CES 2006: Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror Hands-On

Saving the world, one bullet at a time. We take on the first PSP entry in the Syphon Filter series.

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LAS VEGAS--Gabe Logan has got the stealth-action-hero thing down. Close-cropped haircut? Check. Gravelly, grim voice? Check. Enough moves and gadgets to take down a small army of bad guys? Check and check. About the only thing missing from Logan's arsenal has been a handheld version of the game series in which he stars: Syphon Filter. Thanks to the good folks at SCEA, currently in the midst of developing Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror for PSP, that's one more item the action hero can check off his list. We got a chance to take Dark Mirror for a spin on the show floor at this year's Consumer Electronics Show and came away impressed with the handheld game's solid look and interesting controls.

In Dark Mirror, Logan and his crew of special-ops badasses will be once again responsible for saving the free world, this time against a mysterious group known as the Red Section--or at least that's the group we were up against in the demo level we played. The Red Section folks had infiltrated a petroleum refinery in the snowy reaches of Alaska. It was up to us (as Logan) to take them down without destroying half of the Alaskan wilderness in the process.

After a cool intro movie introducing the major players during the initial insertion into the oil refinery, we took over Logan, who was charged with opening up a vent on a huge oil depository before the pressure built up and exploded. The only catch? The area was crawling with bad guys, and a sniper perched at the top of the depository was looking to cap anyone who came too close. Just another day for a guy like Gabe.

The controls for Syphon Filter for the PSP take some getting used to, especially if you've never played the SF series before. You move with the analog stick, of course, and fire your weapon with the right trigger. Aiming, however, is done with the face buttons--to aim left or right you press the square and circle button; to move your aim up you press the triangle button, and you use the X button to aim downward. With just a little practice, we were popping heads like Jiffy Pop and moving through the lower levels of the refinery with relative ease. Enemies are as intent on staying alive as they are in stopping you dead in their tracks, however, so don't be surprised if you have to chase a few around the obstacle they're hiding behind.

As we progressed through the mission, we picked up an extra submachine gun to go along with the silenced pistol and sniper rifle we already had in our possession. By pressing the right directional button, we brought up the weapon menu, where each gun in our possession was tied to a face button on the controller. To equip the rifle, for example, all we had to do was press the X button. In addition, certain weapons (such as the aforementioned rifle) can be armed with multiple types of ammo. The rifle, for instance, used regular 6mm rounds, explosive rounds, and even X34 gas ammo (presumably when you want to stop an enemy but not necessarily kill him). Logan doesn't always have to be lethal, after all; if you manage to sneak up on a bad guy, you can give him a whack on the head with a blunt object and knock him out long enough to make your escape.

No great spy is truly complete without a great set of gadgets, and some of the cornerstones of Logan's technological arsenal are his goggles. At one point in a mission we were stuck at a fence but were informed by our technical advisor over the comm-link to try our EDSU goggles to look for a way to unlock the gate. We're not sure what EDSU stands for, but as soon as we switched them on (by accessing a menu similar to the weapon menu system described above), lo and behold we found a blinking section of the fence that was ideal for compromise. One well-placed pistol shot later and we were through to the next objective. EDSU goggles aren't your only choice, however; you'll also have night-vision and infrared goggles at your disposal, as well as a traditional flashlight for those especially dark corners.

The Syphon Filter series has always been about mixing up its gameplay, and Dark Mirror appears to be no different. After dispatching the sniper and releasing the vent, for example, it wasn't long before we were joined by a member of our Precision Strike team, who required cover fire while she infiltrated the oil refinery. Perched on top of the depository, it was up to us to dispatch any bad guy intent on filling her full of lead, using the sniper rifle and its handy zoom feature.

Graphically, Dark Mirror is looking handsome on the PSP--with sharp player models and fairly expansive environments (at least on the one level we played). In addition, we found the animations for Logan and other non-player character models to be varied and good looking. Sony seems to be delving a bit deeper into the PSP and extracting more out of the handheld than you might be used to. Only time will tell if this kind of quality will be consistent throughout the rest of the game. On the sound front, we had the luxury of playing Dark Mirror complete with a nice set of headphones (Sony-manufactured, of course), so we could really get a sense of each gunshot we fired and each panicked shout by a guard we were about to mow down. Like its graphics, Dark Mirror's audio package seems to have a lot to offer, and we're looking forward to exploring more of the game in the coming weeks. Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror is currently due for release in March, and you can expect more coverage on Gabe and the rest of his crew in the coming weeks.

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