We snagged some hands-on time with Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror at the Sony CES booth. The controls are the biggest question mark when it comes to shooters on the PSP, and with Dark Mirror, Sony opted to use elements seen previously in Coded Arms and SOCOM. Similar to Coded Arms, the face buttons aim the cursor, while the analogue nub controls forward, backward, and strafing movements. However, the L-trigger acts as a lock-on to the nearest (in most cases) enemy, just like SOCOM. The R-trigger fires your weapon (or activates a contextual close combat move), while the D-pad controls secondary functions like reloading, weapon select, crouch, and gadget activation.
The game looks crisp and runs smoothly, despite the clunky controls. Enemy AI is also impressive, as your foes are both elusive and relentless--they're also very talkative (and explicit). A key gameplay feature is the ability to take cover by pressing your back against a wall/object. From this position, you can easily aim the cursor, step-out and fire, and then return to cover. But be warned, enemies will also use this tactic.
Once we got a feel for the controls, we enjoyed the first part of an infiltration level, blasting our way through a number of firefights while avoiding rooftop snipers. But when it came time for us to play sniper, covering our ally on the ground, the game's difficulty spiked through the roof--because of control limitations--turning into a tedious trial and error mission. Trying to track down enemies using the face buttons was simply too difficult, and we hope that the final version will allow players to reverse the analogue and face button controls. Is the lack of a second analogue nub the PSP's Achilles' heal?
Overall, we were impressed by Dark Mirror. It combines the best elements from past PSP shooters with sharp visuals and intelligent enemies. There's certainly a learning curve with the controls, but dedicated gamers shouldn't have a problem. Keep an eye out.
[Note: we were unable to test the online modes, but Dark Mirror will include Ad-Hoc & Infrastructure multiplayer.]