Genre : Action
Release Date: March 14, 2006
It has been an entire year since the PSP released on American shores. The library has finally outgrown its racing game-riddled pajamas. It would actually be an impressive thing for someone to own every PSP game. There has been enough time for at least two sequels to PSP-only games to release (Metal Gear Acid 2, Untold Legends: Warrior's Code), and best of all, competition between titles has finally begun.
SOCOM and Syphon Filter have never seemed like much of a match, the former usually wrangling with the likes of Ghost Recon while Syphon Filter's developers winked and nudged copies of the original Metal Gear Solid whenever premiering a new entry at E3. Yet a common thing has suddenly developed between the two: online tactical combat.
The final result between the two games, when online, and limited to the PSP control scheme, is incredible. Many of the same weapons are even shared between the two; both are based at least somewhat on real-world technology. The most interesting thing is that SOCOM mostly remains SOCOM as a PSP game, but multiplayer Syphon Filter is more like SOCOM than its namesake. Strange thing.
This is leading me to believe that most PSP deathmatch/squad-based games are going to have a similar "feel" due to the control limitations. Even Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex gave off a similar vibe, with its stunted control scheme, although its multiplayer seemed to have a little more polish (though not as much fun, somehow). Dark Mirror doesn't fix anything when it comes to the stiff, unnatural nature of PSP first- and third-person shooters so far, although it improves somewhat on the SOCOM: Fire Team Bravo formula by allowing for some variability in control.
The biggest multiplayer coup is the ability for hosts to toggle auto-locking on and off, something SOCOM really should have allowed for; it would have increased the replay factor tenfold. Players long in the tooth laugh at the feature, of course, but for new kids who aren't up for the intense competition wrestling with the analog nub for exact aiming brings, auto-locking is the way to go. There is still strategy involved; players' motions relate directly to how accurate a shot is, and the likelihood of a headshot is increased while staying still and crouching, for example. This makes the game have more of a start/stop flavor, and for many new players, lots of head-on games of chicken with the default FAMAS rifle.
Speaking of the FAMAS, it's a horrible gun in the Syphon Filter universe, but newbie players are stuck with it until they've played a number of successful matches. This is tough, because even now, in the first handful of days of Dark Mirror's online mode, many players have the best weapons unlocked and spend their days smashing up "n00bz" with single sawed-off pistol shots to the head. And that, kids, is how you build a Dark Mirror dynasty. It's even easier if you have friends to help you out, so make sure to set up a clan – "cell," in Syphon Filter language – with an offensive, distracting tag like "AZZ" (the real deal would be censored) so everybody can be saw'd off'd into oblivion!
If you couldn't tell from what you just read, I'm not too happy about the entry difficulty curve. A year from now, when crazy veterans are braving carpal tunnel, bearing the "AZZ" flag, still gunning down fools by camping the same roof, they will be hundreds of times better at commanding the analog nub to do what their brains want it to. I pray for the bargain-bin hunters who meet these players in their first matches. "To eBay with this!" they will say.
Most of the moves and weapons from the single player game are available online, with a few additions, but many maneuvers aren't applicable to fast team deathmatches. Zip lining only works when there are few players on a map; otherwise, expect to be pegged in the air pretty quickly. Sliding works like a charm in most cases, though, and has been at the center of my most successful online matches. This is probably the biggest separation between this and SOCOM's gameplay. Players can hold to a wall and peek out the side to rain bullets on unsuspecting enemies.
And what about all that single-player stuff? I haven't mentioned the meat of this game at all, correct? I personally think that I have; the online is the only fresh thing here. That is not to say that the single-player mode isn't good; it is. In fact, it's one of the best produced PSP titles so far, even though I don't agree with how the game handles. I've never been a great fan of Syphon Filter's generic lead, Gabe Logan or any of his paper-thin supporting cast. I've never enjoyed the simplistic gameplay that sits somewhere between Tomb Raider and Splinter Cell. However, all of those grudges aside, if you've liked a Syphon Filter game in the past, you will love this one. If you're just here for the multiplayer – which, from voice-chatting with a great deal of players online, many people are – at least give the single-player segment a try, just for the sake of seeing what a proper PSP game should look like.
Many graphical problems are eliminated. Lighting is perfection, almost indistinguishable from a PlayStation 2 game. The best part is, there is very little ghosting. Even Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, previously the most ambitious PSP title, had a massive issue with on-screen trails, yet Syphon Filter seems to have eliminated the problem, for the most part. The usual flaws are abound, mostly somewhat shady lines between long-range and melee combat, and a two-dimensional story based on those evil terrorists and the good guys from the U.S. of A., even introducing some perturbed Arabs, just as every military game has since about, oh, September 11, 2001. The missions are organized into smaller chunks than normal Syphon Filter games, though, so if you are about to brave a few, at least you can finish them up during a longer bus ride or two.
I'm hesitant to call this the best PSP game yet because it still carries so many of the flaws of previous games – mostly in terms of control – as well as having fairly trite single-player moments. But I cannot deny that Sony has done their best work from a technical standpoint, hopefully proving that most bigger titles from this generation of releases forward will do away with some of the earlier problems developers had with the platform. Dark Mirror, if nothing else, is a milestone in PSP development.
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