The original Syphon Filter was an all out mission-based action title that had a lot going for it to separate it from the pack. Using an over-the-shoulder perspective, it placed you in the role of Gabriel Logan (Gabe to his friends) as he chases after members of a terrorist group and tried to prevent them from destroying the city. Plus, while hes at it, he had to capture a top-secret biological agent called the Syphon Filter. The game hinged on me completing a series of main objectives (one per level), but in order to meet those objectives I had to complete smaller, more specific tasks in a predetermined order. These tasks ranged from hostage rescues to bomb defusals and, to 989 Studios' credit, they were meshed seamlessly into the overall storyline of the game.
As with any action title, the original Syphon Filter had plenty of bad guys who had no intention of allowing me to complete my missions. But, fortunately, the game left me far from being helpless. Gabe came armed with an impressive arsenal of weapons and gadgets, but, what was even more useful, was the newly introduced auto-target feature. While reminiscent of the auto targeting popularized by Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, Syphon Filter allowed me to lock onto whatever target I wished to while simultaneously dodging attack or moving for cover. The distinction here was that I could select and deselect any number of targets with the simple press of a button. Complete with interactive levels (most buildings could be entered and explored to some degree) and a solid plot, Syphon Filter seemed to have everything I could have wanted in a game and it was an immediate hit with me.
But its funny how much has changed in a year. Looking back at the original Syphon Filter now, I must admit that the game will not fare so well in the wake of Metal Gear Solid. And, from looking at Syphon Filter 2's features, one may deduce that Eidetic noticed this as well because some of them read like a to-do list of things to help keep the game up with the times. Key among this list is a new stealth mode, the addition of a new controllable character, and deeper story-telling mechanisms with higher production values. And, given the success of genre-broadening games as Metal Gear Solid and Half-Life, the inclusion of this type of mode seems most natural. As a result, I no longer have to go barreling into enemy camps with guns blazing; instead, I often have to think my way out of a tough spot with nothing but a commando knife (and, on some levels, not even that). Despite this deviation from the norm, the missions were not the most original they still hinged on getting keys or defusing stuff but when taken together as a whole, they turned out to be rather entertaining.
The next two elements are closely related and are certainly welcome additions to the game. Likely as a safeguard against the nearly inevitable boredom that stems from action titles and a sign of the times where a sexy female character is almost a prerequisite Eidetic has added a second playable character in the form of Gabes partner, Lian Xing. In this scenario, she has been infected by the Syphon Filter and captured by her old employer, The Agency. When I first encountered her, she wore nothing but a hospital gown and I had to navigate her out of the heavily guarded facility. This premise revealed so early in the game is in stark contrast to the prior level that essentially had Gabe shooting his way out of trouble. On later levels, which are more diverse, Gabe gets some covert action too so it does become well balanced. But make no mistake about it, when Lian gets her hands on a weapon or two, she proved to be equally as capable of handling herself as Gabe can.
As for the story, Eidetic probably spent a few sleepless nights envying the ambitious plot of Konamis Metal Gear Solid and it really shows because Syphon Filter 2's storyline is now quite complex. The once loyal agent, Gabe, is now at odds with The Agency and now must prevent The Agency and its allies from unleashing the Syphon Filter virus on Washington D.C., all the while trying to aid his infected comrade. From there the story quickly evolves with a plentitude of plot twists and turns as alliances are made and broken. Moreover, it is all told with a variety of very stylistic, full-motion video sequences and real-time cut scenes. Unfortunately, they dont rise to the level of Metal Gear Solid's or Final Fantasy VIII's, but they are, however, much improved over the original. Also a throwback to Syphon Filter 2's predecessor is the team member's in-game chatter, that is scattered throughout. At times, it can be somewhat confusing, but as conspiracy and espionage stories go, the pacing is excellent and holds its own. A weighty addition to the story's progression is the fact that Lian is a controllable character working along a parallel storyline, but in different areas (and the twosome's paths rarely cross). It works well in negating boredom.
These wonderful additions could have single-handedly carried Syphon Filter 2 to impressive reviews across the industry this year; unfortunately, the supplementary features are such that they pull the game down. First and foremost, Syphon Filter 2 falters in terms of in all-around graphics. Whereas the original Syphon Filter sported a stalwart game engine somewhat innovative for its time, Eidetic mistakenly believed that this same engine would suffice a second time around with only minor tweaking. After only a few minutes of playing, the game engine's flaws become readily apparent. For instance, while the character models for the main characters and enemies are detailed and animate smoothly, their surroundings often looked bland and rather coarse for a title this late in the PlayStations life cycle. I often found myself lost because there were few discernable landmarks to use as aids as I plotted routes through the terrain. And when indoors, it was surprising how similar hallways and buildings looked to one another, which further added to confusion. Eidetic did add some graphical eye candy like real-time light-sourcing and such, but the game still sports many blemishes that were not limited to a few scant levels, but rather constant throughout.
Control is another part of the game that remains unchanged. While Gabe can run, jump, climb, kneel, crouch and roll (all the while keeping enemies within his sights), he seems to still have issues with turning while running as well as with judging corners. A technique familiar to Syphon Filter is locking onto enemies and running around them to gun them down before they can land a shot. Getting Gabe to do this—and feeling natural while doing it—is always easy. Sometimes on the losing end of a firefight, I would head down a hallway or passageway only to run smack dab into the wall. This could simply be the result of the third-person perspective not allowing enough leeway to allow me to see where I need to go, but it also has to do with Gabes running style. When Gabe is in his haul-ass trot, he does not turn corners sharply at all, but rather with a slow arching movement. This is fine in wide-open areas, but is not nearly as effective when in close quarters. I was hoping that it would have been taken care of in the sequel but alas, it has returned and perhaps even more apparent.
All of these faults were only exacerbated by the game's level of difficulty. Since Syphon Filter was a little challenging, I expected no less from the original. However, Syphon Filter 2 can be a bit too much. The difficulty has been set to such a degree that the game quickly becomes a game of trial and error. Each enemy had to be picked off with precision and speed that seemed unrealistic for an action-based game. And if I wasn't up to the task, I quickly learned that my enemies were. I don't exaggerate when I say the enemies have eyes like eagles, because in confrontations, they managed a degree of accuracy that was spellbinding. Things got especially out of hand in the areas where guards were perched on top of buildings and the like. Here, they had a distinct advantage and if I didn't use the run, shoot, and roll trick, they would land headshot after headshot and ultimately force me to start all over again from whereever I saved last. This, of course, is not a pleasant experience and shows a level of imbalance that could have easily been rectified.
Perhaps as a final sendoff to current market trends, Eidetic added a multiplayer mode. This is obviously a ploy for Syphon Filter 2 to keep up with the Joneses (such as GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark and Medal Of Honor). Here, Ill gladly acknowledge how well designed the multiplayer levels are and how perfectly suited they are for deathmatches. The problem is that the multiplayer modes are limited to only two-players at a time—these days console multiplayer is almost synonymous with four-player action. Admittedly, the lack of a four-player mode could be attributed to the PlayStations inherit hardware limitations, but even something as simple as more choices in game modes would have helped tremendously. In itself, a deathmatch mode would have been quite welcome, but Syphon Filter 2's quickly deteriorates into a boring game of tag. How long can a person enjoy chasing an opponent around? It's a shame that more effort wasn't put into this mode.
All in all, Syphon Filter 2 was not a horrendous game, but it does fall short of living up to the original. However, given the frequency with which this has been happening, I am probably more lenient towards a title that is so close to the original, especially one that I enjoyed so much. It delivers on the action and certainly delivers as far as its story goes. Unfortunately, it cannot escape a feeling of "sameness" and, compounded with the game's average graphics, unbalanced enemy AI, and high difficulty setting, must be brought down a notch or two from where it could have been.