The Syphon Filter series is in my opinion one of the most underrated game franchises to have surfaced over the last few years. Yes, Metal Gear Solid was a fantastic game along with its increasingly impressive sequels, where instead of the all guns blazing routine to get to your goal you have to use stealth, and the same can be said about the Splinter Cell games as well, both legendary series that have embedded themselves into the history of gaming. However, the one thing guaranteed in all previous Syphon Filter games to date is pure unadulterated fun where you can blow stuff up to your heart’s content while also maintaining stealth elements for the right situations.
Syphon Filter’s Gabe Logan is a cool action hero, cooler than Solid Snake in my humble opinion, with his ‘trying to find himself’ patter. Gabe isn’t the most manly of names but he just goes in and does the job in the way he wants to do it, whether that is all-out war where everything is a casualty, including the buildings and your eyes, or with a little bit more stealth and skill. Either way though, there’s a lot of killing to be done. Syphon Filter has never tried to be overly ambitious with is gameplay and the same can be said for this latest release – it’s just a damn enjoyable game with some great replayability.
Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror plays a lot like Metal Gear Solid, using a third person view that switches to first person when aiming, with a camera that moves around depending on which direction you are running or facing. The strange thing here is that this is a PSP port to PS2, not the usual approach of converting from PS2 to PSP, which might have you wondering if this PS2 release is any better than the PSP version. Fortunately, the great gameplay of the PSP original has transitioned well over to the soon to be retired granddad that is the PS2 – Gabe and his colleagues are a dish best served up on the television screen with the control pad in your hands.
Our story begins with Gabe and Lian heading into Alaska for Operation Kemsynth Refinery under the cover of darkness with the snow floating down all around. The FMV intro is superb, as are the continuing cut scenes and set pieces, which really set an intense atmosphere that is present throughout the game. The main plot might be a little corny and the acting a little more like acting school rather than award-winning, but its always relevant and the mission briefings are never confusing. A group calling themselves Red Section have taken over the Kemsynth Oil refinery and all contact with its workers has been lost. You are meant to use all your experience and training to make this a quick insertion and extraction of the plant’s foreman, who is of special interest to the government.
You’re thrown into the action straight away, coming under fire from a sniper, and after taking him out there are plenty more camouflaged terrorists ready to take you down. The action from here is pretty much non-stop, only broken up by various communications with Lian and others, telling you where to go next along with uncovering additional snippets of the plot. The main single campaign mode is split up into episodes that are then split up into further parts, breaking the game up and allowing for a much-needed rest between the shooting. Of course, as you progress through the missions you come to realise that the enemy are not just your average terrorists but something much more sinister!
The gadgets in the game are easy to use and a fine addition to the gameplay; with a simple touch of the d-pad you can switch between night-vision goggles, a specialist electricity-viewing pair of EDSU goggles and even a pair of infra-red goggles. These are all needed at certain points, but I liked to use them frequently because the smoothness of the transition and the way your view changes as you move through the goggles offers a realistic special-ops feel. There are times when you have to quickly swap from one to another to gain a much-needed advantage as bullets fly at you from all angles. The goggles in particular change the way you view the levels because not only must you take in what’s in front of you, but you also have to think about what might be within certain structures or behind certain walls that could give you a strategic advantage.
There’s a large array of weapons on offer, from the usual silenced pistol to explosive grenades. The really clever thing that has been showcased by many other games though is the ability to take the weapons of the enemy, including their flak jackets. Many a time I strategically equipped myself with a certain weapon to take on one soldier then ran back to where I left my previous firearm so as to differ my tactics even more. There are so many gadgets and weapons on offer that you’ll find yourself picking your favourites and leaving the rejects rusting in the snow. The taser makes another appearance and it’s great fun to use, along with a weapon that not only fires bullets but also a variety of darts that can knock out enemies or explode, among other types.
There are a variety of ways to use stealth in your missions as well; one particular part allows you to run past a soldier unnoticed, or you could go up behind him to break his neck or slit his throat. The tactic I used was to activate the fuse box the soldier was repairing, thus electrocuting him. But then I did something stupid – as I went over to pick up his rifle I got electrocuted myself! Throughout the game there is more than one way to get rid of your enemy, which really adds to the atmosphere. You might be creeping up behind a guard when you get spotted by a sniper overhead, so you just pull out your machine gun and blow them both to smithereens. Your options aren’t only limited to how you despatch your foes either, as there is usually more than one route to discover in each location as well.
The graphics are decent enough and don’t detract from the action, but bear in mind that Dark Mirror was originally created for the PSP. The main characters are a little stumpy but move fluidly and the enemies change slightly as you move from one area to the next; some keep their masks on for example whilst others will be carrying noticeably different weaponry, so you might use that to your benefit by concentrating on the guy with the best gun first then picking that up to use on his comrades. The environments tend to use a very cold, metallic, industrial theme, but this is consistent with the plot and the setting, and you never get bored while running through the snow because the music keeps pumping, an intense futuristic techno/rock track that keeps pace throughout the game. The weapons look and sound really lifelike and also manage to move in a realistic sense, especially as you glide down an electricity wire lining up targets for your Uzi. The targeting system is adequate enough; you don’t need to be a great aim but some care is needed because you don’t want to go blowing yourself up, which is an occurrence that happens a lot!
Even on easy this is one game that doesn’t let you steamroll your way through to the end; you will die a lot, usually under a barrage of bullets or from well-placed snipers’ shots. That’s probably why there are so many weapons on offer, along with even more flak jackets. The enemy AI tends to range from especially good sharpshooters to stupidly suicidal soldiers. The only problem I had with Gabe is that when you’re cornered by a group of soldiers it’s next to impossible to get out of trouble, because your hand-to-hand combat is a little slow compared to how clinical you are when mowing down enemies with a gun. The little set pieces between the soldiers are fun to watch too; you’ll find yourself replaying a scene so you can hear what they were saying from start to finish before you interrupted them by breaking a neck!
Gabe doesn’t just blow things up though; there are times when you have to use covering fire to help your partner move from one to location to another, using the square button to tell them to move when an area has been cleared. The usual escorting and finding a keycard missions are present too, but they are fun and never become repetitive. For the benefit of fans and continuity of the storyline, numerous characters return, the acting passable and indeed funny at times. Right at the start someone informs Gabe that the terrorists were ready and waiting, Gabe replies “Well they were waiting, but they aren’t ready!” Suitable corny one-liners they are, but they add to the action and you’ll be cracking your own ones soon enough!
One major drawback in Dark Mirror is a lack of multiplayer – all you get is the single player campaign, which is undoubtedly fun but would have been a lot better with more than one player. Considering the popularity of the PSP multiplayer mode, it is a real loss. The developers have tried to make up for this with the ability to replay every mission you complete, along with the additional unlocked bonus goodies that allow for even greater destruction. There are a fair few unlockable weapons and side missions that will have you coming back for more, but the lifespan is nevertheless a little restricted. The training missions are average enough, slowly introducing you to the game, but it’s a fairly easy game to get to grips with in terms of controls and movement. The bonuses are worth playing for though, whilst the side missions add a bit more depth and closure to the Gabe Logan story.
Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror is a good game with decent, no-frills graphics and excellent sound. It offers more action than most third person action games and the explosions are always much more fun than sneaking around corridors in the dark. I can recommend this to fans of the series and those who enjoy a good action game, and I look forward to the next generation edition – with some hope that Gabe Logan and his quantity over quality approach continues to provide enjoyment like it always has.