IGN Review of Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror
It's a rare thing when a game actually defines a system. Not an easy thing to do in any case, but once in a great while a title comes out that sums up the perks and potential of a particular game system. Halo defined the Xbox, for instance, while Final Fantasy X did the same for PS2. Now, Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror has done the same exact thing with the Sony PSP. It exploits just about every technical capability the little system has to offer, and it does so with an extreme degree of elegance and refinement.
Sound ridiculous? Not if you've sunk a dozen hours in the game. What is a little ridiculous is that it has taken developers this long to produce something of such caliber. And it's not so much raw gameplay and presentation, either, though each sets a new benchmark for handhelds. But it's the fact Sony Bend, the game's developers, achieved the same level of quality in every aspect. And yes, that includes certain elements some game makers won't touch, such as eight-player online play with full voice chat capabilities.
Fans of the series, and anyone keeping up with IGN's coverage of Syphon Filter, don't need a refresher course in the basics. But for those who don't know, here's a
link to an earlier preview detailing everything (hopefully) you may want to know. Those who hate clicking things just need keep reading. Basically, Dark Mirror drops you in the shoes of Gabe Logan, a precision strike operative tasked with diffusing situations the U.S. government deems too hot. And, as fate would have it, you're damn good at your job.
The plot in Dark Mirror shares elements with every story dealing with terrorists. There's the usual cast of shady characters, vivacious women and unethical experimentation. Overall, it's not an original tale. You've seen this in movies or read it in books several times. But what makes the story unique in Dark Mirror isn't its narrative so much as the quality with which the game presents it. Sounds a little absurd, sure, but the caliber of voice acting, full-motion video and editing make a huge difference in a story that people have heard before.
The cutscenes use flashbacks and documentary-style shakiness to make them feel intense and dynamic. It really makes the game feel that much more immersive and adds to the illusion that you're actually accomplishing something. The editing, too, is very tight and makes you want to watch the story unfold. The game lets you skip cutscenes, but there's a good chance you won't want to. Beyond this, the story unfolds in such a way as to lend actual gameplay a groovy sense of urgency. There's no jarring disconnection between cutscenes and gameplay. Each gracefully leads into the other.
As for the game itself, Sony Bend has crafted the game to beat on the PSP. For starters, it controls remarkably well for such a complex game. Even with the impressive number of combat techniques and maneuvers at your disposal, it's incredibly simple to come to grips with everything. Instead of spending time struggling with different control schemes in hopes of finding the "right" one, most will acclimate to the default setting in less than ten minutes - it's that intuitive. And it's one of those things where you'll wonder why it has taken so long to accomplish. Put simply, it's a console-quality, 3D tactical shooter that doesn't scream for a second analog stick. And if that's not proof enough, then nothing is.
Dark Mirror seems to get it exactly right. But in case you didn't know the specifics, here's a brief rundown. Changing visions modes is as easy as holding down the left directional button. A menu then appears with each mode (heat vision, night vision, etc) mapped to one of the four face buttons. Tapping the same directional button then turns the selected vision mode on or off. Conversely, the right directional button calls up the weapons menu. Here, weapons are mapped to the face buttons, but also to the left and right shoulder buttons. Tapping right after weapon selection switches through rates of fire or ammo type, depending on the weapon.
Weapons reload automatically once a clip is empty, or you can tap up on the D-Pad to do it manually. Finally, tapping down toggles between standing and crouch positions. Now, when it comes to actual combat maneuvers, it's all about context sensitivity. When close to a wall, all we had to do to lean against it was press against the wall using the analog stick.
To peek around corners, all one needs to do is press the analog stick in the direction in need of peeking. It's as easy as that. At certain times, we needed to slide along a zip line, but all that took was pressing the X button when under one. We could also shoot a zip line manually by pressing X at specific parts of a map. Cooler still, we could easily shoot down enemies while sliding through the environments, James Bond-style.
To beat a mission in Dark Mirror, you'll actually need to use all the aforementioned stuff. Only using Rambo tactics will land you in a body bag, as will strictly sticking with stealth. You need a combination of both to win, so it'll appeal to both types of gamers. And fortunately, each of these aspects offers equal doses of fun and satisfaction. The action elements, for instance, will definitely please anyone looking for intense firefights. At times you'll find yourself crouched behind a wall, facing upwards of seven enemies spread across multiple floors. You'll need to run behind pillars and boxes to dodge fire while blasting shots of your own. And enemies aren't entirely stupid, so they'll also dive behind crates or crouch behind walls to avoid damage.
The above situation isn't rare. There's a ton of these Hollywood-style gunfights. Whether raiding a facility in the dead of winter or crashing a war between UN forces and a group of revolutionaries, there's never a moments peace - just as it should be. But there's far more to do than participate in epic gun battles. In the seven 'story' episodes in Dark Mirror, each of which splits into separate chapters, you'll need to contend with tons of different situations. In one mission, for example, you'll find an electrician you need to escort out of harms way. By pressing the select button, you can order him to find cover, wait or follow you.
After safely arriving in a room where he needs to put his expertise to use, it gets more interesting. Instead of just watching him fix a bunch of servers, you participate by equipping your IR goggles to follow his movements and flick specific switches when he tells you to. It's a simple thing, sure, but it helps keep things fresh.
In another mission, you need to use your flashlight so a friendly NPC can walk over a series of narrow bridges. Later, that same NPC helps you climb certain walls by offering to "boost" you. There are even the obligatory 'protect the civilian' sections where you're given a turret with limitless ammo to blast anyone and everything in your path. Again, simple stuff, but it's executed very well and it keeps the game from getting stale. And unlike most escort missions, friendly AI in Dark Mirror isn't totally retarded, and sometimes even helps you.
Then there's multiplayer. Dark Mirror has one of, if not the most robust multiplayer package of any PSP title. It makes use of the system's Ad-Hoc (local) and infrastructure (online) features. Game Sharing capabilities have also been included, although this is simply to provide a demo of the game to others rather than allowing non-owners to joing a multiplayer session. With both Ad-Hoc and infrastructure multiplayer, you can jump into eight-player Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Objective and Rogue Agent modes. The two Deathmatch modes don't need much explanation, just know they each work exceptionally well with little noticeable lag. The Objective matches, where teams compete to accomplish a common goal, work just as well. The only difference is they're far more interesting than the traditional frag fest.
In one of them, you'll first need to capture an access code by offing another player then use the code to diffuse a bomb in the middle of the map. If someone caps you then he/she takes it back, of course. Add this to the fact that an array of laser tripwires guards the bomb and things get interesting real quick. You'll need to have teammates watch your back as you diffuse each tripwire since it takes a few seconds during which you're completely vulnerable. In another Objective map, you need to capture several canisters of depleted uranium and stash them in a truck. There's also another team trying to do the exact same thing, however, so you'll need to cap them, steal their stuff and head back to your truck. Very fun, indeed. And, like previously mentioned, it runs smoothly and looks great to boot.
In addition, Dark Mirror packs a slew of cool additions usually reserved for full-fledged online shooters for the PC. After accessing the lobby, you can use the shoulder buttons to navigate the game's elegant menu. You can join an existing game or host one, create a cell (clan) and even view a buddy list. Then it goes a step further by including the Dark Mirror community, which lets you view leader boards, a mail box and message board. Impressive - especially considering you can fit the entire deal in your pants. Connecting online is a cinch and touring the online menu system is a total breeze. There's no discernable lag, either, making the whole affair feel refined - playing online without feeling like you're playing online.
Looking at the screenshots on this page, you probably don't need to hear this, but this game looks great. The environments all look different, and each packs a ton of detail. In the snow, characters will visibly exhale and leave footprints in the snow. When tearing through Peru you'll fight in the midst of dust clouds and ratty looking buildings. Character models look fantastic and boast a serious amount of detail. Everything from vehicles and people, to buildings and landscapes all look topnotch. And the music? Excellent. Composed by Mark 'X-Files" Snow, the music strikes a perfect balance between moody atmosphere and pulse-pounding tunes. Music is often shafted in videogames, but definitely not here.
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