The first thing I thought when I saw the publisher of Syphon Filter was, "Oh no! I don't trust 989 Studios after what they did with Twisted Metal III". Fortunately, my thoughts were (as they seldom are) misguided. Syphon Filter is far better than anticipated, and a worthy release from Sony's 989.
The story-line is fairly standard for the genre. You assume the role of Gabriel Logan, a topnotch, gun-toting, underground operative; a cross between James Bond and Rambo. Pharcom Inc. has secretly been developing a virus known as "Syphon Filter" (Hey! Just like the name of this game! Coincidence?). This virus can be genetically programmed to attack a specific human target or group of targets. Looks like it's all up to you, your controller, and "Gabe" to stop Pharcom and their plot for world domination.
Control in Syphon Filter is a little difficult. It's not as tight or as precise as Duke Nukem: Time to Kill, for example. Though the game supports the analog joysticks of the "Dual Shock" controller, the standard D-pad is a lot easier to work with as Syphon Filter fails to take advantage of the incremental precision of joysticks.
You manipulate Gabe in a three dimensional environment using the now-familiar third person perspective. Any gamers who have seen and played any game since Tomb Raider will instantly recognize and quickly become used to the action. You can climb, walk, shoot, strafe, sneak, fall off of buildings, and run... well... oddly, just like Rick Moranis.
The enemy AI is great; perhaps the best part of the game. Enemies will roll, crouch, sidestep and run to evade your fire. They'll even attempt to sneak up and ambush you. They can die in different ways and will react if a comrade of theirs is killed nearby.
Gameplay itself is also well above average. Some games have the misfortune of being completely played out as soon as you beat 'em (see StarFox). But in Syphon Filter, even though you've done it before, it seems as though it's always fun to do it again. Therefore we have a fair replayability bonus!
Level design is quite good. Like Metal Gear Solid, Syphon Filter uses a stealth/action combination with emphasis on the latter. Some missions require special assault tactics while others require more puzzling stealth operations.
The 13 3D environments are all fully rendered. Levels are nonlinear but not too confusing, just complicated enough so that you won't get bored of them easily; making it perfect for action-oriented players. Some levels have many obstacles and traps, while others are perfect for blowing up everything in sight, and a few are meant only for stealth tactics and sneaky progression.
Graphics are good, with realistic rainfall and snow simulations and textures that are all well planned and rendered. Lighting effects actually surpass the standard seen in most games for the PlayStation. However, there is still room for improvements. The graphics just aren't as 'solid' and detailed as Metal Gear Solid. The characters need some work as well; though Gabe moves smoothly, his body motion is slightly off; he still looks very 'Gumby'ish.
Syphon Filter also suffers from many typical PSX polygonal errors. Textures become warped when viewed from an angle and grenades sometimes get thrown right through walls. I have even experienced occasions when enemies have spotted me through a wall. Fortunately, these common errors do not affect gameplay in any major way, though it is sometimes funny to see Gabe standing halfway through the pavement.
Sound you say? Sound is good. The stereo ambient sound is great. The sound effects themselves are crisp and clear while music is decent. Voice acting (where most games usually fail horribly) is actually ok. None of the actors deserve an Oscar, but hey, they did their part.
Now on to the cool weapons. Gabe has a variety 17 real-world weapons he must use to survive each mission. These include a .45 magnum, M16 assault rifle, sniper rifle, the taser, and the ever-popular grenade launcher.
Targeting is easy in Syphon Filter. You can choose to auto-aim with a touch of a button or aim manually. This type of aim control is perfect for quick targeting and snap decisions. It also works great with some of the more difficult weapons and those oh-so-important head shots. Limbs, head and body can all be targeted seperately.
Along with Syphon Filter's many good offerings there are some unfortunate problems. First of all, stealth in this game was not done as well as it could have been (compared to Tenchu). The enemy line of sight just seems a bit random at times.
Another problem is its striking resemblance to Metal Gear Solid's story details. If you've played MGS you'll remember "FoxDie", a retro-virus that can be programmed to attack only the defined target(s). Amazingly similar to the "Syphon Filter" virus isn't it? There's another sequence in Syphon Filter with a rooftop battle against a helicopter. Sound familiar?
Despite Syphon Filter's little flaws, we have a great game here; definitely worth the 40 dollars. This action packed spy game is great for what it is, but still could be taken a few steps further (Syphon Filter 2?). I recommend that the developers include some sort of cooperative multiplayer so I can get my friends in on the action. Either way, I'll be playing this one for hours to come.