A fun, accessible game that offers a solid, albeit light third-person shooter experience.
This time around, the missions are presented in smaller pieces with simpler designs. You can sit down and play through one part of a mission in under 10 minutes. There are checkpoints within these bite-sized areas at critical locations so you never have to backtrack far if you die or do something that results in mission failure. The levels themselves are fairly straightforward and linear, but it doesn't feel too constrained and there is room for tactical experimentation, as well as secrets to find.
Most of the time you will be moving, sneaking, shooting, aiming and taking cover. Stealth has always been a staple of Syphon Filter, and it is well represented in Dark Mirror. Doing things quietly often ensures resistance along your path is lighter. However, stealth is not necessary in most cases, and there is no severe punishment for attempting it and being caught. You can get a rush of anticipation as you sneak around your quarry, or you can get a rush of adrenalin when they spot you and assault you full force. However you want to play it, Dark Mirror will accommodate you.
When you do get into trouble, you can now take cover along walls or behind obstacles. This is a new addition to Syphon Filter gameplay and while it isn't a new gaming concept, it has been done properly here. Not sticking your neck out needlessly can save your life, but with Dark Mirror's fairly easy difficulty you can usually opt to just stand in the open and fire if you're quick on the trigger. Again, this allows casual gamers to enjoy the action while allowing more tactically-minded individuals to be more deeply involved in the battlefield.
Enemies are unpredictable yet intelligent, many times using cover as you would. When they have you outnumbered they take advantage of the situation to put pressure on you and ferret you out.
There is a very nice assortment of weapons and devices for Gabe and company to use. Pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, submachineguns, experimental weaponry, explosives, grenades, etc. At any one time you can carry one sidearm, one submachinegun, one rifle (sniper or otherwise), the experimental agency rifle you carry at all times, a melee weapon, and an explosive. The experimental rifle shoots darts of various types: explosive, poison gas or electric shock. Firearms have varying attributes and fire modes, so some are better under certain circumstances. Generally speaking though, most any gun can get the job done for you, so it's almost never a matter of not having the right tool for the job. With all of these toys at your disposal, it's a ton of fun for anyone who loves guns. Again, Dark Mirror makes itself accessible to casual gamers and hardcore shooter fans alike.
You also have access to a set of high-tech goggles that have three different modes: night vision, infra-red, and electromagnetic.
Armor and medkits are places around the levels and provide a quick refresh after particularly intense areas.
The graphics are neat and clean. While the PS2 can push out more dazzle than is presented in Dark Mirror, this game succeeds in looking fantastic in it's simplicity. If you're used to the high-end CG cutscenes of late, you may be a little disappointed in the movies Dark Mirror provides, but the in-game action still looks good.
The sound is decent, with some good voice acting and a lot of spoken lines during play. I can't help but feel there could be a little more oomph to the guns and some more environmental sounds, but again Dark Mirror succeeds in its simplicity. The music is provided by several composers, including the ubiquitous Mark Snow. Nothing terribly rousing here, but it keeps pace with the highs and lows of the action.
Despite these easy to swallow portions, and an emphasis on simplicity, there is a lot on the table to enjoy, and Dark Mirror offers about 10 hours of story playtime. In addition, there is a Mission Mode where you can replay levels and earn ratings in tactical areas such as headshots, stealth kills, use of rifle darts, survivability, and knife skills. For your performances, you are awarded badges of merit, and these patches unlock additional weapons, abilities such as increased health, and new bonus levels. Earning full ratings for each level usually requires you to play through it a few more times, each time focusing on a different tactic. Due to the quick-fire nature of the missions, this is quick and fun, but can eat up a lot of time in the long run, making Dark Mirror very replayable.
Dark Mirror is quite enjoyable. It doesn't shoot itself in the foot by catering to casual or hardcore action gamers. Instead, it allows for both, and does so admirably.
On a final note, Dark Mirror was brought over to the PS2 after being made for the PSP. Everything was designed for quick portable gaming in mind. This accounts for the short mission structure, somewhat easy gameplay (it's much easier to move and aim with a PS2 controller), and all-round simplicity as opposed to more complex games like SOCOM or Metal Gear Solid. Fortunately, Dark Mirror is a shining example that satisfying gameplay and quality content don't necessarily imply complexity.
On an extra final note, at release this game was $40. I consider this a slap in the face considering this game is a port and all previous ports ran in the $20-30 range, and this game is for an older console in it's twilight years. I would easily recommend Dark Mirror, but if you are price conscious as I am, you may want to wait until the price drops to $20 in the next few months, or look for another online venue such as eBay, where you can (as of this writing) get the game for much less. Shame on you Sony!