If I was to reduce Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror to a mathematical formula, one way of looking at it might be: Sam Fisher + Solid Snake – Distinct Personality = Gabe Logan. However, in terms of gameplay, it might be more like Kill.Switch + (Splinter Cell – stealth) + (Metal Gear – wackiness) + (Action x 2) = Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror.
I might be doing the game a little bit of a disservice by comparing it so directly to two of the leaders in the third-person military action genre (is that even a genre?), but it's almost impossible to see this game outside of its influences. However, the positive side is that by being measured against the biggest boys around (and, uh… Kill.Switch, too), Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror doesn't just hold its own, it kicks some ass.
First and foremost, this game moves. The pace is set high and maintains the same tense energy level throughout. There are plenty of hints and cues to make sure that sticking points don't exist, and the cutscenes and radio chatter do a great job of keeping the focus on the mission. No matter what I was doing, I always felt like I was pointed in the right direction.
While out in the field, Gabe tackles a surprisingly wide variety of objectives and situations. Of course there's plenty of combat, the kind where finding cover is essential to survival—that's the Kill.Switch influence. Besides straight-up shooting, several legs of the op give our hero a partner, and it's to the developers' credit that none of these escort missions drag the game down a bit. My favorite section was rescuing abandoned UN squaddie Janzen from some Eastern European thugs, and then teaming up to escape a bombed-out industrial area in search of his unit.
There are plenty of other juicy segments keeping things fresh; one tight sequence was helping a technician reboot a mainframe by watching him through the ceiling with my infrared goggles, and then blasting oncoming enemies through the tiles. Small touches abound, like shooting out a spotlight, providing cover fire, or giving a boost up to someone who needs it. These bits lending an appropriate level of realism are often forgotten on consoles, so they're doubly appreciated on a portable.
Speaking of infrared goggles, Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror is no slouch in the techno-fetish department. Gabe comes packing a nifty sniper rifle that has poison gas, taser, and explosive attachments in addition to the full range of goggle options (nightvision/infrared/electronic) and a whole slew of firearms that can be acquired in the field. Everything a covert operative could want is here, and highly functional to boot.
Putting all these elements together adds up to the best Syphon Filter game ever, and it just sweetens the deal that Sony Bend came up with a control setup that's not only completely effective, but very well-thought-out, too. Considering the difficulty most PSP games are having compensating for the lack of a second stick, it's totally refreshing to play one that gets it completely right. There's something to be said about designing games specifically for the hardware, obviously.
I could go on, but everything about the game is top-quality. The artificial intelligence provides plenty of interesting moments, the save points are frequent, the story is more accessible than Splinter Cell's dry politi-babble, the voice work and graphics are the best I've seen on the PSP, and the entire game drips with polish and care delivered by people who know what they're doing. Compared to the competition on PSP, Dark Mirror's Gabe leaves Snake shuffling his cards and puts Sam in the ground with two bullets in his head.
Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.
Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway