Spy games. WMDs. World espionage, stealth kills, and secret agendas. Welcome to the world of Syphon Filter. The latest installment of the series for the PSP finds Gabe Logan and the agency rushing to the aid of a besieged navy transport; the Mount St. Helens. This mission is undertaken at the behest of Cordell, a white collar criminal and bureaucrat who reeks of corruption and is dirtier than a sewage worker in a white suit. Shortly after hitting the scene, Logan and crew are plunged into a firefight as they encounter pirates attempting to hijack the contents of Hold 5. Without revealing too much of the storyline, Logan finds that he is not the first response team to make the scene. Gabe is also quickly robbed of his escape route, as well as any support in the field.
The story is somewhat hard to follow, especially if you are not familiar with previous Syphon Filter titles. In the end, 5 different covert agencies end up being involved, with levels spanning no less than 8 different countries and locales. From sinking and already sunk navy vessels to bombed out cities in the midst of rebellion, from Russian radicals’ torturous gulags to plane hijackings, Logan’s Shadow definitely keeps it interesting as each and every level is different. You may be laying siege to a terrorist outpost in one level, and in the next, you could find yourself scuba-diving into a sunken vessel to check the contents of a secret hold. These changes in both scenery and gameplay keep most levels fresh and exciting.
On the gameplay and control aspect of things, Logan’s Shadow is somewhat of a mixed bag. The controls for any shooter are often questionable when they are put on to the PSP, but the team at SCEA has done a good job of making them manageable, borrowing heavily from other PSP success such as Star Wars Battlefront II. Triangle and X are used to change vertical orientation, allowing for players to aim at higher or lower targets, and also allowing players to swim in 3 dimensions in certain levels. Similarly, the square and circle buttons allow side to side movement of vision, allowing for strafing. Right trigger controls attacks and shooting, while left trigger allows for scoped aiming or auto aims. Movement is controlled with the analog stick. The d-pad serves as a multifunction control axis, with the down arrow controlling crouching and crawling, up controlling reloading, and the right and left arrows control use of the multi-function goggles. One thing I did find about the control scheme that should certainly be noted is that it was not very intuitive initially. There was a somewhat steep learning curve. After a few levels, however, it becomes much easier to remember. It was just the initial process of becoming comfortable with them that was a bit rocky.
Other control mechanisms do come into play routinely as you progress through each mission. These “special actions” are indicated on screen, telling you what button to push, and what the intended action does. For instance, you may get notification in certain areas that you can press the down arrow to begin crawling, or the up arrow to jump to a ledge at a higher elevation. These are found in many areas of the game. Other actions, however, are often level or task specific, and may only show up in certain places. These actions can end up resulting in God-of-War-esqe mini games, where buttons must be pushed in sequence or rapidly tapped to accomplish your goal. They range from closing valves and shutting down reactors, to disarming land mines, resisting interrogation, or using a wench to remove debris from an area. The mini games add quite a bit of variety to what might otherwise be another hum-drum stealth-action shooter, keeping the action quite fresh and involving players more heavily on the task at hand.
Logan’s Shadow also offers players diversity in the methods in which they handle each and every mission. Played a lot of Gears of War or Rainbow 6: Vegas? Then you will love using the similar cover system to engage enemies from protected locations, popping head shots into enemies, followed by mowing them down as they run using either blind fire or aimed shots. More of a Splinter Cell fan? Gabe is also able to sneak up on enemies, often with the use of thermal or night vision goggles, to perform stealth kills. Each stealth kill is quite varied, as well, with animations dependent on the situation. For instance, swimming up behind a land-based enemy will allow you to drag them into the water to drown them. Get the drop on a rooftop sniper? Your stealth kill ability will allow you to pitch them physically from their perch. Even the ordinary animations are quite entertaining, with breaking necks and slitting throats a commonplace. More stylized animations also pop up occasionally, with the most memorable animation showing Gabe pulling an enemies legs out from under him, followed by a swift kick to the groin to finish the job. Finally, if you are the Ghost Recon type, there are also instances of squad-based tactical engagements as well. Ranging from field firefights with the aid of an allied operative, all the way to calling down airstrikes and commanding other units forward while providing cover fire, Logan’s Shadow has all the bases covered.
Boss battles are the proverbial icing on this already quite tasty cake. While there is the run-of-the-mill, humdrum, one on one battles with an armored elite enemy, there are also many battles that include much, much more. Gabe will often find himself in direct conflict with enemies that are far beyond his ability to combat using normal methods. When this happens, unique strategies will develop that allow you to defeat your enemy. Some examples of this include conflicts between the player and heavily armored vehicles. During an early mission, Gabe and a highly-trained underwater ally are assaulted by an enemy sub, all while being pelted by navy depth charges. During this combat, it becomes clear that nothing in Gabe’s arsenal can scratch the armored underwater behemoth. Instead, the sharp player finds himself shooting depth charges that fall close to the sub while your ally runs a distraction for you. When a depth charge hits the sub, the player must then swim in close and remove a control mechanism from the exterior shell of the sub, through one of the mini-games mentioned above. After completing this a few times, the sub literally becomes dead in the water, while Gabe and his associate make a covert escape. Another example has Gabe running interference this time, against an attack chopper with superior armaments. While Gabe holds the chopper’s attention, he must call out to another operative to fire LAW rockets. Encounters like these spice up gameplay, and offer a different approach from your traditional twitch fire and run and gun strategies.
The weapons available in this Logan’s Shadow allow for even more strategic play. Including everything from pistols and assault rifles to shotguns and sniper rifles, every type of combat situation has a weapon to cover it. There is even a nifty rifle that fires different types of darts into unsuspecting enemies, with results ranging from putting them to sleep to explosives that catch all enemies in the vicinity. While the situations that use these darts are somewhat limited, their timely application is crucial at certain points.
In closing, Syphon Filter: Logan’s Shadow offers a widely diverse range of game play opportunities. Players are giving the choice of approaching each conflict as they see fit, making the game replayable and offering unique experiences to each gamer. This also allows SF: Logan’s Shadow to be enjoyable to a wide range of players out there. The controls, while initially a bit difficult to learn, do suit the game well, and a talented player will soon find them to be quite intuitive. The wide range of action that is experienced during gameplay is surprising, and it’s backed up with a ever-twisting story by author and graphic novelist Greg Rucka. This entry into the Syphon Filter line is a welcome one, offering something fun and exciting for nearly any player out there.