Games like Metal Gear Solid showcased the development in gameplay and storytelling that was possible on the PS1, and many aspiring developers raced to follow its example. Several attempts failed at providing a compelling narrative, compelling gameplay, or both.
Syphon Filter is one of the few games that succeeded in that regard, offering a solid story within an innovative and fun game. Despite its polygonal graphics and early 3rd Person mechanics showing their age, the first game in the series is still fun to play.
#36(S1): Syphon Filter:-
Genre: 3rd Person Shooter/Stealth
Publisher: 989 Studios
First things first, I am changing my rating system to a simpler 10-point system. I fully recommend games that get above a 7, and those that get below are mostly a waste of time. The recommendation for a game scoring a 7 largely depends on your personal taste.
"Imagine a weapon that can target specific demographics, ethnic groups. It can wipe out whole continents, except those chosen to survive"
Set like a typical Bond movie, Syphon Filter starts with a cut scene in a Costa Rican jungle, where special agent Gabriel Logan and his partner Lian Xi uncover a viral attack plan by the terrorist mastermind Erich Roamer. The plot of the game is to discover the full details of Roamer's plan and eventually stop it.
It's a solid spy-thriller with the requisite number of betrayals, action set-pieces, countdown segments, and infiltration of bases in foreign lands. With solid voice acting by the main characters, the story is not a throwaway and is in fact one of the game's strengths. Another strength is the direction of the game's cut scenes, which wears its Bond influence on its sleeve.
It also wears some of its "plot"
One thing worth noting is the variety of mission structures and locations in the game. The first mission is set in Washington D.C. where Logan attempts to diffuse a bomb threat in a Subway station and ends up chasing the villains all the way to the Capitol building. Another has him wear a Tuxedo and infiltrate a private museum of a pharmaceutical company.
Even in areas where the game has some awkward voice acting or the odd boring mission location, it is still easy to forgive the game thanks to its ambitions and the very good things it has going.
"We do what it takes Logan. All of us..."
An interesting story doesn't make for a compelling game, and interesting mission locations wouldn't work without interesting gameplay to back it up, which is thankfully mostly the case in Syphon Filter. While it contains some stealth elements, the game is mostly a 3rd Person shooter at heart.
Logan can target enemies through a lock-on function, which is useful against enemies early on but is useless once they start wearing flak jackets. Those elite enemies can only be effectively dispatched by using the game's free-aim system, which allows the player to control an aiming reticule to snatch those precious headshots.
That will hurt
Unfortunately, free aiming in the age before universal dual stick control is a bit awkward, and mastering this mechanic will be necessary to overcome the game's later stage which increases rapidly in difficulty.
Thankfully, Logan moves really well in the 3D environment, with the camera following him mostly being smart about it. With the ability to strafe, which you can use while free aiming to lean out of cover, you have many survival options.
Many of these options don't work much with the game's limited number of bosses, who are all both boring and cheap, making the generous checkpoint system something to be thankful about.
"Be aware that you're now completely cut off from all reinforcements"
One you probably noticed I am yet to comment on is the stealth portion of the gameplay, which is tangential to one of the brilliant things about the game, and that's the varied mission structure. Each mission has several objectives, which, along with the level's map, are visible on the briefing (start) screen.
These objectives vary greatly, from saving a hostage to simply killing a target. Some missions introduce a fresh idea to the gameplay that isn't seen elsewhere, like a scanner to look for dead bodies or a maze-like stage where you need to look for scientists to kill (Logan doesn't have a moral compass about his orders).
Some missions are more focused on stealth than regular open shooting, and these are usually the game's weakest points. Not only are these sections painfully slow given Logan's glacial squat walking speed, but the game's poor draw distance makes them much harder than they should be.
Walking slowly while hoping he doesn't look back
This doesn't mean that stealth missions are completely unplayable in the game, but that they are just not as fun as everything else. Especially when getting found will summon an army of goons that will surely overwhelm you.
It's ironic that one of the game's leading aspects is one of its weakest. Thankfully, it is mostly peripheral in most of the game, and a little care in movement can help alleviate some of the stress in the few stealth-focused missions.
"I hope Roemer is paying you enough to die for him"
I already briefly mentioned the poor draw distance of the game, which was a common complaint about most if not all 3D games in the 5th generation of consoles. Of course, frequent pop-ins were a bigger issue in shooter games since enemies could attack you "beyond the veil". But what about other issues common to 3d games in the past?
Cameras were usually the biggest challenge in making games work in 3D space, and Syphon Filter was not an exception to that rule despite having a decent camera. Specifically, in about 20% of the game's levels, the camera is prone to errors in trailing transparency, showing pieces of the environment the player leaves behind. This greatly affects free aiming at those levels.
PS1 Developers were obsessed with rendering dinosaurs
Other than these issues and the expected low quality of its textures, the game's graphics are surprisingly smooth, especially in motion. Characters have decent detail to them, and the polygonal make-up of the game's world lacks the jagged edges of similar games.
Musically, the game has a decent and genre-appropriate soundtrack that plays organically as you progress through a map. It isn't anything special or memorable, but it adds excitement and tension where it needs to.
As the first game in its franchise, Syphon Filter doesn't an admirable job in crafting a 3rd Person Shooter/Stealth game in a post-MGS world. Not only does it have a decent and cinematic story, but also has a solid and compelling gameplay structure and mechanics.
That doesn't mean that the game is free from flaws though, although many of those flaws were standard fare in its era. Poor draw distances and the occasional transparency flaws show the game's age, but the relative smoothness of its movement and solid gameplay systems keeps it fun even for the modern gamer.
1- You can shoot locks to break them (and electric panels as well).
2- Learn to take advantage of your map to figure things out.
3- Beware of enemy grenades.
4- Some levels require some vertical climbing, so look up often.
5- Some dark areas will require you to use a flashlight.
6- Learn how to reliably get headshots with free aim.
7- Grenades are useful against multiple targets.
8- Final boss only dies with a gas grenade (which you can find in the room you fight him in).
Sniping with night vision googles is an iconic look for the series
For those reading one of my PS1 review blogs for the first time, here is the basic concept:
I already reviewed both major Generation 4 consoles, and am now reviewing Generation 5 consoles. I already finished reviewing the Sega Saturn, so I am now reviewing the PS1. In these reviews, I take a top 100 games list and review the games that interest me in that list.
This time, my review series is based on this list from Retro Sanctuary and other sources, since the PS1 can handle a list bigger than a top 100.
Also, note the following:
-If you have any suggestions for a game that is not on the Retro Sanctuary list that I should review, please suggest them.
-Make a bet on each game to check whether Chris Charter played it or not.
Be wary of burning enemies trying to drag you to hell with them
It looks like I am going to enjoy the Syphon Filter games on the PS1, which is good since I am actually doing a blogging collaberation with Sharukurusu for a full retrospective of the thee PS1 Syphon Filter games.
The second game is supposed to be better, and it's the one that sits on the Top 100 PS1 Games list by Retro Sanctuary at number 36. Here is hoping the incremental improvements of the sequel fulfill the solid potential of the first game.
For Previous PS1 Game Reviews: