Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror Preview - The Rundown
Gabe Logan's first portable mission may be his most intense yet. We explore the campaign and multiplayer sides of the first Syphon Filter to hit the PSP.
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After an arguably slow start last year, the PSP's lineup is now strengthening by the month, thanks in no small part to the appearance of a number of popular PlayStation franchises in the portable format. Soon, stealth-action fans will be glad to add Syphon Filter to that list. Sony's Bend, Oregon, development studio is hard at work finishing up Dark Mirror, the first handheld installment in secret agent Gabe Logan's illustrious career, and we got to take an in-depth look at a near-final version of the game to pore over its single- and multiplayer components.
Dark Mirror's designers are understandably mum about the game's storyline--after all, this is a series that prides itself on shady underworld dealings, political intrigue, and all manner of twists and turns. So to reveal too much would be to diminish the impact of the game's inevitably hard-hitting plot developments. But we do know that Dark Mirror is separate from the past Syphon Filter games, which means the overarching killer-virus plot has been dispensed with. Gabe Logan begins this new game investigating a paramilitary group calling itself Red Section, which has apparently attacked an oil refinery--but for what reason? It's up to Logan to find out what's going on. Of course, this is only the primary impetus for a storyline that's likely to become much more complex before the dust clears.
If Dark Mirror's storyline breaks from the tradition of past Syphon Filters, at least the gameplay here ought to be pleasantly familiar to loyal fans of the series. You'll play as Gabe throughout most of the game (though longtime support operative Lian will be playable in a few missions), sneaking through various industrial or high-tech facilities, along with the occasional estate, and constantly tackling new objectives that involve capturing or neutralizing important human targets, securing evidence, and looking for clues as to what Red Section is up to.
The 28 missions of the story campaign won't be nearly the only single-player content on offer. Four scenario-oriented tutorial levels will get you up to speed on all of Gabe's gadgets and abilities, and once you've completed those, you'll get access to a bonus mission that promises to wrap up some loose plot threads from the PS2 Syphon Filter, Omega Strain. Finally, a mission mode will let you go back and play any of the core missions with a custom weapons loadout, and you can compete with your best scores and times to earn higher ranks in each level. Finally, true completists will get to collect "hidden evidence" in each mission that will unlock things like concept art galleries and making-of videos. It seems like there will be plenty for fans of the game to do here.
Speaking of those gadgets and abilities, everything you've come to expect from Syphon Filter will be back in action in Dark Mirror, including Gabe's signature Taser. The biggest new addition is the MB150, a new modular sniper rifle that can accept standard 6mm rounds, as well as an assortment of darts that can perform different functions. One dart is useful for silently taking out enemies, while another can attach itself to one foe and then be remotely detonated to take out several at once.
You'll also have plenty of vision modes, including the requisite and self-explanatory night vision; thermal vision, which is especially useful for seeing enemies through walls and ceilings; and infrared, which you can use to detect hidden traps, certain kinds of evidence, and other obscure elements of the environment. Another new gadget is the "rapid traversal line," which is a zip line of sorts that you can slide down one-handed while you use the other hand to blast away at foes on the ground.
The Syphon Filter games have always provided a balance between stealth and run-and-gun action, and Dark Mirror will give you the freedom to choose which method suits your tastes. You'll be able to sneak your way through each mission, silently taking out enemies and completing objectives without ever raising alarms. Sometimes this will even benefit you in subsequent levels. For instance, maintaining stealth in one mission might mean you don't have any enemies nipping at your heels in the next.
If you choose to blast your way through, the game will spawn more enemies to present a greater challenge--but you'll still be able to make it with some deft gunplay. Most missions even contain multiple paths to facilitate your play style. For example, one level that has Gabe infiltrating a sizable manor will allow you to take out the enemies in the courtyard and barge through the front door, or scale the wall around the outside, shimmy along a ledge, and then creep in through a balcony window.
However you decide to tackle a given mission, your goals and objectives therein promise to be quite diverse, based on the sampling of levels we got to check out. In one level, we had to escort a technician through a facility that was out of power, and after helping him restore power and get the lights back on, we had to protect him while he crawled through the ceiling and reconnected a number of servers. Some enemies tried to take the guy out while he was up there, but luckily we could use our thermal vision to see them through the ceiling tiles and take them out. Another mission had us trying to retrieve the fingerprints of a sensitive target, and infrared vision was required here to detect the prints. From what we've played so far, it seems that Dark Mirror will offer you a good variety of objectives in addition to all the killing and sneaking around.
And once you get tired of that, you'll still have plenty to do in the four-versus-four multiplayer modes that work through either ad hoc or infrastructure network modes. In addition to the self-explanatory deathmatch and team deathmatch game types, there's the rogue agent mode, which is essentially a kill-the-man-with-the ball game in which only one person (the rogue agent, natch) is able to score points, and you can only become the rogue agent by killing him.
The most involved game type, however, is the objective mode, which will have two teams working against each other to accomplish opposing goals. For instance, one team might be charged with protecting a bomb it has planted. The other will have to disarm it, which can only be accomplished with a code that you'll have to pick up from one of the members of the other team. There seems to be a good layering of depth in this mode, since you can do things like tag foes with a tracking dart to keep tabs on their movements. The multiplayer will support the PSP headset, and you can even listen in on the other team's voice chat when you successfully score a hit with this dart.
Dark Mirror is actually shaping up to be one of the better-looking PSP games we've seen, with solid character and environment artwork all around. The most attractive element, though, is the various sorts of vision types you can use, including the IR, which turns everything red and highlights important gadgets and other background elements in a glowing yellow. There's also a flashlight that you can use in dark areas, which is similar to the effect seen in Doom 3 (although you can still shoot while you have it equipped).
Sony Bend hasn't spared any expense with the game's production values. Much of the music is being written by X-Files composer Mark Snow, for instance, and what we heard was suitably moody and ambient without being too overbearing. The cutscenes feature multilingual dialogue that's appropriate to the situation. For instance, a group of Russian characters actually speak in Russian, rather than using cheesily accented English.
Based on what we've played so far, Dark Mirror looks like it will make Syphon Filter diehards very happy, since it reprises all the best elements of the PS One games and throws in a bunch of new single-player elements and an entirely new multiplayer mode to boot. The game isn't far away, either--it should hit shelves in March. Stay tuned for more info soon, including a full review.