Developer - Sony Bend
Publisher - SCEA
Memory Stick Duo – 416KB
Wi-Fi Compatible (Ad Hoc)
Wi-Fi Compatible (Infrastructure)
Syphon Filter has been a staple franchise on all the Sony branded gaming platforms, so it was just a matter of time before the PSP received the ‘spy espionage' treatment. I was apprehensive on how this game was going to translate to a portable machine so I made sure to keep my expectations open. Well, after some playtime with Gabe Logan's newest adventure, titled Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror, I can happily say that this game not only met any expectations I had, but literally blew them out of the water.
Anyone who has read any of my PSP reviews knows that I am a fan of the LCD screen on the PSP. Not only is it quite large for a portable machine, but the clarity and colors it produces are matched by no one. As for Dark Mirror I have to say that it looks great on the PSP. Colors and textures are solid and everything seems to have a level of polish that one would expect on a home console. Each level looks very different and there is a high level of detail in each of them. The first time you are outside in the cold and you see your breath in the air or you see your footprints in the snow you will realize that the developers went that extra mile to put make this game a good looking title. Environmental effects are quite evident as well and vary from level to level. From snow covered mountains to dust clouds in the air in Peru the power of the PSP is fully utilized in this game. The character models themselves are also very solid and contain the same amount of detail that went into each level. They animate very fluidly and don't look out of place in the game. For those sticklers out there the frame rate is pretty much rock solid and I really didn't notice any slowdown during my playtime. Overall I would have to say that Dark Mirror is yet another testament to what kind of high quality visuals can be accomplished on the PSP.
The audio in a game like this can add or take away from the overall experience, in Dark Mirror the former is the case. The music in this game suits each and every scenario to a tee, and if anything it only heightens some already tense action. I had to shake my head a few times as I was playing some of the stealthy stages. During these times I was so intense into my gameplay that I actually didn't realize there was music playing. This was not due to it being out of place, but it was due to the way it just melded in with the levels adding to my focus as I sneaked through each level. As for the rest of the sound effects I was happy with what came out of the speakers on the PSP. Different guns made different sounds and explosions made an impact. There are also voice effects as enemies scream for assistance. Cut scenes are also ample in Dark Mirror and the voice acting is quite well done in these. I was happy to see (actually hear) that the voice work in these scenes was not cheesy and actually added to the overall experience of the game.
I think it is important to get something right out of the way immediately, Dark Mirror follows the typical "fight the terrorist" storyline and it makes no excuses for falling into such a clichéd plotline. Regardless of the generic feeling of this story it just seems to work. You'll find yourself very interested in what happens as you make your way through the game. I for one really enjoyed each little plot twist and it made for an enjoyable adventure on my PSP.
Many naysayers of the PSP criticize the lack of dual analogs, and this very evident when FPS or combat style games are released for the system. As I started to play Dark Mirror I was a bit apprehensive that this might be the case, however after about 20 minutes or so, and by experimenting with the available control schemes, I was able to control our hero, Gabe Logan, with ease. For those wondering about the control and how it works I think it would be fair to explain the basics. Some of the controls are combined in a few button press combinations. For example, the vision mode (thermal, night, etc.) is accessed by holding the left direction button to access the menu. You then select one of these vision modes using the assigned face button (turns vision on and off). Weapon choice is just as simple but this time you hold the right direction button and the weapons menu become accessible and each weapon is mapped to the four face buttons. Weapons also reload automatically, or with tap up on the d-pad too. Sure at first it seems like a convoluted style but once you use it is really is simple and in many ways quite intuitive.
Moving Gabe Logan in each level is also quite well done, especially given that this game is on the PSP. Besides the vision mode and weapons the d-pad is also functional for other things. Tapping the d-pad allows for Gabe to stand or crouch when in battle or exploring the various levels. You can also lean against walls in Dark Mirror too. This is accomplished by moving in close to the wall you wish to lean against and pressing the analog nub in that direction. Along the same lines as leaning you are also able to peek around a corner which is a great assistance in the effort to be stealthy. Here all you need to do is lean on the wall and then press the analog nub in the direction of where you want to peek. I have to say that moving Gabe around the various levels that I faced was more of a gaming experience then a task and it is a control scheme like this that really makes this a better game.
The challenge that the AI puts up in Dark Mirror was also a pleasant surprise. I found that there were times that required stealth and there were other times that required an all out attack. It was nice to see that this game had me mix it up on more than one occasion. During my battles with the computer AI I was also amazed to see how the computer controlled bad guys ran from my gunfire, used various objects for protective cover and seemed to have a relatively good level of intelligence. Don't get me wrong though; there was still the odd occasion where the enemy just stood out in the open while I plugged him full of lead but overall the developer did a great job of giving the enemies some semblance of intelligence and it made Dark Mirror more then just a run of the mill shoot‘em up.
The levels themselves, which are broken up into several chapters, have you completing various tasks. These can range from finding NPC's who have a skill to help you advance, assisting NPC's to complete a specific task to protecting various people in the game. Dark Mirror makes sure to mix in a lot of different tasks and it really helps to keep it fresh. I was afraid that this missions may have been full of go from point A to point B while killing the baddies in between, but as with a lot of other aspects of this game I was pleasantly surprised that it was not what I expected.
Dark Mirror also includes a very robust multiplayer mode for the PSP. Utilizing both the Ad-Hoc (local) and Infrastructure (Online) Wi-Fi capabilities the game has a wide variety of multiplayer features. Playing online is as easy as hosting a game or finding one and entering that room. You can also view your buddy list should there be gamers that you enjoy playing online with. Most people would have been happy with these features, but the developers went a step further by including such things as leader boards, a message board and even a mail box. When you see such online features for a handheld game you realize that this is truly an amazing machine and as well as an amazing online game.
Online battles are pretty much smooth with only a hiccup of lag. I didn't play online nearly as much as I wished, however what I did experience was pretty darn good. In terms of numbers up to eight players can fight it out locally or online in one of four modes: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Objective and Rogue Agent. The first two modes are self-explanatory as they are every man/team for themselves and the person/persons with the highest kills win. The Objective matches are more team oriented in the sense that you are battling for single goal. These objectives can range from acquiring a code to disarm a bomb to collecting and stacking empty canisters. The opposing team also is trying to complete the goal so it is a battle of wits to see who gets it done first. The Rogue Agent mode has players starting on the same team. During gameplay one of the players finds an object giving him Rogue Agent skills and he then proceeds to kill others before he is killed. Once he is killed the first person to find the object after the Agent is killed then takes the role of the new Rogue Agent. For the limited time I did manage to play online all these modes provided some great online action.
Syphon Filter has made the transition to portable gaming in a big way. The latest chapter, Dark Mirror, has great graphics, great sound, great gameplay and a very robust multiplayer mode all neatly wrapped up in one big package. A game like this only solidifies what can be done on the PSP, and with the recently released Daxter it is evident Sony is clearly on a roll and the future of their handheld machine continues to look very promising indeed.