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Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror

For: PSP   Also on: Android

Terrorists beware: Gabe Logan's first handheld adventure is here

Product: Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror | Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe | Developer: Sony Bend | Format: PSP | Genre: Action, Shooter | Players: 1-8 | Networking: wireless (adhoc), wireless (network), sharing one cartridge | Version: Europe
Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror PSP, thumbnail 1
The European Commission, as well as insisting our bananas are straightened, our iPods restricted and our miles kilometred, is turning its attention to old proverbs. They're too stuffy, apparently – not relevant for today's modern consumer.

So 'look before you leap' is being re-branded 'check you're not actually mailing the person you're slagging off before you hit send'; 'fools rush in where angels fear to tread' becomes 'idiots bid on pirate goods when they don't look at the feedback first'; and 'don't judge a book by its cover' becomes 'just because the tutorial is boring and overly complicated doesn't mean the rest of the game is'.

Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror marks the first outing on PSP for the action adventure series, which dyslexics would incorrectly assume features the quite fit sports presenter woman who married the rugby player. Yes, this is Gabe Logan's fifth appearance, in a career which began on the original PlayStation.

And whilst he's often lived in the shadow of Solid Snake from the Metal Gear series, he arrives in action form on PSP ahead of his Japanese-developed rival Snake, who to date has only been able to muster a couple of odd Ac!d card games.

First impressions imply this first-mover advantage is wasted. The tutorial, though utterly essential, is a baffling series of instructions that give the impression that the action to follow will be hampered by constantly referring to the manual to remember which button does what and when.

By the end, you'll feel bruised and bewildered.

And this continues into the first level, when, so nervous about trying not to accidentally change ammo when you're wanting to move right, you'll tend to mess everything up. It's more like a series of complicated memory tests. It feels like an exam: difficult, and no fun.

But then something strange happens. Once you start to relax, it all falls into place. And by the conclusion of the first chapter, you're beginning to smile at Syphon Filter's inventiveness.

And that smile grows throughout this staggeringly huge game.

What's most impressive is the way the development team has taken what has made Syphon Filter great on home consoles, pulled it all apart and then reassembled it specifically for the PSP.

Despite being initially overwhelming, the default controls – where the analogue nub moves the character and the face buttons aim – are actually genius. Indeed, following Syphon Filter, there's no way a game that requires such precision could work on the console in any other way: the PSP's other 3D action-adventurers should hang their head in shame.

It's probably the best looking example of the genre, too. The cut-scene cinematics are breathtaking, and accompanied by a rousing orchestral score. In-game, the levels are varied and detailed, superbly designed to offer some of the greatest gunfights the PSP has ever seen.

Of course, the odds are overwhelming, but these soldiers are no cannon fodder. They'll run from cover to cover, popping round corners, or dashing to a different vantage position so they can pick you off more quickly. The gunplay in Miami Vice was staccato; here everything is fluid. As such, it feels like a dynamic world, rather than a level.

Which, of course, makes it more difficult. Even on normal difficult level, it's a pain, requiring a combination of action and stealth rather than one or the other. Thankfully, the checkpoints are well placed, so despite having to play several sections of the game over and over, it never becomes a chore.

Much of this is down to the game's variety – one moment you're following computer cables with infra-red goggles, the next sniping off enemies from afar to protect an advancing colleague, fighting rebels alongside the UN, or tackling boss characters. And that's not to mention the character and location changes.

It's the kind of explosive diversity that wouldn't look out of place on the big screen, which makes it even more surprising it's presented so impressively on a small one.

Add to this the multiplayer modes – complete with microphone compatibility – and the stack of bonus unlockables, and you've got one of the most accomplished games on the PSP. Just be sure to not judge it after the first 15 minutes, as you'll be missing out on a hardware-defining release.
Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror
Reviewer photo
Simon Byron | 9 August 2006
An action adventure on the most ambitious scale – a stunning achievement, and a showcase PSP title
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