What do you get when you take a great PSP game, port it to the Playstation 2 and remove one of its best features? You get Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror for the PS2. The original Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror was one of the early great PSP games and arrived when the PSP was starting to receive criticism for its lackluster game selection. It was very well-reviewed, with an 87% aggregate rating from both Gamerankings and Metacritic. Much like GTA : Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories it’s no surprise that Sony wanted to see a PS2 release of its 3rd-person action game. However, Gabe Logan’s transition to the older console was a bit bumpy.
I’ll see you in hell. – Gabe Logan
Dark Mirror on the PSP was notable for its great, crisp visuals and little was lost during the journey to the PS2. On the whole, Dark Mirror looks excellent on Sony’s aging console. The environments are detailed and the framerate is smooth throughout with just one or two hitches when there was a lot happening onscreen. Much of the game takes place within indoor environments so get ready for lots of rooms and corridors. You’ll work your way through several industrial facilities, secret bases and offices and the only real complaint I had was the drab color palate used for the game. Gray, brown and silver areas are nice but one of the later levels takes place in a mansion and I really did marvel at the engine’s ability to render a very lifelike and colorful environment.
Character models are also well-done. Motion capture was extensively used during the game and it pays off in realistic animations both for your character and for the enemies. Often the game will show a close-up of Gabe or one of his associates during an in-engine cutscene and while no one will mistake the visuals for photo-realism , the characters are well-detailed and look great on the PS2. Weapon models are also given plenty of attention and look equally good.
The game supports widescreen displays and looks especially sharp while outputting in progressive scan. One thing I wished was for the game to remember your choice of progressive scan output for your next play session. Instead, each time I played I had to begin by going to the options, choosing progressive scan, confirming it and then playing the game. This was annoying and seems like it would have been easy to remedy.
Dark Mirror features a great soundtrack. I find myself humming the theme song that plays during the menus from time to time and the in-game music is just as nice. The score swells as the tension mounts, but never seems overdone and never becomes distracting. The game is also filled to the brim with voice acting. Gabe himself is portrayed with a gravelly, deep growl and his associates are also well-voiced. Many times the voice acting in videogames is cringe-inducing but Dark Mirror’s voice-over is professionally done and adds to the game’s excitement and tension. The only complaints about the voice acting really have to do with the script. It seems like lines in Dark Mirror were copied directly from the Action Movie Cliche Hall of Fame. While one or two goofy lines dripping with machismo are fun, Dark Mirror struggles with a frequently silly script that often detracts from the great voice acting.
As a port, Dark Mirror overcomes one of the chief complaints of PSP 3rd-person action games: the lack of a second analog stick/pad/nub. Dark Mirror compensated for this on the PSP with a good target lock-on system and the PS2 version does away with this completely in favor of more standard controls. You use the left stick to move and the right stick to adjust your view and aim. These controls were responsive and sensitivity could be adjusted through the menus. You use the R1 button to fire and the L1 button zooms to an over-the-shoulder view for more precise aiming.
One of the nice features of Dark Mirror, and one that is being used more frequently in shooters, is the ability to “stick” to a wall or other object for cover and pop out to shoot enemies. You can adjust the crosshairs to aim at an enemy while you are still in cover and when you press the fire button you lean out or jump up and shoot where your crosshairs were. It’s a nice feature and makes it easy to line up headshots to quickly take down the bad guys.
Dark Mirror features a lot of gadgets to help Gabe in his missions. These are accessed by pushing left on the D-pad which brings up a menu of items. Pushing right on the D-pad lets you select from several weapons Gabe can carry. You can adjust automatic rifles to fire single-shots, a three-shot burst or go fully automatic.
There’s a lot to do in Dark Mirror and the controls work well other than there can almost be too much to keep track of when under fire. Selecting grenades, swapping night-vision and other visual modes and changing your weapons all involve use of the d-pad and a couple of times I selected the wrong thing without realizing it. As the action heats up it’s nice to be able to just do what you need to do and not have to think about it a lot. Dark Mirror generally succeeds with its controls.
This time we do it my way. – Gabe Logan
Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror tells a familiar story: You are grizzled veteran Gabe Logan (and for a couple of missions, his partner LianXing ) and you work for a secret government agency tasked to respond to an assault on a petroleum refinery. During the course of this operation you uncover clues that there is more going on than suspected and your journey to solve this mystery will involve terrorists, kidnapping, weapons of mass destruction, long-lost loves and annoying children. You’ll travel to a variety of locales, each connected by a thin strand of narrative. Several times I thought “Oh cool. I’m in Poland now. Wait… why am I here again?” but the game is so fun that I was only superficially interested in the story.
There are training missions which are helpful in acquainting you with the variety of weapons, controls and gadgets available to you. The game prepares you for both stealthy approaches as well as all-out firefights. There are a couple of sections in the game where a stealthy approach makes things easier and the game gives you a lot of options to kill enemies quickly and quietly. But Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror is primarily not a stealth game. Even when you make a quiet approach you will inevitably find yourself in a situation where you have to take on anywhere from 1-5 enemies, and sometimes more. In these situations you rely on your shooting skills and Dark Mirror makes the combat generally fun.
This is also not a run-and-gun game. Combat is careful, strategic and dangerous. Occasionally, I would be approached by an enemy when I was out of my cover and was surprised at how quickly their bullets chewed through my body armor and health. Often the game gives you options when it comes to killing the terrorists. There are sometimes conveniently placedcanisters of compressed gas, laser tripmines and other environmental hazards just waiting for you to shoot at. Apparently terrorists still haven’t learned not to stand next to explosives.
And here is the problem with Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror: it is a single-player game that can be finished in less than 10 hours. It’s a great single-player game, no question. However, the PSP version had an acclaimed multiplayer component that was playable over the internet and supported up to 8 simultaneous players. It provided long legs for the game when the single-player missions were finished and forgotten about. This was completely and inexplicably stripped from the PS2 version of Dark Mirror. The PS2 is certainly able to support good multiplayer as the SOCOM series has shown, so why remove it? Not only was the online multiplayer taken away but there is no option to play local multiplayer at all. No option for splitscreen deathmatch or cooperative single-player.
The game does try to keep things interesting by featuring several bonus missions that can be unlocked as you play through the campaign. And you can replay missions you have completed at harder difficulty levels and with different weapons you have unlocked. And this is fine but it only goes so far to keep you involved. It’s difficult to recommend paying nearly $40 for this game when the PSP version is now available for half that price and still includes the compelling multiplayer feature.