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Syphon Filter (PSOne)
MSRP: $39.99
Number of Players: 1
Developer: Eidetic
Publisher: 989 Studios

Rating:
****
out of
*****

If you're a fan of games like Metal Gear Solid, GoldenEye 007, or Tomb Raider and you've been waiting for a game to combine elements of all three, your wait is now over. Syphon Filter, the newest game from 989 Studios, has combined some of the most interesting bits from each of the aforementioned games while including some innovations of its own. It's a mix that sounds good on paper, but how many times has a game that sounded good failed to live up to its promise? Thankfully, Syphon Filter manages to live up to the standards of its predecessors.

You are cast as Gabriel Logan, one of the United States' best secret agents. Washington D.C. is being threatened by a bio-warfare weapon known as Syphon Filter. Your employer, known only as The Agency, has named you as the person most likely to stop the threat.

The story is told through the use of pre-rendered cinemas, which are well-animated but a little bland looking. The characters move around with life-like, rotoscoped fluidity, but lack facial detail. The backgrounds are also rather sparse looking. These are minor quibbles, however, because the cinemas set up the action and do so without being too talky or cumbersome.

After the appropriate cinema, the action begins. At the beginning of most missions, Lian, Gabe's assistant, will contact Gabe about his (and your) mission objectives. These can range from finding numerous bombs scattered throughout an area or freeing a hostage. One interesting mission combines elements of stealth, sniper-accurate shooting and a bit of running and jumping as you tail an enemy through a museum to a secret meeting.

The game includes the stealth aspects from Metal Gear Solid, the sniper aspects of GoldenEye 007 and the third person perspective of Tomb Raider. Controlling all of the different actions can be a little intimidating, but the pay-off is strangely satisfying as you kill an enemy guard with a head-shot from long range or accomplish your mission without being seen.

The graphics are, overall, fairly good. Gabriel moves pretty much you'd expect him too. Although there are occasional polygon seam problems, with walls breaking up in weird places and the like, the overall look is satisfying and doesn't detract from the action. Some levels, which feature rain, snow and fog effects, are suitably atmospheric. Although nothing breaks new ground, you're not likely to complain about the way things look.

The voice acting deserves a word of praise. While many games are happy to have someone doing little more than reading their lines and calling it "acting," Syphon Filter has some decent performances, especially Gabriel Logan himself. (Although he sounds dangerously close to the raspy-throated Snake Plissken, from John Carpenter's Escape From... movies.) The other sound effects are top-notch as well, providing a sense that the action is happening somewhere other than on a computer screen. The subway level, for example, sounds like its happening in a tunnel, rather than simply having a few tacked-on-at-the-last-second sound effects of trains and the like.

Each button on the PlayStation controller has at least one function in the game. The L1 and R1 buttons bring up the sniper view and automatic targeting respectively. The L2 and R2 buttons are used to make Gabe move in what's commonly called a "strafe" maneuver, which allows him to face forward while still moving left or right. The normal square, circle, triangle and X buttons all control Gabe's weapons and actions. Even the Select and Start buttons are used, with Select allowing you to cycle through Gabe's weapons inventory and Start pausing the game to bring up a map and objective information.

While it's great to be able to do so many different things with the controller, it's sometimes difficult to combine these movements without feeling like a victim of carpal tunnel syndrome. It is possible to use the strafe movement while looking through the sniper view to take a shot at a long-range target. In fact, doing so enables Gabe to look around corners and remain mostly hidden from enemy view. What's not so easy is actually performing that feat with the controller. It's possible, but not exactly comfortable.

Gabe moves around each level at a running pace, so it's sometimes a little frustrating to get him to go exactly where you'd like on the first try. Unlike Tomb Raider, there is no "walk" option. The only way to get Gabe to slow down is to have him sneak around in a crouched position. While not a huge flaw, it does limit your mobility a bit. Even using the analog control option does not affect Gabe's movement speed, which is a shame.

Otherwise, though, there's really little to complain about. The missions are varied and relatively exciting to play. Each one builds on to the last to complete a fairly interesting conceptual storyline.

One nice thing about each level is that there are multiple objectives to each one. If you are killed before completing a level, you are not forced to restart at the beginning, but rather at the last completed objective. This makes the game a lot less frustrating, as some of the objectives can be pretty tricky to finish. Some may complain that this makes the game too easy. Not at all. It just means you won't be pulling your hair out after you've just walked into a barrage of gunfire from an unseen assailant after completing a hard mission objective.

Syphon Filter may not be the most original game out there, but it is an engaging and challenging action game. Those just coming down from a Metal Gear Solid high may want to to take a serious look at this game. Syphon Filter includes just enough of the same type of action to invite comparison. Fans of GoldenEye 007 and Tomb Raider may also want to check the game out for the same reasons. And, for anyone who's never tried any of those games -- although that's hard to imagine -- Syphon Filter is simply an outstanding action game that delivers a lot of bang for the buck.

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