Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow (PSP)
Last year's Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror showed that the PSP could be a shooter system after all. Drawing from Sony's all-but-forgotten Syphon Filter franchise, it presented a series of stylish levels, a slick interface, cover-based gunplay and a generous array of weapons and gadgets. It told a great story with a rare human element, and it had enough unlockable content, achievements and multiplayer support to keep it going long after the story was over.
Now, Sony is striking while the iron's hot, having quickly turned around a sequel called Logan's Shadow. This follow-up has all the ingredients of the first game, but that's part of its problem. There's very little that's new, so it feels more like a competent re-tread than a full-fledged sequel.
The story is actually a step backwards, which is worth mentioning since the first game's storyline drove the action so well. The Syphon Filter games have always had silly, over-the-top and slightly adolescent plots. Imagine if Tom Clancy wrote comic books or if Metal Gear was a bit more coherent -- that's a Syphon Filter for you. But whereas last year's Dark Mirror had a sense of focus, dredging up secrets from the lead character's past, Logan's Shadow plunges into a desultory collection of political factions and subplots, all revolving around a peripheral character who doesn't even appear until the end of the game.
The actual gameplay and engine are almost identical to Dark Mirror, relying on the tried-and-true cover dynamics. Ever since the original PlayStation game in 1999, Syphon Filter has been about using cover rather than running and gunning. Gears of War and Rainbow Six: Vegas are Johnnies-come-lately when it comes to ducking behind a low wall and popping up to deliver the perfect headshot. Whether you're escaping from a Siberian prison, trying to drive terrorists off a ship, or escorting a tank through canyons, the levels play roughly the same: duck, shoot, duck, shoot, duck, shoot, repeat.
This might get a little old if Syphon Filter didn't do such a good job of providing you with different weapons and gadgets. The lead character is a veritable mule for the sheer amount of equipment he can tote: a primary gun, a secondary gun, a sniper rifle, a sidearm, grenades, a combat knife, a taser, three types of fancy goggles and a flashlight. The guns, modeled on real-world weapons, vary enough to keep thing interesting. One gun might have more kick, but another has a better scope. Some weapons let you lock onto your target, and others are perfect for lining up headshots. Some are silenced, and others make a big boom. Then there's the sniper rifle, which has different types of darts: a non-lethal taser dart, a dart that erupts in a cloud of knock-out gas, and a manually detonated explosive dart.
The different view modes with your various goggles are actually useful throughout the game. One lets you see where your objective is, as well as any interactive bits of the environment. Another lets you see enemies through walls, which is great for making your way through the level without running into any nasty surprises around the next corner. This is a game that gives you a big bag of tools and rewards you for using them.
The main new trick in Logan's Shadow is water. There are new water effects here and, by golly, this game is going to put 'em to work. In fact, you're soaking in them! There are frequent swimming levels and even a whole stretch of the game that takes place underwater. These areas mainly demonstrate that having full freedom of movement in all directions might not be the best idea given Syphon Filter's controls and pacing. But that doesn't stop Logan's Shadow from dumping you into the drink whenever it gets a chance.
The underwater levels are an interesting change of pace, but they require too much poking around looking for whichever doodad you need to advance the level. They even use the game's weakest gimmick: an escort mission where you have to protect some pokey third party while all the bad guys zero in on him. When the bad guys are coming in from all directions, including above and below, and when you're literally suspended in wide-open space, the limitations of this shooter are painfully apparent.
Stealth kills and stabbings are a part of Syphon Filter, but Logan's Shadow adds human shields to encourage a bit of grappling during firefights. You can grab a victim and fire over his shoulder while his body intercepts any incoming bullets. A grapple bar counts down the time until he'll break free, so if you want to kill him, you have to play a quick God of War-style button-pressing mini-game before he escapes. There are more of these button-mashing gimmicks during cut scenes or when you want to open a door. They're just as annoying as you'd imagine. The sooner this button-pressing mini-game fad is laid to rest, the better.
The unlockables are tied to achievements, such as getting a certain number of kills with the knife, completing missions without dying, or using the sniper gun's special darts. This is actually just a clever way to get you to replay levels to earn new guns and bonus levels. It's the same great system that gave Dark Mirror so much replay value. Similarly, the multiplayer support is very much the same as the last game, but with new maps and a ranking system to balance team-based matches. With Logan's Shadow, this series remains the best way to play online shooters on the PSP.
Logan's Shadow would be a much better game if it weren't so redundant to last year's Dark Mirror, which raised the bar for shooters for the PSP. But because Logan's Shadow essentially reiterates that game, it smacks straight into that bar. Still, aping one of the best shooters on the PSP is nothing to be ashamed of. It's just not the ideal way to do a sequel.
This review was based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.