at that age was other more traditional sci-fi like Stranger in a Strange Land or the Foundation series – books I’d taken from my mother’s bookshelves and read.
Syndicate, though, was straight out of Phillip K. Dick or William Gibson. You controlled a team of individual parts, unlike in Xeen, which could move on their own, opening up all sorts of new strategies. There was also a meta-level, played at base, where you decided on research, chose missions, and geared up your soldiers.
I only vaguely remember the story, something about warring corporations where you wanted to take out the competition. But the gameplay was amazing, with destructible objects, vehicles you could ride in, and NPCs you could intentionally or accidentally kill. Syndicate taught me a lot of valuable lessons about sacrifice – unheard of in a fantasy RPG, but occasionally a good strategy when you really need to get that escort to safety and it doesn’t matter if one of your clones dies. It taught me about managing your money so that you didn’t run out of research funds while trying to buy gear. Most importantly it told me how stupid NPC escorts were, so when I encountered them later in WoW I was better prepared.
Satellite Reign is absolutely the spiritual successor to Syndicate, very much in the same way that Endless Space is the spiritual successor to Master of Orion (though now I see that’s getting a reboot). In Satellite Reign, you control a squad of four class-based teammates who you level, gear up, modify with cybertech that you can research or capture, and who can split up to enable a variety of strategies. There’s no meta-level “in between” stages; the game is a seamless play-through with four “districts” which roughly equate to “levels” and have increasing difficulty.
It was a very solid game; I got it expecting a nostalgic romp but found myself very engaged with the game play. The story was largely typical with a typical-but-fulfilling ending that I predicted but still enjoyed both narratively and visually. The four “classes” represented by your characters are different enough to really allow you solve static problems in very different ways: stealth, bribery, violence, hacking, etc, which I like; the creativity this engenders feels much more satisfying than just having one problem with one solution like you see in many other games.
So while this game isn’t a 10 of 10, I think it’s a very solid 8 of 10 that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys squad-based games, RTS games, or cyberpunk settings.