We've had our PSPs nearly a year, but aside from using them as Lumines machines or to cut through an early rash of impressive ports, they've seen about as much daylight as we have. The little black system's future is about to get a lot a brighter, though, thanks to the looming release of Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror.
For those of you who were literally born yesterday, the Syphon Filter series originated on the PSX as one of the games that helped define third-person console shooting. Although the series hasn't made many strides in recent years, it's still Playstation royalty, and we're glad to see it blasting its way onto our PSPs.
Part of what made the series so great in the first place were its involved, well-integrated plots, so we were relieved to find that Dark Mirror stays true to its pedigree with lots of cut-scenes, dialogue and intrigue. We're a little murky on the details, but it appears a nefarious organization known only as Red Section is up to no good in Alaska, and the U.S. government has called in Gabe Logan, a.k.a. you, to put their plans on ice.
When the talking stops, the action begins, and it's as good as anything we've seen for the PSP. Running around is managed with the thumb nub and aiming with the face-buttons, as though they were a second analog stick. When you spot a bad guy, you can either line up a shot manually or lock-on with the L button. Once you're properly aimed, fire away with the R button. Pointing and clicking is now as simple as clicking and clicking.
With this control setup you'll be hard-pressed to run through levels manually landing head shots, but you won't have any trouble figuring out how to simply blast people. The action isn't just run and gun, though. We were frequently faced by squads of enemies capable of ending our mission if we took the Rambo approach, so we deftly hid around a corner and picked them off one by one.
Much like Metal Gear and Splinter Cell, the Syphon Filter series as all about presenting dangerous, dynamic situations and letting you figure out how to survive. To this end, Dark Mirror arms you with lots of different guns. Need to pick off a patrolling foe without alerting his friends? Try the silenced pistol. A handful of enemies onto you? Kill 'em loud with your SMG.
You'll also need to use gadgets to access sealed areas and bypass stubborn computers. With an assortment of goggles borrowed from Sam Fisher, Gabe Logan can utilize nightvision, infrared and electro-magnetic vision modes, as well as use a zip-line to access distant balconies or travel along rooftops.
The scenarios we played through were a nicely varied bunch, requiring us to do everything from mow down throngs of enemies, climb a satellite tower and flip a switch to thwart a giant explosion, cover our partner's six with a sniper rifle while she made her way through a level, and defeat a flame-throwing mini-boss with some well-placed shots.
The whole package, which took about ten minutes to play through, looked great on our PSPs and ran smoothly. It also sounded good with fittingly suspenseful music and a ton of spoken dialogue. The flamethrower boss even talked some smack, at least until we shot him in the gasoline and made him blow up and die screaming. When was the last time you did that on a bus ride?
Hopefully never, but you will when Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror ships this March. It may not reinvent the gun, but as far as we're concerned it does something even more important – it brings a great Playstation series to the PSP.