Through the looking glass.
“One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow shorter,” explains the Caterpillar to the diminutive Alice in Alice in Wonderland. Reading and watching Alice’s body shrink and stretch is both freaky and wonderful, but it’s probably not so pleasant for her.
[image1]Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror shares in Alice’s uncanny growing pains. Released last year as a stand-out title for Sony’s PSP, it won awards, but the move from the PSP to the PS2 has brought some strange mutations.
The first thing I noticed was Gabe Logan’s noggin. It’s huge. Yet his feet are impossibly small. The biomechanical paradox at work here is impressive. Not since Lara Croft and those DOA girls has top-heaviness caused my head to spin so wildly. This likely is an artifact of Gabe’s days on the PSP where on the smaller screen it is probably a good thing to have a big head. But on the PS2, it’s just plain silly. The other characters’ bodies don’t look nearly so disproportionate, but until I find those in-game calipers I’ll never know for sure. Fortunately, once I got past the physiological joke, I started having a good time.
The story, a typical espionage plot, is nothing memorable. Some covert group is doing something bad. Other covert groups get involved. World destruction is imminent.
Missions are arranged as expected: a linear progression streamlined around different locales of the world. But the length of the missions are ill-suited to the more robust fare generally found in PS2 games. Most missions last a matter of minutes, and the game lasts between six and eight hours. Still, the fast pacing makes missions brisk and vigorous, and their short length keeps you wanting more.
There are, however, quite a few graphical casualties likely caused by eating the wrong side of the Caterpillar’s mushroom. Not only do Gabe’s proportions suffer, but nearly everything else suffers as well. Most walls, floors, fences, and railings look like something straight out of Paper Mario. I haven’t seen so many razor-thin objects since the PS1-era.
[image2]The developers have bolstered the resolution and polygon count of the original PSP version, but the game doesn’t fully utilize the PS2’s graphics processing. Aside from numerous framerate hitches, some missions display psychedelic graphical glitches, and the Casino level tears the screen apart. In fact, I found that I had to simulate the PSP experience by sitting two feet away from my display (a 32” LCD) to see objects and enemies clearly. I may be getting older, but let me sit some safe distance away from the TV until my AARP card arrives.
The re-mapping of the PSP’s controls to the PS2’s controller could have used more thought. Most actions are fine-tuned, but switching between items feels unnecessarily tricky for how often it occurs. The directional pad brings up the various inventory menus, the buttons select the desired item, all while the analog control sticks are used to move and/or aim. A more intuitive “hot button” set up would have helped considerably. Using the game’s cover technique isn’t as easy to pull off as it should be, but it’s fantastic when it works.
[image3]And so I still had fun. It’s a testament to the core gameplay that despite the flaws, this is a thoroughly enjoyable game. Mission types vary extensively – escort missions, cover fire missions, bomb defusing missions, run-and-gun missions, and more. The game’s music also adds excitement and tension where they’re needed most. Enemy AI is predictable but competent. Enemies will charge when they feel threatened, use cover when it’s available, and flank you on occasion.
One glaring omission that didn’t make the port is multiplayer. No on- or off-line multiplayer whatsoever. The single-player mode has a handful of secrets, unlockables, and alternate modes of play to keep your interest beyond an initial playthrough. However, it’s incredibly short and simple, and since there is no multiplayer to speak of, there’s not much lasting value.
Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror is a small game with small ambitions. Within that scale, it succeeds admirably. It has too many quirks that clearly show its PSP roots, but if you don’t have a PSP handy, this version is worth at least a few hours of your time. Maybe Gabe just needs a drink.