Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow - Review

This review originally posted on Gamers' Temple.

Player(s): 1-8
Memory: 624 KB
Wi-Fi Compatibility: Ad Hoc, Infrastructure

Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow is the follow up to last year's Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror that ushered in a new camera and control system for the Syphon Filter series in order to fit the PSP control setup. Dark Mirror was received with much praise and helped to showcase the way a third person action game should be controlled with the lack of a right analog. Now, Logan's Shadow improves upon that gameplay by adding new features that make the overall control scheme feel even better.

Gabe Logan once again finds himself thrown into another terrorist situation, only this time out in the middle of the ocean, while his partner Lian Xing is on vacation. He sweeps through a tanker in order to keep terrorists from getting their hands on an item in a certain cargo hold that government officials will not reveal the content of. Later Gabe returns to base only to find that his partner Lian Xing is not on vacation, but she is on the run, accused of being a double agent. Gabe and his crew set out on a mission to search for Lian and find out exactly what she is doing.

The overall story of Logan's Shadow takes just as many twists and turns as Dark Mirror. Basically, no one is to be trusted. It has some rather surprising turn of events at times and one hell of a cliffhanger ending. The single player portion of the game carries on with the same action gameplay that Dark Mirror upgraded and this time Gabe has a few new abilities.

Gabe now has a new grab move where he can grab an enemy that gets close to him and use that enemy as a shield while aiming at others. This is really useful for when an enemy decides to run up and try to shoot you from your hiding spot - instead of having to quickly aim at him, you can now just grab him and use him as a temporary cover shield while aiming at other enemies. A gauge will appear in the upper right hand corner of the screen that displays how much the enemy is struggling. Once it fills then the enemy will break free, but you can always kill the enemy by simply pressing down on the D-pad and pressing the appropriate button that appears on the QTE (Quick Time Event) afterward.

Speaking of QTE's, Logan's Shadow incorporates many of them throughout the course of the game. Many of them are not included in cutscenes however, they are mainly used to perform a specific action while Gabe tries to lift an object or force an object into place. They are usually few and far between.

Blind fire can now be used while taking cover behind a wall or crate. Press the fire button to make Gabe stick his arms out and fire his gun to the side or overhead. There is no targeting cursor while performing this but it has a chance of hitting an enemy. Blind fire is mainly used for distracting the enemy so Gabe can quickly move to another area while enemies hide from the gunfire.

Like a multitude of other shooters, explosive canisters have now been placed in the background and can be shot in order to take down several enemies at once. One noticeable aspect of this feature is that most of the time enemies do not even try to run or take any kind of cover while a flame-spewing canister rolls behind them ready to explode. The enemies will run from a grenade, but usually not from a canister.

Gabe also regains his health if he sustains damage and doesn't receive any for a certain amount of time. This eliminates the need of first aid kits and having to worry about whether or not you have enough life to get through the remainder of the level. One might think that this would make the game too easy, but when enemies can take you down in a matter of seconds in later levels, it is a very welcome addition!

Once again the camera is linked to the face buttons, so you have to hold a face button to move the camera just like in Dark Mirror. There is a new over-the-shoulder view, which was first introduced in Dark Mirror for the PS2 that has been implemented in Logan's Shadow in place of the auto-aim that was in the PSP Dark Mirror. Yes, you heard that right; there is no auto-aim this time on the default control setup - you'll have to turn it on in the options menu if you want it this time. By default, the L button pulls up an over-the-shoulder view and zooms in on the action in front of Gabe. This makes aiming a bit easier mainly because of the zooming. It's a welcome feature for a game that relies on face button aiming.

The overall control setup actually feels more comfortable this time when compared to the controls for Dark Mirror. Dark Mirror's overall control scheme was one of the best for a 3rd person shooter on the PSP, but the extra moves and features that are in Logan's Shadow make the controls even better. I still find myself panicking at times while trying to shoot an approaching enemy since the aiming is still hard to adjust, but the grab now gives me another option for when enemies get too close.

Along with his new moves, Logan's Shadow also throws in a few underwater levels. Controls for underwater sequences are, in one word, "good" - they're not mediocre, very good, or fantastic, just "good". While swimming around on the surface, the controls remain the same as when Gabe moves around on dry land. Once Gabe dives under, the face buttons must be used for steering and the left analog is used to move in whatever direction that the camera is pointing. It all works, but it takes some getting used to - especially when it comes to fighting enemies underwater. You have to keep in mind that projectile weapons fire slower while underwater, so a moving target can get quite annoying. There is one underwater portion where Gabe is forced to hit falling depth charges in order to hit a sub - this portion takes a bit of patience and some good aiming skills.

Boss fights can still be just as easy as they were in Dark Mirror if you use just the right weapon or have some good aim. A heavily armored boss may fall victim to a single EDT dart. Shoot the boss with a dart then watch as he dies instantly from being shocked. Some boss fights require a bit more skill however.

The overall look of Logan's Shadow looks about the same as Dark Mirror, which already pushed the PSP quite a bit. A few touch-ups have been added here and there. The environments look much more solid in Logan's Shadow and it has some really good water effects while moving on the top of the water for a PSP game. The water has a shiny appearance and ripples flow across the surface while Gabe moves through it. Some environmental effects help Gabe to make use of his thermal goggles this time - like when an enemy shoots a fire extinguisher, Gabe must put on his thermal goggles to see through the mist. Facial expressions during cutscenes add a lot of life to the characters when they speak - they're noticeably better this time and the camera seems to focus on faces much more whenever a character speaks. Once again they have changed the look of Gabe Logan - it seems that he looks different with every new installment in the series while everyone else remains basically the same.

The audio once again sounds pleasing much like Dark Mirror's soundtrack. Logan's Shadow incorporates vocal tracks and soothing music in place of the epic feel of Dark Mirror's but it matches the overall character-driven plot of Logan's Shadow between Gabe and Lian. The voices are still the exact same as they were in Dark Mirror thanks to the returning cast.

The game comes complete with a multiplayer mode and a few unlockable bonus missions. Just like in Dark Mirror, you can still find Hidden Evidence throughout the story missions to unlock bonus content for each chapter. Training missions are included yet again, but some of the training missions are direct copies of the ones from Dark Mirror.

It's good to have played the other Syphon Filters in the series before playing this one (mainly for familiarity with Gabe's team - especially Lian) but it will not handicap you too much if you haven't. A few names will fly right over your head and you won't be as familiar with some of the characters that Gabe meets up with (like Maggie from Syphon Filter 3), but you'll still be able to understand most of the plot. Gabe also mentions a few events from his past during the story as well, but all of them are just hinted at and have little relevance to the story - he mainly uses the information for comparison to what is happening at that time.

Logan's Shadow is an easy pickup for fans of the Syphon Filter series. Do you like Dark Mirror and want more? Then get Logan's Shadow. If you've been putting off Gabe's games because of his mediocre adventures (Syphon Filter 3, Omega Strain) then it is time for you to pick up his PSP adventures and rejoice at Gabe Logan's return to glory. Sure, his aiming may be off at times, but Gabe Logan can still hold his ground very well while next to Sam Fisher and Solid Snake.

The Good

+ Great sound and voice acting
+ Graphics have been upgraded from Dark Mirror and include some better environments and realistic water effects
+ Many new techniques - swimming, grappling opponents, blind fire, in-game healing
+ Improved controls, especially with the over-the-shoulder aiming, which helps to make face button targeting more precise

The Bad

- Swimming controls work, but they can lead to frustration at times
- Enemy AI can be dumb at times
- Some boss fights are way too easy

Graphics: 9.0
Controls: 9.0
Sound: 9.0
Gameplay: 9.0

Once again, Gabe Logan sets out on another PSP adventure that plays just as smoothly as his last one.

And therefore, Berserker dubs thee: 9/10

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