Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror
Chef Felix samples some of the ingredients that make up Gabe Logan's latest adventure and is hungering for more. More...ingredients.
Fans rejoice! The Syhpon Filter series is getting some much-needed life breathed back into it. A pretty unexpected hit on the original PlayStation, the series has progressively gotten farther and farther away from made it so good in the first place. Be intrigued: the upcoming installment for PSP, Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror, is a title that shaping up to both reinvigorate the series as well as give the PSP library a much needed kick in the pants as well as give people a reason set terrorists on fire with a taser along the way.
Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror follows a similar premise to the previous titles: you are Gabe Logan, the commander of a super-secret government organization that gets called in to take care of those "special" situations. At your disposal is an array of weapons and gadgets, as well as support team that keeps the missions moving along by providing intel and/or objective information. Pretty much par for the course as far as special ops-based games go, but that's not a bad thing in the case of the Syphon Filter series.
The first thing that becomes apparent when hopping into Dark Mirror is how well the controls work . Getting true responsive first-person or third person controls hammered out on the PSP has been seriously lacking in most of the recent titles, but Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror has a layout that is both easy to learn and forgiving. The analog controls on the PSP are far from perfect, but Dark Mirror feels like it's aware of this, and maneuvering Gabe around feels like it's taking this into account. There are several different modes to choose from, but the default has you using the analog stick to move Gabe around, while the buttons are used to look around. The D-Pad is implemented as to have you switch through the weapons in your arsenal, as well as select the different visor modes, reload your weapon and go prone/stand up. Firing and locking on is handled with the two shoulder buttons. Lots to learn at first, but it's surprising how natural all the controls feel after just a short amount of time.
Interface is laid out quite well, and switching between different weapons and gadgetry is a pretty easy feat after some time with the game. A good thing, too, as a single level has you doing a ton. Tasks aren't always mandatory, either; if one thing the Syphon Filter series has provided, its variety within missions, and this one is no different. You are sniping, computer hacking, neck-stabbing and zip lining all over the place, and all of it is implemented quite intuitively. For a game based around special ops and "subtlety", the pacing of Dark Mirror is really quite good: take a guy out with your trusty silenced pistol, sniper the sinister dude on the roof, taser a few of the oncoming enemies once the alarm gets sounded (but of course), then just give in and break out the automatic weapons.
Speaking of variety, this has been a pretty strong factor as far as what has distinguished the Syhpon Filter games apart from others. There is just so much flexibility in the games' mission design. Traditionally, you are given a set of objectives to be completed, but how you achieve your goals has always been a gratifyingly open one. One can try the subtle approach, taking out enemies with stealth kills (silenced and melee weapons), or tear things up the old fashioned way: by shooting anything that moves. If the short preview we took for a spin is any indication of the design throughout the entire game, players might even find themselves adopting both means of assault throughout the same mission. Syphon Filter titles have always been high on replay value simply because their design allows for so many different approaches to the same objectives. Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror feels no different.
The game looks damn incredible. Character models are insanely detailed and marvelously textured, while the environments give you something worth exploring, albeit a shallow eye candy one. But what's wrong with that? The PSP is designed to deliver some pretty impressive graphics, so it's good to see some developers being able to bake something up that that satisfies both graphical presentation...and hearty gameplay flavor. Truly a good showing so far.
The recent outbreak of console-centric ports on the PSP has left a bitter taste in my mouth. I was very skeptical of Dark Mirror, but upon giving it a test spin I have to admit that I'm quite surprised. The design so far shows off a team that is well aware of what the PSP can and cannot do, and aren't trying anything overly ambitious. There's a lot to be excited about for Syphon Filter, so fans of the series and PSP owners alike should definitely keep a close eye on this one and see how the final product turns out on release this March.