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Syphon Filter’ sets PSP gaming standard

Mark Bemenderfer | Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Until recently, the Sony PSP lacked a defining gaming experience for the system – a sore spot for Sony’s first foray into the portable gaming market. Every console requires one key game early on in its lifetime to drive sales and guarantee the system’s success. For the XBox – Microsoft’s first foray into consoles – it was “Halo,” an instant classic that kept the system alive in its rocky inaugural year.

But recently, the PSP’s first true breakthrough title has arrived. “Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror” has splashed down in the PSP’s dark waters, and provides a shining path towards the system’s full potential.

The game is a third-person shooter and is set in the vein of previous titles in the “Syphon Filter” franchise. Situating the camera firmly over protagonist Gabe Logan’s shoulders grants the player solid control over his varied actions while keeping the action in the forefront. Logan, a special-ops soldier who is brought in when things get hairy for foreign involvement, specializes in mixing stealth with Rambo-style tactics throughout the course of the game. Action flies fast and heavy in the game, wasting no time. The first level alone features an immediate firefight, a sniper battle and several tense moments of sneaky, covert action.

Guiding Logan through the physical maneuvers in the game, such as climbing walls, sliding down zip-lines and crawling through tight corridors, is as simple as hitting a single key. The controls have been streamlined to fit the PSP’s cramped control scheme, although they’re still not perfect.

Switching weapons and performing some of Logan’s signature moves in the middle of a heated firefight is simply a little complicated. Character movement is mapped to the left analog nub, while context-sensitive movements are done with the directional pad, also on the left side of the PSP. Unless the player has two left thumbs, it’s going to be difficult, and potentially fatal, to switch weapons or try to climb out of harm’s way when bullets fill the air.

The single-player experience is not dramatically different from past “Syphon Filter” efforts, but that’s necessarily a bad thing. The makers of “Halo” built a gaming legend by recycling popular elements from first-person shooters. “Syphon Filter” does the same, borrowing instead from political thrillers like “Splinter Cell” and “Metal Gear Solid.” Fans of those games will find plenty to like in this portable offering.

Comparing once again to Microsoft’s “Halo” powerhouse, this game’s multiplayer capabilities drive its longevity. People with a wireless connection will find a live, robust gaming community to play against. The matches include up to eight other players in various settings, such as deathmatch, team deathmatch and objective based games. Doing well in these games will boost the player’s online rank and earn medals that in turn unlock new weapons for the player. These new weapons provide a dramatic boost to the player’s online efficiency and level the playing field against veteran players.

Like most online games, “Syphon Filter” can be intimidating at first to newcomers. Players with the aforementioned unlocked weapons tend to use them indiscriminately against weaker newcomers, giving a stilted kill to death ratio. The locations of more powerful weaponry are another key for success, which new gamers are left in the dark about.

But perserverance is key here, and players who stick with the online will find an enjoyable, rewarding experience.

“Syphon Filter” is the PSP’s driving game at the moment, featuring a well-developed and satisfying multiplayer and single player campaigns. For people with – and even without – a wireless connection, a more enjoyable experience will be hard to find.