Syphon Filter:Dark Mirror Design Notes

February 18th, 2009

This is the third and likely final post that I wanted to make regarding Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror. Unlike the other two, this time I want to just jot down a few responses to some of the game’s more prominent design choices.

Syphon Filter: Dark Socom

The biggest difference between the PSP and PSone Syphon Filter titles is the reimagining of the control scheme and supportive mechanics built around it. The featured new addition is the ability to cling to walls for cover fire. You’ll need to constantly rely on sturdy cover to shoot your way out of most firefights. With movement fixed on the analog nub, aiming is mapped to the face buttons and can certainly become a slow process when co-ordinating between both axes to line up a shot. It’s an unavoidable hassle that comes with the lack of dual sticks, but minimized to great effect.

These new mechanics cullminate in a much slower, methodical game that rewards smart decision making teamed with solid shooting skills. It feels a bit like a hybrid of Syphon Filter meets the Socom games. The PSone games featured a generous lock on system which turned our secret agent into a highly effective one man army. The system is still present from the originals, but it’s effectiveness is toned down in favour of the duck-and-cover approach. Gabe also seems less able to absorb bullets which supports this grounding. There are rarely ever any situations where you can freely run into an area and win by pure bullet spaming. It’s all slow and methodical. On the flipside to this new upclose combat moves have been included and feel satisfying to kick people in the ass.

Neat Effects

Sony Bend must pride themselves greatly on their use of special effects on the PSP because Dark Mirror will take any excuse to exercise them. This includes explosions, fog, weather affects, smoke, water and so forth. The game constantly turns every moment into a display of technical muscle for the system. It looks great, sometimes feels superfluous but actually becomes a dynamic catalyst for mixing up the gameplay scenarios.

Goggles

The effects aren’t just the only way in which Sony Bend seem keen on showcasing graphical eye candy. Dark Mirror also places a heavy weight on using the 3 goggles and torch functions. EDSU goggles are used to clue you in on where to go next (alerting you of sensative spots) or can be used just to check for trip wire explosives and other nasties. Nightvision explains itself and is used ocassionally, sometimes in vents. Infrared goggles are used to see heat sources through walls and can become a good safe guard when trying to spot out hard to see targets. There is a torch which is also handy sometimes.

syphon-filter-gabe

All four of these items are well integrated into standard play – particularly problem solving.. They are mapped to the left button on the directional pad and hide/cycle nicely just like the weapons.

Super Agent Man

You may remember that it wasn’t too long ago (I guess in the N64/PSone era) when many players started questioning the copious amounts of weapons and ammunition attainable in a typical action game. The argument was that it is physically wasn’t possible for protagonists to carry an armory of weapons, often including larger artilary (eg. Roket launchers). This defied the laws of realism and eventually designers looked at this and discovered a work around; limit the player to two weapons – thanks Halo.

Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror manages to work around this fangled trick while at the same time pouncing on a neat graphical opportunity. All of the items that protagonist Gabe Logan carries are attached to his suit. Small items like a taser and knife as well as ammunition are kept in pockets. Larger items like rifles are mounted at either the upper or lower half of the back of Gabe’s body suit. As you cycle through weapons Gabe will slot them back and forth between the various positions on his suit. When he collects ammo, an animation plays of him storing it in his pockets and so forth.

Since Gabe is never really (once, for a few minutes) given large artilery weapons like rocket launchers he doesn’t have to worry about those weighing him down. The effect of this design decision not only conqueres the realism barrier but it also makes Gabe more visually variant.

The New People

Just as a fan of the series, I figured it was worth mentioning some of the changes in voice acting casts between the PSone and PSP titles. I won’t go into specifics/don’t know the specifics, but the cast is basically completely new. Gabe sounds more or less the same with some slight tonal differences. Lian Xing sounds less American-Chinese and much younger and adolescent. Teressa Lepan and Lawrence Mujari are similar approximations to their original self. Infact the former two don’t feature too frequently in Dark Mirror.

Canisters, Keys and More Rewards

In my last article about Dark Mirror I talked about the rewards system but I actually forgot a few integral examples to back up what I was saying. I’m nearing the end now of my second play through so a few of these have sprung back to mind when I’ve run into them. The first one being in one of the later episodes (group of missions) where weapons can be unlocked by destroying a series of canisters located in the levels. The hint area under the pause menu identifies what can be unlocked and the mechanic overlays ontop of the hidden evidence scavage.

syphon-filter-dark-mirror-psp

In addition to this, some levels contain hidden objectives which open up more hidden objectives to new areas and weapons which string off the main mission. Think of it like Perfect Dark where more objectives are added with each difficulty setting, except in this case those objectives aren’t compulsory. Lastly is the use of night visioned secret messages to hide the codes to doors which contain additional bonuses.

Small Details etc.

Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror is seemingly packed with cool little touches that you probably wouldn’t notice hadn’t it come to you. I just wanted to briefly mention two of them. The first is that you can use your own medkits to heal partners who accompany you in the game. The second is that when you kick a door down (Dark Mirror employs the Resident Evil 4 open door mechanic) with a man on the other side, they will be stunned on the kick back.

Conclusion (yes, I’m done!)

I think I’m fresh out of ideas on Dark Mirror, which is probably a good thing. ^_^ I reckon that I’m slowly moving into deeper territory with every key game that I’m playing. I mean, I managed to draw three solid posts on this game alone and have a similar slew in the pipeline for the next game want to look at. I think I’ve exhausted almost everything worth mentioning about this game without formalizing it in a review manner. And it goes without saying that I’d recommend this title.

  • I think it’s a really nice visual touch that Sony Bend shows the weapons actually located on Gabe’s person, instead of in an invisible, bottomless “grab bag.” I think this is one instance where the more powerful hardware of today allows for little touches like this, which add to the believability and consistency of the game world. Still, Gabe must be in pretty good shape to lug around all that equipment, and not fumble anything.