Game Description: In the game, players assume the roles of secret agents Gabriel Logan and Lian Xing. Framed for a crime they did not commit, the two must race against the clock in order to prevent the sale of the Syphon Filter virus to a terrorist nation. Played from a third-person point of view, the story takes gamers from the streets of Moscow to the Agency's secret Syphon Filter lab. Such a dangerous mission requires effective weapons and gadgets; naturally, the agency provides an arsenal of more than 25 enemy-stoppers, including a cross bow, a sniper rifle with a night-vision scope, tear gas, binoculars, and other goodies. New to the series is a two-player, split-screen mode featuring fast head-to-head combat action in 20 arenas.
The original Syphon Filter was an all out mission-based action title that had a lot going for it to separate it from the pack. Using an over-the-shoulder perspective, it placed you in the role of Gabriel Logan (Gabe to his friends) as he chases after members of a terrorist group and tried to prevent them from destroying the city. Plus, while hes at it, he had to capture a top-secret biological agent called the Syphon Filter. The game hinged on me completing a series of main objectives (one per level), but in order to meet those objectives I had to complete smaller, more specific tasks in a predetermined order. These tasks ranged from hostage rescues to bomb defusals and, to 989 Studios' credit, they were meshed seamlessly into the overall storyline of the game.
As with any action title, the original Syphon Filter had plenty of bad guys who had no intention of allowing me to complete my missions. But, fortunately, the game left me far from being helpless. Gabe came armed with an impressive arsenal of weapons and gadgets, but, what was even more useful, was the newly introduced auto-target feature. While reminiscent of the auto targeting popularized by Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, Syphon Filter allowed me to lock onto whatever target I wished to while simultaneously dodging attack or moving for cover. The distinction here was that I could select and deselect any number of targets with the simple press of a button. Complete with interactive levels (most buildings could be entered and explored to some degree) and a solid plot, Syphon Filter seemed to have everything I could have wanted in a game and it was an immediate hit with me.
But its funny how much has changed in a year. Looking back at the original Syphon Filter now, I must admit that the game will not fare so well in the wake of Metal Gear Solid. And, from looking at Syphon Filter 2's features, one may deduce that Eidetic noticed this as well because some of them read like a to-do list of things to help keep the game up with the times. Key among this list is a new stealth mode, the addition of a new controllable character, and deeper story-telling mechanisms with higher production values. And, given the success of genre-broadening games as Metal Gear Solid and Half-Life, the inclusion of this type of mode seems most natural. As a result, I no longer have to go barreling into enemy camps with guns blazing; instead, I often have to think my way out of a tough spot with nothing but a commando knife (and, on some levels, not even that). Despite this deviation from the norm, the missions were not the most original they still hinged on getting keys or defusing stuff but when taken together as a whole, they turned out to be rather entertaining.
The next two elements are closely related and are certainly welcome additions to the game. Likely as a safeguard against the nearly inevitable boredom that stems from action titles and a sign of the times where a sexy female character is almost a prerequisite Eidetic has added a second playable character in the form of Gabes partner, Lian Xing. In this scenario, she has been infected by the Syphon Filter and captured by her old employer, The Agency. When I first encountered her, she wore nothing but a hospital gown and I had to navigate her out of the heavily guarded facility. This premise revealed so early in the game is in stark contrast to the prior level that essentially had Gabe shooting his way out of trouble. On later levels, which are more diverse, Gabe gets some covert action too so it does become well balanced. But make no mistake about it, when Lian gets her hands on a weapon or two, she proved to be equally as capable of handling herself as Gabe can.
As for the story, Eidetic probably spent a few sleepless nights envying the ambitious plot of Konamis Metal Gear Solid and it really shows because Syphon Filter 2's storyline is now quite complex. The once loyal agent, Gabe, is now at odds with The Agency and now must prevent The Agency and its allies from unleashing the Syphon Filter virus on Washington D.C., all the while trying to aid his infected comrade. From there the story quickly evolves with a plentitude of plot twists and turns as alliances are made and broken. Moreover, it is all told with a variety of very stylistic, full-motion video sequences and real-time cut scenes. Unfortunately, they dont rise to the level of Metal Gear Solid's or Final Fantasy VIII's, but they are, however, much improved over the original. Also a throwback to Syphon Filter 2's predecessor is the team member's in-game chatter, that is scattered throughout. At times, it can be somewhat confusing, but as conspiracy and espionage stories go, the pacing is excellent and holds its own. A weighty addition to the story's progression is the fact that Lian is a controllable character working along a parallel storyline, but in different areas (and the twosome's paths rarely cross). It works well in negating boredom.
These wonderful additions could have single-handedly carried Syphon Filter 2 to impressive reviews across the industry this year; unfortunately, the supplementary features are such that they pull the game down. First and foremost, Syphon Filter 2 falters in terms of in all-around graphics. Whereas the original Syphon Filter sported a stalwart game engine somewhat innovative for its time, Eidetic mistakenly believed that this same engine would suffice a second time around with only minor tweaking. After only a few minutes of playing, the game engine's flaws become readily apparent. For instance, while the character models for the main characters and enemies are detailed and animate smoothly, their surroundings often looked bland and rather coarse for a title this late in the PlayStations life cycle. I often found myself lost because there were few discernable landmarks to use as aids as I plotted routes through the terrain. And when indoors, it was surprising how similar hallways and buildings looked to one another, which further added to confusion. Eidetic did add some graphical eye candy like real-time light-sourcing and such, but the game still sports many blemishes that were not limited to a few scant levels, but rather constant throughout.
Control is another part of the game that remains unchanged. While Gabe can run, jump, climb, kneel, crouch and roll (all the while keeping enemies within his sights), he seems to still have issues with turning while running as well as with judging corners. A technique familiar to Syphon Filter is locking onto enemies and running around them to gun them down before they can land a shot. Getting Gabe to do this—and feeling natural while doing it—is always easy. Sometimes on the losing end of a firefight, I would head down a hallway or passageway only to run smack dab into the wall. This could simply be the result of the third-person perspective not allowing enough leeway to allow me to see where I need to go, but it also has to do with Gabes running style. When Gabe is in his haul-ass trot, he does not turn corners sharply at all, but rather with a slow arching movement. This is fine in wide-open areas, but is not nearly as effective when in close quarters. I was hoping that it would have been taken care of in the sequel but alas, it has returned and perhaps even more apparent.
All of these faults were only exacerbated by the game's level of difficulty. Since Syphon Filter was a little challenging, I expected no less from the original. However, Syphon Filter 2 can be a bit too much. The difficulty has been set to such a degree that the game quickly becomes a game of trial and error. Each enemy had to be picked off with precision and speed that seemed unrealistic for an action-based game. And if I wasn't up to the task, I quickly learned that my enemies were. I don't exaggerate when I say the enemies have eyes like eagles, because in confrontations, they managed a degree of accuracy that was spellbinding. Things got especially out of hand in the areas where guards were perched on top of buildings and the like. Here, they had a distinct advantage and if I didn't use the run, shoot, and roll trick, they would land headshot after headshot and ultimately force me to start all over again from whereever I saved last. This, of course, is not a pleasant experience and shows a level of imbalance that could have easily been rectified.
Perhaps as a final sendoff to current market trends, Eidetic added a multiplayer mode. This is obviously a ploy for Syphon Filter 2 to keep up with the Joneses (such as GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark and Medal Of Honor). Here, Ill gladly acknowledge how well designed the multiplayer levels are and how perfectly suited they are for deathmatches. The problem is that the multiplayer modes are limited to only two-players at a time—these days console multiplayer is almost synonymous with four-player action. Admittedly, the lack of a four-player mode could be attributed to the PlayStations inherit hardware limitations, but even something as simple as more choices in game modes would have helped tremendously. In itself, a deathmatch mode would have been quite welcome, but Syphon Filter 2's quickly deteriorates into a boring game of tag. How long can a person enjoy chasing an opponent around? It's a shame that more effort wasn't put into this mode.
All in all, Syphon Filter 2 was not a horrendous game, but it does fall short of living up to the original. However, given the frequency with which this has been happening, I am probably more lenient towards a title that is so close to the original, especially one that I enjoyed so much. It delivers on the action and certainly delivers as far as its story goes. Unfortunately, it cannot escape a feeling of "sameness" and, compounded with the game's average graphics, unbalanced enemy AI, and high difficulty setting, must be brought down a notch or two from where it could have been.
My experience with the original Syphon Filter was limited to the extremely brief demo that came with my PlayStation. On that basis, I somehow concluded that the game was a cheap Metal Gear Solid ripoff (at the time, I was utterly engrossed in the Hideo Kojima masterpiece and didn't want to be bothered). Now that I've played Syphon Filter 2, I not only realize that my skepticism of the first game was unfounded and ridiculous, but that I also may have missed out on a pretty good 3-D action game.
As Dale mentioned, Syphon Filter 2 isn't much of a departure from the first game—almost to a fault. Syphon Filter 2 recycles the same graphics and the same ideas from the previous game and only changes the setting and the story. But I think most fans of the original will find the change in scenery appropriate, as the exotic locales allow for many interesting gameplay possibilities. I was always anxious to see where the game was going next. I also enjoyed the constant switching back and forth between the various exploits of Lian Xing and Gabe Logan. Their intersecting storylines let us see the plot unfold from different perspectives, and taking individual control of them at alternating points in the game kept the action fresh and exciting.
Dale makes several comparisons to Metal Gear Solid—from which Syphon Filter 2 seems to take several cues—but I thought the game more resembled GoldenEye 007 on Nintendo 64, except that it is seen from the familiar Tomb Raider perspective. Not only are the characters blocky (as they were in GoldenEye), but you also get a similarly huge arsenal of weapons, interesting and challenging mission objectives, and just the right mix of sneaking around and balls-out machine-gunning. Syphon Filter 2 even does GoldenEye one better by treating us to a pretty good original story along the way—acted out by some decent voice talent. I didn't care much for all the full-motion video, which uses the same poorly rendered character models as the rest of the game (everyone has blocks for hands, with "fingers" mapped-on to look like a fist, and everyone's limbs bend like silly putty—it's not pretty). And although I stated the voice talent was mostly good, I really hated Gabe Logan's voice. He sounds like a cross between Solid Snake and Elmer Fudd, and his line readings are all wrong and totally unconvincing—inexcusable for a lead character. Fortunately, the amazing action sequences quickly took my mind off the emotionless and monotone Gabe. Lian Xing's shoot-out in a Moscow nightclub was full of surprises, and Gabe's bomb-disarming ordeal along an enemy-patrolled bridge, however unlikely, had me riveted. I appreciated the subtle puzzle and espionage elements in Syphon Filter 2, which are seamlessly integrated throughout all the heavy action. Syphon Filter 2 is a well-balanced game, and one that's easy to recommend to friends.
However, Syphon Filter 2 can also be frustrating and annoying. It relies too much on trial and error to keep the difficulty level high. Though this game is oddly addicting, it's no fun playing through the same area over and over again before finally getting it right. I lost track of how many times I died about 20 minutes into the game—more often than not due to some unforeseen event that must be triggered by your death before you know what to expect the next time around. Whether it was because I violated a mission parameter, failed to complete an objective, or was shot between the eyes by a sniper, my frustration routinely reached a boiling point—a rage I hadn't felt since playing Ninja Gaiden. This was only made worse by the difficulty I had in finding an unobstructed view of the action. Third-person 3-D action is handled best when the "camera" is allowed to pull back a little—putting some distance between you and the rapid-fire commotion. The camera in Syphon Filter 2 follows the protagonists Gabe and Lian too closely. I oftentimes caught myself moving around in front of the TV to try and see around them. It's not unlike driving with some jerk behind you riding right on your ass: "Get off my ass camera! Please, get off my ass!"
Despite the high difficulty and minor annoyances, I had a hard time putting the controller down and walking away from this game. Syphon Filter 2 does a good job of pulling you in and never letting go. I thought it was a good example of how to do a sequel right. You don't want to deviate too far from the beaten path, you just want to make the journey more worthwhile. Syphon Filter 2 doesn't look or feel much different than its predecessor, but it overflows with ambition and high-octane gameplay.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Animated Blood, Animated Violence
Parents will want to keep an eye out for this title as it lives up to its mature theme with violence and blood. Fans of the original Syphon Filter will, in all likelihood, find something to like here with this sequel. The action is similar and there are some very cool additions to the game that make it a joy to play. But I think you should keep in mind that the problem of increased difficulty as well as a lack of options could dissolve your nostalgia rather quickly. Action fans who prefer games in the vein of Tomb Raider or Soul Reaver could possibly find something to enjoy. Those new to Syphon Filter are advised to pick up the original first, as they would probably have a better time with it.