Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain
Gabe Logan is back, and he's brought a bad game steeped in the past with him.
Sony Bend / SCEA
Imagine, if you will, the following scenario. You are an agent in a covert government organisation. You have full support of the president and a license to kill. On the trail of a deadly virus, you're sent to an expansive Belarusian mill, where a rebel faction is burning evidence and threatening to kill the mill foreman. You're choplifted into the area and tasked with saving the foreman, securing important documents, and taking out the leader of the rebels. Oh, and you're way outnumbered. What do you do? Why, you go in guns blazing, of course. Welcome to Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain, an illogical foray into stealth gaming that seems to have stumbled into the wrong genre.
Let me clarify. Syphon Filter is an action game. You run and shoot and jump, generally with reckless abandon for any semblance of sensibility. What you do not do is stick to walls or look around corners or distract enemies or any of that stealthy stuff. There are allusions to stealth - you can kill guards from behind with a slash across the throat, or crouch-walk to approach enemies - but it feels so perfunctory that it might as well not be there. And the game is the poorer for it. It might seem unfair to criticize a game for what it isn't, but it appears that developer Sony Computer Entertainment America has made a stealth game and then forgotten to include the stealth.
Okay, so impugning the game because I think it should have been a stealth game is wrong. So how does it play as an action game? In a word, absolutelyterribly. When a game demands that you shoot as much as Syphon Filter does, you'd be forgiven for assuming that the developers would try to make this integral component a simple matter. Instead, we're given a choice of two systems - first-person or third-person - neither of which works particularly well. In third-person mode you sacrifice accuracy for the ability to move around, while first-person does just the opposite. There is no creamy middle, only frustration.
This wouldn't be so much of an issue if it wasn't for the fact that you die in Syphon Filter. A lot. And when you die you're taken back to whichever arbitrary checkpoint you last passed. Occasionally you respawn near to where you were, but most of the time you'll find yourself having to jog for a while just to try the same area again. There's no way of knowing when you'll find the next checkpoint, and all this back and forth gets old very quickly. If you die a lot, you'll also find yourself running out of ammo rather quickly, and consequently, you die some more.
What's even more bizarre - and this really reinforces that you're playing a game - is when you die, time carries on in the game world. In one of the early levels, you have to take out a group of five mercenaries before they get away. They round a corner, see you, and inevitably kill you. When you respawn, though, you don't retry the whole scenario. Instead, the group will have been escaping in the meantime, meaning that there's little chance of catching them. Consequently, you fail that mission objective, and your only chance of getting it right is to redo the entire mission.
The other major flaw in Syphon Filter is the level design. Levels are quite large, which in itself isn't a bad thing, but combined with the poor checkpoint usage and frequent deaths, the confusing levels become that much more vexing. A map would come in handy, and SCEA have included one. Unfortunately, it's one of the most unhelpful maps I've ever used. The map is a transparent 3D representation of the levels, with your objectives clearly marked. Thing is, the map is so complicated that opening it up to quickly get an accurate idea of where you are, where you're going or how to get there is an exercise in futility. And since game time carries on while you're checking out the map, you'll oftentimes find yourself getting shot as you try to figure out a path to the next goal.
It's not all bad though. The story, which again deals with a deadly new virus, takes you across the globe, from Michigan to Belarus and plenty in-between. Each mission begins and ends with a cut-scene setting up your principle objectives, and depending on how many of the mission objectives you accomplish you can earn other story-unfolding movies. Apart from cinemas, there's a wealth of documentation to pore over in the form of intercepted communiqués, classified reports and news cuttings, all of which provide a very solid basis to the gameplay. The story development acts as the proverbial carrot-on-a-stick, but whether you want to be the ass that plows through the singleplayer experience will very much depend on your tolerance level for the actual gameplay.
There's plenty of incentive to keep on playing the missions over and over. Each mission has several objectives, and it takes more than just a single playthrough to successfully complete them all. Each mission also has a time limit, so once you know how to finish it, you still have to figure out how to do it efficiently. This isn't all for nought either. Completing missions and objectives allows you to earn new ranks and medals, each of which carries rewards in the form of character bonuses or weapons/upgrades.
Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain deviates from previous entries by forcing you to customize a character for use during both the single- and multiplayer portions instead of assuming the role of Gabe Logan. The variety on offer during character customisation is initially rather pitiful, but as you complete missions you'll earn more clothes, hairstyles, etc. The character designs and motion capturing are adequate, and echo the so-so graphics of the levels. The game does suffer from some of the worst pop-up I've seen in a while though. Entire buildings occasionally burst onto the screen out of the haze that constantly lines the horizon.
The soundtrack suffers from the same failure as a lot of recent games: the context-sensitive background music quickly becomes monotonous. There are only a few basic pieces of music that are swapped between on the fly, for instance, as you enter a more dangerous situation. The music carries with it the grand tone of the game, but excessive repetition ruins the experience. The vocal performances on the other hand are good, though one or two of the characters - notably Gabe Logan - sound like they're being overacted. The problem with games such as this, where you design your own character, is that you are effectively excluded from the story. While the ranking system ultimately allows you to become just as highly ranked as Gabe himself, your actual participation in the unfurling of the plot is necessarily limited to as small a part as possible.
In addition to singleplayer mode, Syphon Filter also allows for online cooperative multiplayer. While playing through the game solo, you'll come across areas designed in such a way that they are only accessible once you're playing with support. These are easily overcome, however, once you and up to three friends take to the Internet. You'll face new objectives while playing through the missions, most obviously the shorter clearance target times for each level. To really make the most of online play, do make sure that you have a headset though. You and your teammates will need to communicate constantly if you want to successfully best the persistent enemies, and unlike other online services, there's no way to channel the headset chatter into your television when you're playing without a headset of your own.
Is there any reason to play it then? No, not really. The core mechanics of the game are broken enough to nullify what positives there are. Some might be able to extract some fun out of the multiplayer modes, but you still have to get around those atrocious controls. If you feel obliged to support Gabe, do yourself a favour and rent/borrow the game first.
(See Latest Videos & Video FAQ Here)
|PLEASE DO NOT DIRECT LINK TO ANY MEDIA FILE ON KIKIZO|
Syphon Filter: Omega Strain
Direct feed from last year's E3.