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.