IGN Review of Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow
When Dark Mirror was released last March, we were surprised at how impressive the title was. By taking Gabe Logan away from the consoles and putting him on the PSP, Sony Bend not only created an incredible adventure, they showed off exactly what the handheld could do, particularly in the hands of a skilled team. Excellent controls, deep multiplayer with voice chat and a complex cinematic storyline made what easily was one of the best titles of all of last year. In fact, when we bestowed the Game of the Year award upon the title, we weren't sure if a follow up to Dark Mirror would be nearly as good.
Fortunately, those concerns were completely unfounded. Logan's Shadow not only is a worthy successor to Dark Mirror, it's a much better title. There's a ton of new gameplay elements within the single player, such as new combat tactics, underwater combat and action sequences that improve on the fast paced action of the original title. Multiplayer hasn't been left out either, with two new game modes, new and adjusted maps and more balanced matches. The result: a deeper experience that surpasses Dark Mirror in every way.
The story of Logan's Shadow takes place shortly after the events of Dark Mirror, and once again calls Gabe and his team to defeat another terrorist group that has managed to get its hands on some dangerous technology that threatens the world. Of course, things are never as simple as that sounds, particularly when it becomes apparent that more than that group wants its hands on the weapon; not only does the U.S. want to get its hands on the device, but the Russians and Chinese have sent agents to track its location. Things get worse when Logan's long time partner, Lian Xing, is accused of being a double agent and working for the very terrorist group he's targeting. With the Agency closed down by a vindictive bureaucrat, Gabe and his fellow agents have to track the steps of the terrorists and prevent their plans before it's too late, defeat the rival country's soldiers and get down to the bottom of Lian's apparent "defection."
Like previous Syphon Filter titles, the number of twists, suspicious characters and flashback sequences within the story provides a large amount of depth to the tale. However, this is also a story of revenge and retribution, as Gabe finds himself settling old scores with a terrorist, avenging the death of a team member and going to extremes to clear his partner's name and regain control of his department. While Dark Mirror went into Gabe's past with his past relationship with Addison Hargrove, this one focuses on Lian's secrets, some of which forces Logan to re-evaluate what he thinks of his old partner. The script that was penned by Greg Rucka and John Garvin is nicely paced and complex, and provides an intense arc for the well known agent to travel through. Even better, it sets up a huge cliff hanger ending that you won't see coming at all that makes you wonder just what Sony Bend is going to do to resolve Logan's story.
As far as actual gameplay, much of it is similar to the play of Dark Mirror. This isn't a bad thing at all, considering that it had some of the tightest control for a PSP shooter ever made. That's including the solid balance between spy gadgets and weapon loadouts with the directional buttons, and intelligent context sensitivity when it came to leaning against walls or leaning around objects to make shots. However, it appears that Logan went back to the Agency's schools for new training, because he has a number of new moves that are available to the agent. The first one is a brand new protective suit that regenerates his health. While you'll still need to acquire flak jackets to reduce damage (in fact, the game pokes fun at the idea of "regenerating armor,") you don't have to continually focus on tracking down medical kits as long as you avoid incoming fire. You also now have a brand new grenade avoidance system that will pop up whenever an explosive has been tossed your way, alerting you to the hazard so you can dive in the opposite direction and minimizing or eliminating any damage entirely.
Another tweak is the inclusion of blind fire when you've taken cover, which removes the need to constantly lean out to make a shot. Obviously, your accuracy takes a dip when you're wildly firing, but it can be used in some gunfights to take out charging enemies. It can also be used to force enemies to run for cover, which can give you a second to reload or move in on their position to take them out in a number of ways. Obviously, you could shoot, knife or taser these guys, but you can now use the new grappling mechanic to drag soldiers around, kill them outright or using them as human shields. There are two caveats to trying the new grappling mechanic though. First, you won't be able to drag enemies around or use them as a shield forever, because they will break free after a while. What's more, you aren't guaranteed to succeed with your grapples. You'll have to counter their defenses by inputting a random button press sequence, which adds a level of tension, skill and unpredictability to a generic combat element.
In fact, button presses now play a larger role in Logan's Shadow than ever before, helping Gabe clear obstacles, grab objects, and perform other actions. I can just hear the complaints now: "Great, another game with tons of lame 'cineractive sequences.' Not everything needs to be God of War or Spider-Man 3." Well, hold those objections for a bit - the button press sequences are definitely spread out across the entire title, so you're not going to be slowing down the fast paced nature of the firefights to constantly input a button sequence. What's more, you only use it for specific actions which take a few seconds to complete before you're back into the title. The implementation of the mechanic works surprisingly well, and gives you more of a sense of succeeding or failing at a specific task, which again increases the tension of a game moment. If you're trying to open a gate while you're underwater and holding your breath, and you have the possibility of failing and drowning, that's going to ramp up the anxiety of getting the moment right.
Speaking of underwater combat, Gabe not only has the ability to dive underwater, he'll find himself performing various combat situations underwater. This involves everything from taking on divers to stealthily infiltrating areas from the sea or canals and avoiding incoming shots from land based enemies. Entire stages are now submerged, so Logan's diving skills will be put to the test. Gabe can move horizontally, vertically and diagonally in the water with the analog nub, which initially is daunting to get used to, but quickly becomes easy to get the hang of with practice. Once you've become accustomed to the movement with the stick, you can easily attack enemies in a number of ways. He can pull land based soldiers underwater and drown them, take out rival divers with the new spear gun and bolt pistol weapons, or fire a land based weapon at them. Thanks to the water, these land based weapons fire much slower than the spear gun or bolt pistol, but it's something that can be done as a last resort. Regardless of the weapon, you'll probably need to get used to leading your shots because of the resistance of the water as well, but this is a minor adjustment that is easily made after a few shots.
What's even more impressive is that all of these new features fit perfectly into the control scheme of Logan's Shadow, regardless of which one of the three control schemes you've selected. In fact, the only gripe (and it's somewhat minor) with the new adjustments made to Gabe's arsenal of moves and attacks is the removal of fire from taser shots. As fans of the series know, continually holding a taser shot on an opponent will cause them to burst into fire. For some reason, this feature has been stripped entirely from Logan's Shadow in favor of smoke rising from their uniform before they fall down. If you've played a previous Syphon Filter title, you know that this is one of the more enjoyable ways to receive a stealth kill. To have it removed feels like a loss to the franchise, or at least a cop out compared to previous games in the series.
Then again, you may find that you're not necessarily going to be spending a ton of time trying to taser enemies in favor of the faster stealth kill with a knife or your hands. Part of that is because the action has been amped up, particularly if you wind up alerting your enemies and suddenly find yourself surrounded or attacked from all sides. For instance, one section will force you to defend a soldier with a turret while terrorists descend upon your position from ziplines and nearby caves. While the AI hasn't been radically improved from the previous game, and will sometimes do incredibly stupid things (as they have in all of the other Syphon Filter titles), they have no problem stripping away your body armor or nailing you in the head and collecting the headshot if you give them the chance. What's more, Logan's Shadow also features many more dramatic battles between Gabe and vehicles. Amongst them, you'll find yourself taking out an APC and a helicopter that stalks you on the upper floors of a bombed out building.
Once again, you'll also be commanding NPCs during certain battle sequences; however, instead of doing the same basic "follow me to this location," or "pull this switch" commands, there are a lot more battle oriented situations in Logan's Shadow. For instance, the aforementioned helicopter battle will force you to draw fire from the chopper while an MI6 agent takes a shot that you tell her to take with an RPG. Another time, you'll be directing an Abrams tank, directing its fire towards bunkered anti-personnel positions while clearing out foot soldiers. Outside of these situations, many of the other friendly AI units will fight on their own like they did in Dark Mirror, pulling their weight in the midst of battle. These scenarios are still nicely interspersed with the other action sequences, keeping the gameplay fresh.
Multiplayer has also received adjustments, making the strong play of Dark Mirror even better. The basic elements of last year's game have retuned, keeping the quick pace of the eight player battles over Ad Hoc or Infrastructure lots of fun to jump into. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Rogue Agent have been joined by the two new modes, Retrieval and Sabotage. Retrieval is pretty similar to Capture the Flag, where you and your teammates try to collect an item and bring it back to a base. Sabotage (which replaces Dark Mirror's Objective mode), on the other hand, has you performing specific tasks, such as collecting nuclear missile codes and blowing up a warhead while the other side stops you. All five game modes take place across seven maps, including returning levels from Dark Mirror, although the older maps have also been re-adjusted to include underwater combat depending on the gameplay stage. For example, some of the Sabotage items are held underwater, forcing you and your opponents to dive for key elements before you complete the rest of your mission.
While Dark Mirror's multiplayer was a lot of fun, it was (like most multiplayer titles) easily exploited. Logan's Shadow goes a long way to alleviating these issues with numerous features designed to keep battles enjoyable for players. For instance, the game balances teams by interspersing higher ranked soldiers and beginners onto both teams so one doesn't have an advantage over the other. Spawn campers are also much easier to defeat thanks to the ability to rotate between different spawn points, as well as a manual versus auto-spawning option in the middle of a fight. We covered much of the new features in our
multiplayer preview, but when you consider all of those pieces and new community support elements, and you'll realize that even the most experienced Dark Mirror online player will find that the multiplayer experience has been revamped from the ground up.
At first glance, Logan's Shadow may look similar to Dark Mirror, but the visuals are a bit sharper across the board than the previous title. The HUD is much cleaner, with the personnel radar popping up much more in focus as well as a redone look for the weapon and item bar. Environments are a bit more detailed as well, and it's really impressive to see what Logan's Shadow does with the rendering of the underwater environments, particularly those around the naval ship at the beginning of the game. Not only are the lens flares and ambient light well done, but the underwater presentation is handled well across the entire game and the animation of Gabe transitioning from land to sea maneuvers and back again is seamless.
The gameplay is also anchored by the title's soundtrack. Instead of returning to Mark Snow, the designers went with Azam Ali, who's done work on movies like 300 and The Matrix Revolutions. The music is incredibly haunting and melodic, and rises to crescendos during battle sequences and whenever you die in battle. The only downside that you will sometimes find, particularly if you're sneaking around, is that the music will sometimes give away that you've been caught by swelling in intensity before the soldiers on screen react. However, this is a rather minor concern compared to the other impressive elements of the sound production, which includes the same exceptional voice acting and excellent sound effects.
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