Logan's Next Run.
Ah yes, Syphon Filter. The name brings up lovely memories of flak jackets, headshots, and a guy with a reeeeealy big flame-thrower. Well, it turns out that last year's sleeper hit has spawned a sequel: Syphon Filter 2.
When I first picked up the game, I was worried that they had taken the easy way out and just created a complete rehash of the first game. It turns out that that's only half true: although the gameplay is almost exactly the same as the original, some aspects have improved by a significant amount, and the quality and variety of the levels is quite incredible.
The story is a direct continuation of the first game, so for those of you who haven't played it, I recommend you turn away from your monitor now...
**** SPOLIER WARNING ****
Here's the score at the end of the first game: Gabriel Logan destroyed a nuclear missile while discovering that the agency he worked for was behind it, and that they had infected his friend Lian Xing with the all-too-deadly Syphon Filter virus.
As the second game opens, you're transporting some data disks in preparation for a bargain: you give the agency the disks, they give you Lian's vaccine. However, en route, you get shot down in the middle of a mountain range, with no companions but a small group of survivors.
**** END SPOILER ****
You can come back now. Guys? Oh yeah, they're not looking. Well, they'll come back later.
The gameplay is practically identical to the original. You play in a third person view, climbing walls, throwing switches, and shooting countless bad guys. You can lock on to opponents a la Tomb Raider, giving you a way to constantly albeit inaccurately fill the bad guys full of lead. You can also aim your gun manually, which gives the ability to shoot your enemies in the head, killing them instantly. Very cool.
The graphics haven't changed much from the original, either. Everything still looks pretty good, though with a lot less pop-up. The framerate has gotten better with no noticeable slowdown, even in busy scenes. Like the first game, you still have a somewhat awkward running style (sort of like the way a cowboy would run after riding on a horse for hours straight), but it isn't as pronounced this time around. With some neat little added effects like lens flares, Syphon Filter 2 is easy on the eyes.
The sound is also similar to the first game, with the same selection of booms, bangs, arrghs, plops, and various other noises. The audio comes out crisp and clear. They tried to improve the audio by making it depend on the camera's position, which works fairly well, though it sometimes causes voices behind the camera to fade to nothing. A little annoying, but not a game-ending problem.
The control has improved quite a bit. Now the analog joystick actually responds. If you push forward a smidgen, Gabe walks slowly. Farther forward, and he runs. There are still some problems with the direction Gabe is running, and I found myself hitting walls and bannisters more than I really wanted to. Oh well.
You're probably thinking "With all of these things the same, there has to be something really different." Well, you're right. Where the sequel really shines is in the level design. This game truly feels like an action movie. Almost every level has at least one sequence that would make Arnold proud. Thankfully, this isn't a one-trick pony. All levels are quite challenging and interesting to play. There are plenty of clever mission objectives, as well as several great plot twists.
It's odd, though, that some of the mission objectives in the early levels become moot by the end. This makes it a little strange to replay levels when you know the outcome won't matter.
I am particularly impressed with the trial-and-error aspect of some of the levels. I enjoy using my mind, not my lightning fast fingers (you know it baby) to figure the best way out of a situation (I enjoy using other people's minds...mwahaha. - Ed.). For example: you're surrounded by enemies, all wearing full protective body armor, and have only limited grenades to get by them. Who do you shoot and where do you run, roll, and dodge to stay alive? It takes more than a quick trigger finger to get out of that in one piece.
New to the Syphon Filter line is the two-player deathmatch mode. While an interesting little diversion, I wouldn't really call it a particularly substantial addition. It's fun for a while, but the controls weren't made for a human vs. human match. If you lock on to your opponent, you won't hit him very well unless you stand perfectly still. It ends up boiling down to who can score the first head shot.
But before you run off to Toys 'R Us (or the GR Store), I have reiterate: SF2 is very much like SF1. In fact, you could probably call it the equivalent of an expansion pack and a patch to the original. Fans of the original should aim for the head and pull the trigger - this one's a no-brainer.