Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror brings some much needed action onto the PSP and resurrects the franchise.

User Rating: 9.4 | Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror PSP
When Metal Gear Solid was released in 1998, it spawned a whole series of knock offs. While some were cheap attempts to cash in on the popularity of MGS, only one was actually good. This title was Sony’s Syphon Filter. While more action oriented than MGS, Syphon Filter was able to set itself apart as a solid title. The game was praised by both fans and critics for its game play and Hollywood style action. A more stealth oriented sequel was released a year later to more praise. The third entry of the series was almost unnoticed due to being released after the tragic events of 9/11 and due to stale gameplay. The eagerly anticipated PS2 entry of Syphon Filter was released in 2004, and was panned by both critics and fans. Many fans thought the Syphon Filter had met its end. They can now rest assured that the franchise is back with Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror for Sony’s PSP. Not only is the franchise back on the right track but Dark Mirror is arguably one of the best titles available for the PSP.

While Syphon Filter doesn’t boast as heavy and complex a story as MGS, it still holds its own. The first four entries of the series revolved around the Syphon Filter virus. This virus was created with the ability to attack specific demographics, whether it is age, race or gender. As Agent Gabe Logan, your mission was to track down the virus and those behind it. Your trust worthy partner, Lian Xiang, backed you up as you fought your way through terrorist cells and government agents. As you played you saw your standard double crosses and plot twists complete with a mysterious man in the shadows. The Syphon Filter story was wrapped up in the last title Syphon Filter: Omega Strain. This title picks up with Gabe and Lian going after a new terrorist cell called Red Section

One of the best features of the Syphon Filter games was its controls. Despite missing an analog stick and an extra pair of shoulder buttons, the game controls perfectly. Dark Mirror probably has the best control scheme for a 3rd person shooter available on the PSP. The controls are so perfect that you will never want to have the extra shoulder buttons or analog stick. To control your character, you use the analog nub for movement and aiming is handled with the face buttons. Controlling movement with the analog nub is very tight and doesn’t have that floaty feel like some titles do. The aiming controls may sound awkward to some but are very good. To aim left you would press the square button and if you wanted to aim up you would press triangle. While it does take some getting use to, especially during movement, the system works perfectly once honed. The player can also lock onto targets by holding down the L1 button. This is good in some situations but using the face buttons is more effective most of the time. Gadget and weapon selection is accessed via the d-pad. To access the weapons you would press right and then a menu comes up. This menu features your current weapons assigned to a face button. To equip a weapon you simply press the assigned button. Equipping gadgets is done via the same system. The item selection is well conceived and easy to access during battle. The three elements of movement, aiming and item selection all flow effortlessly during battle and are the new standard of how PSP action games should control.

Just like Solid Snake and Sam Fisher, Gabe is well equipped during his missions. Gabe has a slew of gadgets available to him such as night vision and infrared goggles. He also has EDSU goggles that show important features in the environment or weaknesses on enemies. Another useful gadget is the grapple. Gabe can use this gadget to access different parts of levels that were previously inaccessible. The interesting thing about this mechanic is that Gabe can shoot while hooked on the grapple line. This mechanic adds some variety to levels and simply looks cool. Some gadgets are only necessary in certain occasions but they never feel useless or unnecessary. The weapons of Syphon Filter have always been a strong point and this title continues the tradition. You have your standard silencers, automatics and rifles. A new addition to the game is that you can equip different rounds of ammunition to your weapons. Choices of ammo range from explosive, gas and electric. The choices of ammo add some variety to the game since you can dispatch your foes differently. The fan favorite taser once again makes an appearance and looks as brutal as it did on the consoles. Players can also unlock new weapons based on their performance through the game.

One of the strongest points of the game is its visuals. When first looking at the game you may think you’re watching a PS2 video running off the memory stick. Syphon Filter has some of the best presentation and visual effects seen on Sony’s handheld. Characters models are crisp and feature various details on their uniforms such as buttons. Gabe’s uniform has different textures that actually make it look like a military uniform. The animations are quite good and accurately depict the actions being performed. Rag doll physics are also used in the game, so enemies die in a realistic fashion. The only bad thing about the visuals is when the characters are talking. This problem is found in the prerendered and in game cutscenes in which the lip synching is a bit off. Another thing is that the character models faces while looking excellent, look stiff while talking. Their facial expressions aren’t that deep and don’t really convey their emotions. Despite these minor issues, the overall level of detail shows how much time the development team has put into the game. Motion blur, which is a problem with some titles, is only slightly evident in the prerendered cinemas. The levels are very crisp and don’t feature any texture stitching or other graphical problems. Jaggies are not as noticeable as some titles and are only evident on certain objects. Various particle effects such explosions, falling snow, and smoke are featured in the game. All of these effects are executed well and further immerse the player into the environments. There is nothing more thrilling than running around a detailed environment with falling snow to draw you into the experience of being a covert operative.

An interesting thing about Dark Mirror is its levels. The levels are quite large and include multiple paths. For example, if you want to do a mission stealthy you can, but if you’re more action oriented you can Rambo it up. These paths are a nice way of offering the player to choose their style of gameplay. It also enhances replayability since some paths will offer completely different scenarios. Littered throughout the levels are different files or keycards. These will unlock bonuses in the game like art, cutscenes, and new levels. These items along with the different paths will make you replay certain levels to make sure you get the full experience of the game.

The score of Syphon Filter once again lives up to past titles. Omega Strain’s composer, Mark Snow, returns to score Dark Mirror. Mr. Snow is best known for scoring TV shows like The X-Files and Smallville. The score has your standard espionage style themes and they all sound good and don’t get repetitive. Just like past titles Dark Mirror has some good voice acting. For the most par the voice acting is good with the slight exception of Gabe. While the voice actor for Gabe isn’t terrible, his voice is so gritty that it’s kind of laughable. Gabe’s voice sounds like Solid Snake taken to the next level while trying to be serious.

Following in the footsteps of Omega Strain, Dark Mirror has a robust multiplayer mode. The standard deathmatch and team deathmatch is available along with several other modes. Dark Mirror supports both Ad-Hoc and Infrastructure play so you can play with a group of buddies or through a wireless connection. The online mode doesn’t feature any real lag so players can expect a good experience. Dark Mirror also supports the PSP headset so you can talk while you play.

Syphon Filter is an excellent game and truly shows off what the PSP is capable of. The production value in the visuals, music and control is on par with any PS2 game which is an amazing feat. Dark Mirror should be any PSP collection, whether you’re an action fan or not. The game is a lot of fun and essentially doesn’t have any of the problems that plague other PSP games. Not only does Dark Mirror resurrect a fledging franchise, it brings some much needed action to the PSP.