Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow
The often second-rate Syphon Filter series wasn't perhaps the most obvious franchise to find success on the PSP but, almost out of nowhere, Dark Mirror turned out to be one of the best games to find its way onto Sony's handheld in 2006. Now, stripped of the element of surprise, the question is can Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow continue the resurgence?
Joining up with Gabe Logan shortly after the events of Dark Mirror we find him once again on the trail of some terrorists and the world threatening technology they've managed to get their hands on. Granted that may not be the most original setup ever seen but things do get a tad more complicated when you discover you're not the only person trying to disarm the terrorists, the power of the technology they've stolen has given you some stiff competition in the form of rival Russian and Chinese agents. There are also some shocks closer to home when its discovered Logan's long time partner, Lian Xing, appears to be a double agent working for the terrorists, but that's a storyline I'll let you discover by yourself. The plot as a whole is thoroughly enjoyable, proving to be much deeper than you'd expect given the seemingly straightforward initial setup and series fans will find a good amount of depth and back story added to familiar characters.
The game itself retains the familiar third-person shooter mechanic you'd expect from a Syphon Filter game and most of the action plays out in essentially the same way we saw in Dark Mirror. You'll make your way through the levels using a combination of stealth kills and more direct action that generally takes the form of popping out from behind cover to shoot the bad guys with a whole variety of weapons. There are three control schemes to choose from in an attempt to offer as many ways as possible around the lack of a second analogue stick. Personally I found the 'Classic' mode the most natural although some may scoff at the degree of auto targeting involved and prefer one of the others. Irritatingly the tutorial forces you to use the default (which isn't the 'Classic' one) immediately rendering it useless if you plan to use a different control scheme for the rest of the game.
There have been some subtle improvements to Gabe's powers since last time out, most noticeably the ability to blind fire over cover, it's less precise as expected but comes in handy when things get busy. Developers Sony Bend have also seen fit to include a number of QTE (Quick Time Events) where you have to quickly press a sequence of buttons shown on screen to perform some kind of special move. These semi-interactive cut scenes often get a bad press by hardcore gamers but they never feel horribly out of place here and prove to be far less frustrating than they can be in other games. Yes Fahrenheit, I'm looking at you. You can also now try to grab enemies to use as shields, although to be honest as it's never guaranteed that you'll succeed thanks to the mini QTE you'll need to pass each time, its generally far less dangerous to just shoot from further away.
Logan is also able to swim this time around, although this new addition is one of the weakest points of the game. Swimming itself just never 'feels' right, and the sluggish underwater combat isn't much fun even if the resistance of the water on your weapons is accurate. On the plus side you're able to drag land based enemies underwater with you to drown them which makes up for some of the niggles.
Multiplayer was always one of Dark Mirror's strong points and as you'd expect the same is true of Logan's Shadow. With seven maps and five game types all available over both Ad Hoc and online there's plenty of fun to be had once you've tired of the single player campaign. As well as your standard deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag type games you're also treated to rogue agent and sabotage (where teams hunt for nuke launch codes) for some added variety. Logan's Shadow also supports clans (or cells as it calls them) as well as voice chat if you've got the kit.
In terms of visuals there's nothing particularly new to get excited about but then Dark Mirror was one of the best looking PSP games around so who's really complaining. The new underwater sections look lovely with some beautiful lighting effects giving the whole thing a suitably aquatic feel. The on screen HUD has been tidied up and the rest of the interface has been improved as well to create an incredibly polished game that oozes quality from every pore. Special mention should also go to the music written by Azam Ali who's created a haunting soundtrack that genuinely adds to the atmosphere in a way many other games can only dream of.
As if all that wasn't enough there's also the added bonus of having a demo for Syphon Filter: Combat Ops included on the UMD. Combat Ops is going to be a PSP multiplayer shooter when it comes out later in the year and the demo includes a basic map editor, one customizable stage, and five playable levels all for up to 10 players (Ad Hoc only though I'm afraid).
To be honest, Dark Mirror was so good that Sony Bend could have got away with slapping a fresh story and some new levels around the same engine and been done with it. To their credit there's a real attempt with Logan's Shadow to push things forward, it may not all work (swimming, yuck) but when it does it makes an already good game even better. It's still obviously Syphon Filter so if you don't like that kind of thing then tough, but if proof was needed that Dark Mirror wasn't a one off fluke then the polished excellence of Logan's Shadow should be more than enough.