Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror

If you’ve played third-person tactical shooter Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror on the PSP, stop reading now. If you’re a PS2 owner and you’re new to the game, then there’s enough here to keep you entertained, albeit before something good comes on the telly. As a direct port from one of the more successful PSP titles, Dark Mirror seems to have been dragged kicking and screaming onto its older brother; it’s a pity a game of such caliber on the handheld can offer so little in terms of innovation on the PS2, and the removal of certain key elements is downright bizarre.

Once again, you play as Syphon Filter regular Gabe Logan as he tries to save the world espionage style (i.e. infiltrating secret bases, gaining access to naughty documents and being generally gruff). This time he’s investigating military group Red Section who’ve taken hold of a petroleum base in Alaska, and Gabe soon finds himself uncovering ‘Project Dark Mirror’, a threat to global security etc etc. The story is immersive enough, presented in nice episodic chunks, but you could easily ignore the details and simply have fun plugging the swarms of nameless baddies and enjoying Gabe’s glib one-liners.

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Our Gabe is likeably a man’s man, cut from the same cloth as Hero Type ‘A’ in a Hollywood action movie, which has always been part of the series’ kitschy appeal. This time, unfortunately, his nicely defined upper body that looked so good on the PSP is almost frightening when blown up onto the big screen - we’re talking sausages stuffed with porridge here – and the lack of change in facial expression, even for a PS2 title, astounds; most noticeably when you die you still look like a Ken doll who’s smelled a really bad fart. On the whole the game looks graphically dated, something you’d expect from a PS2 game released years ago. The lack of polish and shine for the port is absolutely noticeable.

You can forgive some of the game’s graphical shortcomings when focusing on the intuitive third-person movement scheme - one could easily forgo the game’s three training levels, pick up the controller and master Gabe’s sneak n shoot combo within 10 minutes. L2 presses you against the wall, X is crouch, R1 is turn around and shoot and so on. If you’ve ever played any third-person action title on the PS2 you should be able to pick it up no sweat, which is most definitely a good thing. The Syphon Filter series long ago defined itself as a more accessible Metal Gear Solid, the Die Hard to Solid’s Heat (if you will), and its simple control scheme differentiates itself from the complexities of the aforementioned game nicely.

Conversely the transition from PSP to PS2 has not helped particular areas of combat. Much of this is probably due to the fact that the PSP has just one thumbstick as opposed to two, and the combat system was designed around this. Sony Bend have done such a slap dash job of reconfiguring the combat for the PS2 that it’s slightly bewildering. Sometimes you can shoot wildly to the left of an enemy and he’ll fall down dead – other times you’ll have to grind the R1 button repeatedly at a guy’s head before doing any damage. The AI works admirably enough, but don’t expect much more than the basic ‘I spotted him’ or ‘where is he?’ type responses, and at times the members of Red Faction just stand there waiting for you to plug them like lambs for the slaughter. When you do pop off a smooth head shot it feels good, but there isn’t enough consistency to satisfy.

Sound-wise, Dark Mirror is great. It’s got a sweeping, energetic score that works well with the grandiose storyline. It’s just a pity that when you shut your eyes you feel you’re Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, and when you open them you’re sausagy Ken with your gun floating half a metre in front of you for no apparent reason.

Possibly the most detrimental aspect of the PS2 port is the stuff they’ve taken out of the original PSP version. The visual gore is gone, which is odd considering you can still hear the crack of a bad guy’s neck being broken (it still retains its R16 rating). The ability to taser is gone, and most noticeably, the much lauded multiplayer is gone. The multiplayer aspect on the PSP, which involved deathmatches, ‘rogue agent’ and objective modes respectively, was great fun and attracted a sizable community. Its absence makes very little sense considering it was one of the most highly regarded features of the PSP original, and the only thing I can put it down to is the unpopularity of the old PlayStation Network. But honestly, if you’re gonna port something, why not just port the whole damn thing? Removing the best bits and adding nothing does not a good game make.

Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror could have been reviewed without mentioning its PSP origins, but the fact that it’s suffered a bad – and unnecessary – transition is so obvious, it would have been dishonest to do so. You’ll probably still get a kick out of the larger-than-life story, the gung-ho pace of gameplay and the ease of control, but if you’re looking for anything more revolutionary than a fairly standard tactical shooter, look elsewhere. Or even better, grab yourself a PSP and play the original.

"Gabe Logan’s small screen adventure hits the big screen. "
- Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror
Follow Own it? Rating: PG   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 15 Min


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