Review: Syphon Filter: Logan’s Shadow

Syphon Filter-Logans Shadow Box Art.jpgPlatform: PSP
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: SCEA Bend Studios
Release Date: 10/2/07
Genre: Stealth/Action
Players: 1-8

After the award-winning release of Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror, the team at Sony Bend had a tough act to follow in making sure the new sequel, Logan’s Shadow, not only continued the quality of its predecessor, but expanded upon it as well. Amazingly, they have managed to accomplish both objectives, following up the Game of the Year-caliber original with a sequel that is somehow even better!

Though Logan’s Shadow comes after Dark Mirror, the story doesn’t directly continue off of past events, so series newcomers who may not have played the previous games can enjoy the experience every bit as much as Syphon Filter veterans who know all the characters. In fact, for Logan’s Shadow Sony Bend actually brought in novel and comic book writer Greg Rucka to pen the script and infuse his storytelling style into the Syphon Filter universe, and the result is a gripping narrative hitting on all the proper themes you could ask for in a great spy thriller: espionage, betrayal, conspiracy, revenge, redemption and action. Solid voice acting and an exquisite soundtrack starring Iranian singer Azam Ali only enhance the intrigue too.

The general gist of the story is straightforward, at first. Stud super-agent Gabe Logan is called in to deal with a group of terrorists attempting to steal some form of dangerous technology that could be used to threaten the world if in the wrong hands. But while on this mission, Gabe becomes enveloped in a far more complicated situation than he knew, with his trusted partner Lian Xing accused of becoming a double agent after mysteriously turning up missing while on vacation and many other twists and turns along the way amping up the intrigue, culminating in a shocking cliff-hanger ending that will have you craving for Sony to hurry up and get to work pumping out the next Syphon Filter so you can see where the series goes from here.

Gabe’s latest mission is comprised of six episodes and over 20 levels, all lasting a healthy 6-8 hours. There is an abundance of replay value beyond one-timing the campaign too. A Mission mode is available for replaying previously completed stages to increase mission rankings and collect hidden evidence pieces in order to unlock all sorts of extra goodies, such as new weapons, abilities, cool bonus missions, concept art, audio files and bonus videos.

On top of that, the robust Wi-Fi multiplayer featured in Dark Mirror has returned in full force, with a few additions, tweaks and balances worked in to boot. Up to eight players can blast it out locally or online in five match types, two of which are brand new, including a rendition of capture the flag called Retrieval and Sabotage, a mode in which teams work together to find bomb codes and arm the opposing team’s nuke. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Rogue Agent round out the group, with a staggering array of community features that you’d find in all the latest console and PC games, like leaderboards, message boards, mailboxes, favorites lists, buddy lists, player “Cells” and voice chat using the PSP headset, also built in, making Logan’s Shadow a powerhouse of a portable multiplayer experience. And if that wasn’t enough, a demo version of Combat Ops, an upcoming expansion project that will add in a full mission editor to tinker with, has been tossed in as well. All told, don’t expect to take this game out of your PSP rotation for a LONG time.

In terms of gameplay, Logan’s Shadow sticks to the excellent foundation laid down by Dark Mirror before it for the most part (especially in the controls, which are once again fluid and precise), only this time out the action and pacing have been ramped up to a fever pitch. Stealth, duck-and-cover and run-and-gun tactics are all viable play styles to adopt, either individually or, better yet, a mixture of both, with brand new mechanics like grappling enemies for human shields and blind fire from behind cover introducing an extra layer of depth and diversity. The new features don’t stop there either. Full 360-degree underwater combat and navigation have been added, along with God of War-inspired button-pressing “mini-games” and a greater emphasis on “buddy mechanics,” such as basic tandem combat with an AI ally, leading an ally tank along while pointing out targets for it to unload on, or providing cover fire so an ally can fire off rockets at an attacking chopper, as but a few examples.

Additional features aside, my lone complaint of any significance concerns the enemy AI. Syphon Filter on the whole has never been a series known for having the brightest of enemy combatants, and although the AI has seen some improvements in Logan’s Shadow, it still isn’t up to optimal quality quite yet. More often than not, enemies stand still and offer ample time for you to line up your shots safely behind cover. They will move in and out of cover themselves, but the patterns are fairly predictable. I know developing the most advanced AI systems isn’t going to be possible on the PSP, but it still just would’ve been nice to see enemies use group tactics or at least charge forward to force you out of cover rather than waiting back for you to make the move.

While the AI could’ve used some tweaking, Sony Bend sure harnessed every ounce of the PSP’s power in creating the game’s graphics engine – Logan’s Shadow actually takes advantage of the PSP’s recently uncapped 333Mhz CPU, and it clearly shows. Much of that extra juice went into implementing the Havok physics engine, which brings an unprecedented level of environmental interactivity and animation quality to the world of handheld gaming. With the new underwater gameplay in place, a lot of attention to detail also went into creating realistic reflections, surface ripples and particle effects (bubbles, water splashes, etc.). From the textures to the character models to the lighting (in conjunction with the other aforementioned visual enhancements), Logan’s Shadow rivals the best of what even the PS2 can offer and has easily set the benchmark for graphical quality in a handheld game.

In damn near every phase of game design, Syphon Filter: Logan’s Shadow is the cream of the crop in the PSP software library right now. I do have some fleeting reservations with the lazy AI, but in the broad scheme of things it doesn’t detract too much from what is overall a compelling, gorgeous, intense and value-packed portable action game that is too brilliant to be missed. On consoles, Snake and Sam may have Gabe’s number, but when it comes to the PSP, Mr. Logan is officially the king of stealth. Go. Buy. This. Game. Now!

BuyIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Compelling story written by Greg Rucka
+ Lots of solo content and strong multiplayer = high replay value
+ Great mix of action and stealth with a perfect pacing
+ Some of the best graphics ever in a handheld game

Cons:
– Rudimentary enemy AI

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!