Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain Public Beta Hands-On Impressions

Sony has enabled 2,500 of you to join the fight against the deadly virus months before the official release. Check out the details of our own experience with the beta.

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Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain
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A "public beta" copy of Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain showed up in our mailbox this morning, allowing us to jump online with a few of the 2,500 other lucky gamers who were included in the beta program by SCEA. Though there are understandably few games running right now, our initial experience with The Omega Strain's online component has given us a glimpse of what the final game will offer those who opt to play its nine cooperative missions online with other players.

The previous Syphon Filter games had you playing as named characters in a heavily story-focused single-player campaign, but the first PS2 entry in the series will instead have you create and name your own agent, who will work with established characters, such as series hero Gabe Logan, to unravel the mystery of the Syphon Filter virus. When you create your hero, you first select gender and then body type, skin tone, and a slew of facial features (some of which are dependent on gender), such as eye and hair color, face shape, facial hair, and makeup. The appearance of your character seems to have no bearing on the actual gameplay and is purely meant to suit player preferences.

The process of starting a cooperative game in the beta version is fairly straightforward, though the menus are a tad convoluted. After selecting your region, you can look at a list of players currently connected, chat with them, and join a hosted game or host one yourself. Up to four players can participate in a mission at one time, and you and your companion(s) will get a chance to adjust your weapons loadout before the mission starts.

Once you're actually in, the game proceeds in a fashion that's strikingly similar to the single-player version. All players will receive story-driven radio communications and mission objectives, and then you're basically free to move around the level independent of your comrades as you attempt to accomplish your goals. Of course, everybody knows it's easier when you've got some backup, so you'll want to stick together as much as possible to help each other out. In fact, some optional areas will require more than one person in order to access them, such as a scenario we encountered in which one player can boost a second onto the roof of a truck, and then the second player can turn around and help the first player climb up. These sorts of bonus activities are nice to see in multiplayer and give you a little more interactivity than you'd expect from the average cooperative multiplayer experience.

In nitty-gritty gameplay terms, The Omega Strain plays like all the previous Syphon Filter games, even in multiplayer. You can auto-target enemies by holding the R1 button, pick up new weapons from fallen enemies, crawl through tight spaces, and so on. You've got a number of actions assigned to the directional pad, such as a flashlight that's extremely handy in the dark (and that creates a nice lighting effect to boot) and a command list that lets you issue a number of orders and requests to your teammates when you're in a tight spot. In the two missions we played, we had a fairly easy time keeping track of our allies, thanks to both onscreen indicators that cued us to their position and vocal announcements that gave their location and request when they accessed the teammate command menu. The game's USB headset support also came in handy in a few instances when we spoke to other players about where to go or what objective to tackle next.

Though it's not due for release until May, Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain is looking and playing pretty well. The game looks strikingly good for a PlayStation 2 game, with character models that have a solidly built look, detailed environments, and very little aliasing. All of the action runs nice and smooth, too. Played on the admittedly speedy Internet connection in the GameSpot offices, The Omega Strain ran without any noticeable hitches whatsoever due to networking problems. Further, it seems like the game will be quite worthwhile as a cooperative experience even if you've played through the single-player campaign, since it offers some new goals that can only be accessed by multiple people. We'll bring you more on Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain as its May release approaches.

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