Since the portable system’s launch a year ago this past March, Sony’s PSP has seen its share of solid releases. Titles like Lumines, Wipeout Pure, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City and Burnout Legends come to mind, good games to be sure, but nothing I would deem outstanding or a must-have. That is until now. Dark Mirror is not only the best PSP game to date, it’s arguably the best title in the Syphon Filter series.
For those unfamiliar with the Syphon Filter franchise, it’s a stealth action affair that follows the career of Precision Strike operative Gabe Logan. In Dark Mirror, Logan and his team of intelligence agents – field partner Lian and intel officer Teresa – have been assigned to take down a paramilitary group called Red Section who, as the game begins, is threatening to destroy the Alaskan Oil Pipeline. In true espionage fashion, the attack on the refinery is merely a diversion for a more sinister plot, a project known only as Dark Mirror.
The singleplayer story mode spans seven episodes and each episode features a handful of missions, each about 10 minutes, an ideal length for gamers on the go. The Syphon Filter series has always done well to mix action elements with mission tasks and Dark Mirror is no exception. For example, within the first few missions players will have to take out a sniper, keep a distillation column from blowing up, protect Lian from incoming enemies as she tries to send you a zip line across a courtyard, and locate a power circuit to restore electricity so you can download vital information off a computer. This diversity goes a long way in breaking the monotony of killing countless terrorists.
When you do engage the terrorists, you'll find that cover plays a vital role in the firefight. Gabe can snap to walls, peek and shoot, or snap to low cover like crates, peek up and shoot. The enemy AI will also make use of cover, though they tend to abandon that strategy in favor of a face-to-face encounter, one that often results in their demise.
Gabe is equipped with a new weapon for this latest operation, the MB 150. It's a rifle that carries multiple types of ammo: standard 6mm sniper rounds, EDT taser darts, X34 gas darts, and explosive darts. The rifle adds a great deal of flexibility to each mission by allowing players to take out enemies silently or in groups. As with previous entries in the series, players receive bonuses in the form of new weapons based on their performance. In the Mission Mode, players can customize their weapons prior to each mission, which can noticeable change the experience from one run to another.
There's a bit of a learning curve when it comes to the controls. Players use both the nub and face buttons to move and aim. It takes some getting used to but once you've completed the training missions, you should be well on your way. The directional buttons are used to toggle between crouching and standing, interact with the environment, and cycle through the vision modes, weapons and ammunition types. The right shoulder button is the primary attack and the saving grace of the entire control scheme is the left shoulder button, which automatically targets the closest enemy. This comes in very handy when multiple enemies advance on your position and manually aiming becomes a difficult task.
Beyond the singleplayer campaign awaits one of the best multiplayer experiences on the PSP, as Dark Mirror supports both Ad Hoc and Infrastructure modes for up to 8 players. The game features the standard Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes, as well as a twist on the Deathmatch experience, Rogue Agent, but the highlight of the multiplayer component is arguably the Objective Mode, a team-based mode that pits a team of agents against a team of terrorists in a race to complete various objectives. There are only a handful of maps to play each of the modes in but considering I didn't experience any lag during gameplay, that's more than enough content to greatly extend playing time.
Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror is without a doubt one of the best looking games on the PSP. The graphics are outstanding, from the well-directed if long-winded cutscenes that introduce each episode to the detailed environments and character models. To give you an idea just how detailed the game is, when you pick up a dead terrorist’s weapon and swap it into your gear, it physically appears on Gabe’s body, strapped over his shoulder. The visuals are complimented by an equally powerful audio component, highlighted by great voice acting and a fantastic tension-building soundtrack. Overall, the production values are top notch for a PSP game.
Simply put, Syphon Filter is the best PSP game to date. The singleplayer campaign is diverse and compelling, and what it lacks in terms of length is more than made up for by the equally wonderful multiplayer component. If you’re looking for a game that redefines action on the PSP, look no further, Gabe Logan and crew are back at the top of their game.