It's fascinating to see how gaming has progressed over the years. Games like Pong seem boringly simplistic to the modern gamer, as we've grown to appreciate advances in game design. Syphon Filter is one of those games that has certainly not aged well over time. The game was a critical marvel at its release, with Gamespot calling the game "nothing short of outstanding."
It's not hard to see why gamers from that era were so impressed by this game: it had incredible production values for its time. From the moment you load the game, you'll be treated to a dramatic FMV cutscene, filled with appropriately intense music and voice acting. However, the letterboxed cinematic looks absolutely miniscule on the PSP's widescreen, and what you can see is certainly not worthwhile. The pre-rendered characters look absolutely hilarious--they are as blocky as the characters from Lego Star Wars, but far less endearing. With many PSP games rendering facial animations in real-time, the stiffness and blockiness of these FMV sequences is nothing short of disappointing.
The controls are also quite antiquated. This third-person shooter attempts to mix elements from Metal Gear Solid and Tomb Raider, and while the controls must have satisfied gamers from the 90s, the loose digital controls seem much too unresponsive for a modern gamer. It doesn't matter if you're using Type 1 or 4 controls, one thing is clear: Gabe runs like an idiot. The inability to turn around makes him feel like a tank; the hilarious running animation serves as a constant visual reminder that the player will fight against the controls.
Other than the dated controls, there's still a lot to admire about the game. The mission design is fantastic, as seen by the first level's exciting romp through a train station. The graphics are certainly nothing to write home about, but they do their job well: when trains rush through the station, one can't help but appreciate the high-energy feel the development team was trying to accomplish. The variety of weapons is satisfying, as each has a distinct feel and purpose. The game's use of location-specific damage is especially appreciated, as shooting a character in the leg, or arm (or head), will produce a different animation (something that's been sorely missing in many modern FPS games, like Resistance). The mission objectives are also quite varied, although at times, very unclear.
The levels have aged well, but don't adapt very well to the portable. The missions are incredibly long, with very few save points for players to access. While being able to put the system into an idle state is one benefit original PSone owners never had, it's obvious that Syphon Filter is not a game designed for the handheld: it's meant to be played over long periods of time, sitting down in front of a console. This is no Dark Mirror, a game built from the ground up to take advantage of the portable's capabilities.
Syphon Filter's impressive PSP outing, Dark Mirror, deserves all the accolades it has been earning over the past few months. However, gamers should not expect the original Syphon Filter to match the Dark Mirror's quality: the game suffers from lackluster graphics, horrendous controls, and presentation values that simply don't work well on the modern palette. The game's lengthy missions and infrequent save points also hinder its performance as a handheld game. Even at $6, it's hard to recommend the game simply because Dark Mirror is so much better, featuring some of the system's best graphical and online capabilities. Unless you want to relive the experience for nostalgia's sake, avoid this one.
PSP Fanboy Retro Review: 4.5 out of 10
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