The Syphon Filter series has suffered a bumpy ride in contrast with its genre mates, and has never really made it to the cult status many thought it would arrive at. On Sony’s first console it was hugely popular and commercially successful, before floundering on the PlayStation 2. Then Dark Mirror arrived on the PSP, to enormous critical success, but despite its brilliance it never seemed to be embraced by gamers or retailers, and finding a copy in a shop was almost as hard as the game’s final boss.
Yet despite some fantastic graphics for a handheld, Syphon Filter simply sits more comfortably on a TV screen. With the PS2 version now here, Gabe Logan can begin to stretch his legs and show us just how good the games he stars in can be.
On the PSP Dark Mirror was considered near flawless by many and, despite a restricted set of buttons, it had some of the most finely tuned controls found in the handheld’s catalogue of games. Good PSP controls are relative though, and in moving onto the PS2 and gaining an extra analogue stick, the sense of fluidity and command in Dark Mirror has vastly improved. The change may indeed be a small one, but with far less time spent wrangling the camera from a sticky spot, and space for more acute control over accuracy, the pleasure derived from the latest in a series that has always been about showy gunplay has leaped forward in terms of enjoyment.
The visuals have been improved too, and though the in-game graphics have enjoyed only a subtle reworking, the cut-scenes are considerably better. At times they shine as some of the best seen on Sony’s aging last-gen machine, at least within the various genres of games that revel so readily in worlds of different greys.
As ever, the plot is incredibly convoluted and rather trying to follow, but the atmosphere of subterfuge and underhand dealings is realised magnificently. In combining a touch of the retro style of film noir with enough hi-tech gadgets to fill a military hardware trade show, the Syphon Filter teams have developed a distinct, if stereotype-riddled, personality for their games.
The action of course focuses on moving through levels that are generally industrial or wintry in theme, exchanging fire with numerous grunts via a selection of high tech weaponry. The weapon set is well balanced and eclectic, but it is your support technology, such as the four different goggle types that are available, that give most to the game. They not only bestow upon the player various strategies to apply to some of the excellent stand offs, but have also allowed the game’s designers to build certain level sections around them.
There is a somewhat dated feel to the action that will be felt most firmly by those used to elaborate team-based shooters, but for fans of the best of the series, and those who want a shining example of the epitome of first wave third-person-shooters, the latest Syphon Filter is an essential purchase. Dark Mirror is yet another swansong for the PS2, and gives those who have stuck by their last-gen console one more reason to smirk at the PlayStation 3, a machine only just escaping months of neglect with regard to software support.