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PSP Review - 'Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow'

by Nathan Grayson on Dec. 7, 2007 @ 3:02 a.m. PST

Syphon Filter: Logan’s Shadow features a variety of combat mechanics including the ability to force enemies into cover with "blind-fire," an advanced melee system that allows Gabe to use enemies as human shields, and 360 degree underwater combat.


Genre: Action
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Sony Bend
Release Date: October 2, 2007

Solid Snake and Sam Fisher, respectively of Metal Gear and Splinter Cell fame, are practically household names with action gamers. When a sneaking mission needs to be, well, sneaked, or some necks need snapping, Snake and Fisher take the assignment. Meanwhile, other stealth-agent types are left skulking in the shadows, and, ironically, that's the one time when they probably don't want to be there. Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow protagonist Gabe Logan is one such anonymous operative — that's quite unfortunate because his game is a thoroughly enjoyable stealth/action romp, not to be missed.

Just because Gabe Logan is part of an under-the-radar franchise doesn't mean he's inexperienced — quite the contrary, in fact; he's been around since the original PlayStation days. In Logan's Shadow, Gabe and his battle-tested crew are charged with retrieving a mysterious cargo from a ship under attack by terrorists. Gabe doesn't exactly trust Cordell, the man who contracted him for this mission, but he wants to settle the score with old foe Bitar, and to that end, he more or less complies with Cordell's orders. What follows is a story that eventually escapes the cramped confines of a simple ship infiltration but remains much more a vehicle for Gabe's exploration and infiltration of exotic locales than it is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. The dialogue isn't exactly Pulitzer-worthy, either, but it does a passable job in the context of this game.

Logan's Shadow isn't written as a tale for the ages; it's a video game, and true to those roots, packs some serious gameplay. As we've established, Logan's Shadow is a stealth/action title, yet it's not quite as hide-and-go-hide-again intensive as many of its genre brethren. If you want to play the game as a third-person shooter, go ahead. On normal difficultly, odds are you'll make it through the game mostly unscathed playing that way. On the other hand, playing stealthily is quite satisfying when done correctly — and if you mess up, so what? The game doesn't punish you in the same way a Splinter Cell title will. Instead, you face a firefight with a few enemies, employing the small armory of weapons Gabe carries on his person. Overall, it's a slick compromise between stealth and action, causing little, if any, real frustration. Yes, indeed, this game possesses the elusive quality called "fun."

While it's disappointing the Syphon Filter franchise isn't as well regarded as Metal Gear and Splinter Cell, there is something of an explanation for that. As Logan's Shadow demonstrates, Syphon Filter titles don't offer quite as tight experiences as their principal competitors. Part of this is attributable to the platform on which Logan's Shadow is currently exclusive: PSP. The fact in this post-Halo age is that any FPS-like control scheme comes off feeling slow and cumbersome without a second analog stick.

Logan's Shadow isn't totally bereft of a solution to this, though; it offers three control schemes of varying quality. The default control scheme attempts to emulate traditional console FPS controls; if you choose the default controls, let's just say Gabe will probably learn more about the ecology of the bacteria on the ground than he will his mission. The second control scheme simply reverses the default and scrambles your brain into an unappetizing omelet in the process. The third and only truly viable control scheme maps most movement to the analog nub and allows for locking onto targets. You may scoff and take as an insult to your gaming abilities the crutch of a lock-on button, but this game loses a large portion of its playability without it.

Logan's Shadow also falters in the underwater sequences. Gabe may look nice and comfy in his wetsuit, but he swims like he belongs in the kiddie pool. Compound this with a near inability to avoid enemies' bullets while swimming, and therein lies this game's one truly frustrating aspect. Eventually, you stumble upon the underwater boss-fight/escort mission, and things really fall apart.

I've so greatly emphasized these particular flaws of Logan's Shadow's only because they're fairly minor when placed against the rest of the game. Nowhere are this title's achievements more obvious than in the multiplayer modes. Many full-blown console games wish they offered the kind of robustness found in Logan's Shadow's multiplayer mode. Between multiple game types — deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture-the-flag, rogue and finally sabotage, wherein you search for codes to blow up the other team's nukes — online play, voice chat and clan support, you'd think you were reading a description of an online-only multiplayer game. It's no wonder, then, that Sony used Logan's Shadow as the basis for Syphon Filter: Combat Ops, the flagship downloadable PSP title available via the Web version of the formerly PS3-exclusive PlayStation Store. Even better, Logan's Shadow includes a free demo of Combat Ops.

In art direction, Logan's Shadow paints everything shades of gray like it's color-blind, but it's one of the few games that manages to look amazing with that limited palette. The title literally pushes the PSP to its limits, making use of the hardware's powerful 333 MHz mode, made available not all that long ago with new firmware. This allows for extra-nice visuals, like realistic water and rag-doll physics — and, yes, seeing rag dolls anew in a portable title does make them exciting all over again. It's no stretch to call Logan's Shadow the PSP's best-looking title to date. The only place where the game's graphics fail is in its cut scenes. Generally, they're fairly stiff, like the characters are attempting to do "The Robot" and failing miserably at it. The title occasionally makes use of some CG to convey especially important story sequences, and while the CG makes vehicles and buildings look nice, characters still appear creepy and unnatural, like mannequins.

As with the cut-scene graphics, Logan's Shadow's voice acting is mediocre for the most part, though not on the level of Resident Evil bad. The music, however, is in varying degrees excellent, and it typically fits the scenes in which it's played — triumphantly swelling as bullets fly and bodies drop, slipping into the background when you're stalking corridors — although bodies still drop: That's kind of a theme here.

Without a doubt, Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow is one of PSP's top titles this year. It's beautiful, action-packed and, most importantly, fun. It's far from perfect — controls being the most troublesome issue — but its flaws hardly ruin what is, on the whole, a very good game.

Score: 8.5/10

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