Note to would-be PlayStation Portable developers: Don't pattern your designs after traditional console-style games unless you can do it as successfully as Syphon Filter. Sony's Bend, Oregon-based development studio spent years creating this franchise's healthy mix of stealth and tactical action on the PlayStations 1 and 2, and then recreated the experience with amazing accuracy on the PSP early last year with Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror. Now the team is back with another new portable Syphon Filter, subtitled Logan's Shadow, and after spending some time with the early missions of the game, we're confident it will join its predecessor among the ranks of the most accessible and riveting shooters on the PSP.
The story certainly doesn't pull any punches. You'll once again take up the role of tough-as-nails secret agent (with an axe to grind) Gabe Logan. This time around, he's been dispatched to board the USS Mt. St. Helens, which has been overtaken in the middle of the Indian Ocean by a terrorist named Bitar. Bitar seems to be after some undisclosed sensitive cargo stored in the bowels of the ship--but Gabe's contact in Washington, a smarmy pencil pusher named Cordell, won't cop to the nature of that cargo. A major character dies right there in the first mission (we won't say who), after which Cordell assumes control of Gabe's unit and practically shuts it down cold--but not before taunting him with photos of his longtime partner Lian Xing, photos that suggest she's betrayed the team. Needless to say, Gabe is not happy.
Logan's Shadow features the same winning control scheme and fast action that made Dark Mirror great. Despite the fact that Sony has positioned the PSP as a bona fide portable PlayStation, the system's limited controls just don't work that well for fast, console-style shooters. But once again, Sony Bend has bucked that trend and managed to make Syphon Filter's relatively complex gameplay conform to the limited array of PSP controls. The default controls let you adjust your aim with the four face buttons, attack with the shoulder buttons, move with the analog stick, and select weapons with the D pad (each direction of which will pop up a radial selection menu when held). We also got to try the game out on the new PSP Slim and found it even easier to play, thanks to the redesigned system's looser and more forgiving analog stick.
In addition to the traditional shooting and stealth action, the game's second mission provides a good vehicle for showing off the new underwater gameplay. The US military scuttles the Mt. St. Helens at the end of the first mission, but you'll have to head right back to the site of the wreckage in mission two, diving down to try to discover what was so important on board that ship. Of course, you'll just happen to run into some Russian Spetsnaz divers who have beaten you to the punch, so you'll have to engage in aquatic combat with a bolt gun. The diving and swimming controls were just as easy to get used to as the ground-based ones; you move the camera in the direction you want to swim, and then simply swim there with the stick.
Logan's Shadow isn't just one of the better-playing third-person action games we've seen on the PSP lately; it's also one of the better-looking ones. Sony Bend has incorporated visual effects into the game that you'd typically expect to see only on the big consoles. We're talking things like light bloom and the impressive flashlight and night- and thermal-vision effects from the first game, as well as a surprisingly convincing water effect. Despite the fact that the water may not be physically modeled to the same level of realism as in console games, it does look awfully close, considering the PSP's relative lack of power. You'll encounter watery environments not only in the diving missions but also in places like the end of mission one, when the holds of the Mt. St. Helens flood and you have to fight your way through a bunch of mercs in waist-deep water.
We've only gotten to play the first two missions of Logan's Shadow so far, so we'll try to rein in our excitement for the time being, but this is definitely looking like one of the more solid action games to hit the PSP in a while. Of course, you'll also find a full multiplayer mode as well as some unlockable weaponry and other content in the game, though our preview copy was limited to the early single-player campaign. Logan's Shadow is due out toward the end of September, so look for a more critical evaluation at that time.