In the beginning of Syphon Filter 3, Lian Xing parks a van on the streets of downtown Tokyo. It’s nighttime and raining. Gabe Logan exits the van and enters Hotel Fukushima. Lian tells him that she prepared room 413 by leaving his gear inside the bathtub. Like many other iconic scenes in the Syphon Filter series, this one feels like the introduction to some Hollywood action flick.
Syphon Filter 3 has the widest variety of locations in all of the original trilogy. Once the team departs from Tokyo, they’ll find themselves in Costa Rica, South Africa, Ireland, Australia, and Afghanistan.
This is due to how the timeline is laid out. The game follows the team through the present day as they chase down the remaining parties who seek to use the virus as a weapon. Between these segments, the game goes back in time, filling in the gaps of how our friends came to know each other throughout the years.
The previous game set the precedent of having multiple playable characters, where the game featured missions with both Gabe and Lian. Syphon Filter 3 has even more of this. Lawrence Mujari, for instance, was introduced in the previous game, but in Syphon Filter 3 we’ll learn more about his past. Like the other members of the rogue team, Lawrence has a deep history with the virus.
He was once a part of a resistance group who sought to free slaves working in the Pugari gold mine in South Africa during Apartheid. During his mission there, he learned that the enslaved were exposed to a biological agent. Lawrence gathered samples of the biological agent, which would eventually lead him to meeting Gabe, Lian, and Teresa.
A Prequel to their Partnership
We learn that Gabe and Lian first met each other in 1987. At the time, Lian was working for the Chinese secret service, who dispatched her to Afghanistan during the Russian occupation there. She met Gabe by happenstance during an ambush where she was nearly killed. Gabe, who had been dispatched by the Army Rangers, saved her life. The two stayed in radio contact during their time there, forming a partnership that would continue for many years.
Gabe’s time in Afghanistan is what ultimately led him to being recruited by The Agency. Because he was recruited first, he is the catalyst for the other members being recruited as well.
At this point, the game jumps back to the present time. After Gabe and Lian depart Tokyo, they find themselves in the spotlight of a congressional hearing. The hearing is led by the Secretary of State Vince Hadden, who questions the members of the team about their past history with The Agency and their connection to the virus. It is through their testimony that the game goes back in time, allowing us to play missions that unveil the past lives of each character.
Trial by Fire, Trial by Treason
All of the gameplay elements present in the prior game carry directly into Syphon Filter 3. Players who grew accustomed to the act of dodging, hiding, sneaking, and scoring quick headshots will need to bring those same skills to the table here. The enemies are slightly more difficult, but only in the sense that they are more accurate with their shots. They are also better at dodging your shots, and they have a stronger ability to remain locked onto you, even when you dodge.
Much like the prior two games, there are many weapons to choose from in Syphon Filter 3. In fact, Eidetic and 989 Studios fully embraced the idea that Syphon Filter is a weapons-fest. The physical game was released in a double jewel case. And it’s not because the game comes on two CDs, but because they included a separate Weapons Guide, along with the primary game manual, which gives stats and information on all of the weapons in the game.
As for new additions to the weapon lineup, Syphon Filter 3 has a pistol called the Falcon, which is effectively a Desert Eagle. There’s a new submachine gun called the Mars, which can be folded and concealed. There’s a shotgun called the Mil-15 that fires explosive rounds. And finally, there’s the ridiculously overpowered AUG, which not only has an X-ray scope, but can also shoot through walls. Believe me when I say, there will be moments when you need it.
Much like in Syphon Filter 2, those who enjoy unlockables will have plenty more to keep them occupied. Namely, the game also offers a split-screen multiplayer mode, which allows you to engage in deathmatch with your friends. But Syphon Filter 3 also features a newly added Mini Game mode. Much like the two-player mode, you’ll need to find secrets throughout the single player portion of the game in order to unlock new maps. The Mini Game is effectively an entirely separate, arcade-like side game.
"Much like in Syphon Filter 2, those who enjoy unlockables will have plenty more to keep them occupied."
There are five modes in Mini Game. The Assassinate and Eliminate modes require you to kill enemies, the former requiring a bit of stealth and precision. The Demolition mode requires you to provide covering fire for a teammate while they disarm an explosive. Thief is fairly straight-forward. Steal a briefcase in the allotted time, else you lose. The fifth Mini Game is called Biathlon, where we’ll see how well Gabe would have fared in the Olympics. Biathlon is locked to begin with, and must be unlocked by playing through the game.
I’m a sucker for extra content in games, whether it’s multiplayer or arcade-like mini games. At the risk of sounding like an old timer, this is something that we don’t see in many games anymore. The unlockables and extra content harken back to a time when you probably owned one or two games, and you played those games to the death. After all, summer vacation is the greatest time to find all of the secrets in Syphon Filter 3.
By and large, Syphon Filter 3 concludes the story of the original PS1 trilogy. But the ending cutscene suggests that there will be more to come. And of course there was, in the form of a PS2 game and two PSP games.
Some doors are closed, others are not
Where Syphon Filter 3 falls short is its inability to improve on the gameplay. For some, this might not be a bad thing. The second game arguably scored a sweet spot, where the gameplay is challenging yet not unfair, but is also an improvement on the first game. The third game simply took all of the gameplay elements from the second game but with no noticeable additions.
The story in Syphon Filter 3 is also more fragmented than the prior two games, both of which held a single narrative structure. This is due in part to how the story is told. The game moves back and forth between the past and the present day. Although I appreciate that this game gives us a deeper understanding of the main characters, it lacks a single, cohesive narrative like the prior two games.
Syphon Filter 3 also had the unfortunate fate of coming directly after Syphon Filter 2, where the development team arguably perfected the formula of what made the series so great. With that in mind, it’s difficult to imagine how the developers could have continued iterating and improving upon the series.
Where Syphon Filter 3 succeeds is in its level design and character variety. The game offers the most diverse array of levels compared to the other entries. It also has the widest variety of playable characters. In doing so, the game adds more depth to Gabe, Lian, and the numerous friends who help them during their journey.
If not for this, we wouldn’t have as intimate an understanding of how these characters know one another, and why they bond so well as a team. All in all, Syphon Filter 3 manages to wrap up the story trilogy in a way that adds depth to all of the major players. And best of all, it doesn't lack the elements of action, conspiracy, and intrigue that the prior two games were built on.