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Syphon Filter 3 (PlayStation) artwork

Syphon Filter 3 (PlayStation) review

"Rarely in the history of gaming has there been a more apt name for a particular game's character than Gabriel Logan. The star of the Syphon Filter franchise can indeed flit around any given landscape with the grace and agility of an archangel and, when the time comes, emerge from the wilderness and tear his unsuspecting opponents opponents apart with the ferocity of a wolverine. The first two Syphon Filter outings were major successes due largely to this intuitive combination of espionage and ac..."

Rarely in the history of gaming has there been a more apt name for a particular game's character than Gabriel Logan. The star of the Syphon Filter franchise can indeed flit around any given landscape with the grace and agility of an archangel and, when the time comes, emerge from the wilderness and tear his unsuspecting opponents opponents apart with the ferocity of a wolverine. The first two Syphon Filter outings were major successes due largely to this intuitive combination of espionage and action, but this installment, Syphon Filter 3, is quite the different story. Rather than following in the illustrious footsteps of its predecessors, and becoming a Playstation staple, Syphon Filter 3 is an unfortunate blight on the series. This redundant repackaging of some all-too-familiar ideas has forever tarnished Gabriel Logan's impressively concocted name!

Syphon Filter 3 was a game that appeared very late in the life of the Playstation, at a time when most had geared their new games towards the shiny new PS2. The decision to stick with the older machine could well be attributed to a continuing bout of laziness more than anything. Syphon Filter 2 wasn’t exactly renowned for its innovation, acting more as a vehicle for a collection of new (and admittedly better) levels, and this is a trend that has bogged down the third game in the series. Innovation is forgotten once again, and this collection of levels are far from able to cover the crippling oversight. The game is a temporal mess, using a contrived court inquest as a vehicle for sending the player backwards to all kinds of irrelevant places at inconsequential times. It is obviously assumed that if the backgrounds and pasts of Syphon Filter’s lead characters are expanded upon, the whole series will make sense. Instead, more questions are asked and the player is drenched in a sea of increasingly baffling twists.

The formula for a Syphon Filter game is an inherently simple one. Logan is given an exotic locale to roam through, killing terrorist foes at will, and triggering events at regular intervals to achieve his set goal. These events, cardboard-like cut-scenes, are generally in place to give some kind of scientific justification to the senseless slaughter of dozens of enemies. The reason the formula has worked in the past is due to the intuitive design of the levels. Traversing snowy mountaintops in the vain hope of rescuing fallen comrades, or fighting off wave after wave of sniping enemies whilst weaving in and out of the debris of a crashed plane are worthwhile exploits, but this new collection of levels are distinctly sub par.

In some kind of radical search for an increase in difficulty, the designers of SF3 have looked to their scenery in a vain attempt to challenge the Syphon Filter veteran. Whether it’s a lethal minefield placed ever so conveniently in front of a stage exit, a ravine perfect for a crack squad of flanking snipers or simply a map so confusing that you’ll wind up running around in circles, you’ll find it in Syphon Filter 3. The difficulty has undoubtedly been jacked up for Gabe’s third outing. But, rather than simply conjure up some more challenging scenarios, the game has simply been made more complicated and, at times, practically unplayable. The past successes and positive aspects of the franchise have been sent a big “up yours”, as a search is made in vain for new ways of going about this third-person shooting caper. The result is a group of levels that come across as fiddly and convoluted, a far cry from the intense and involving stages of old.

There are approximately 16 levels to be played through here, only one or two of which provide entertainment enough to prevent the player from simply turning back to the earlier releases. The final stage is an excellent case study. To thwart a hostage situation, Gabe must move through the body of a train swarming with bad dudes, many of which attack spontaneously through the roofs and windows of the carriages. Shards of fractured glass and hot pieces of shrapnel fly through the air, sending sparks flying as they ricochet off the metal benches of each carriage. It’s in the midst of this carnage that Syphon Filter 3 finds it voice, the metallic clamour melding with the screaming death throes of a dozen terrorists as if to say “I can be a good game too!” Sadly, this is a revelation that comes far too late.

It is a brave gamer indeed that makes it as far as the frenetic finale. Too often one must endure the startlingly fatuous parameters for completion that ruin most of the game. Instructions such as “rescue 17 scientists and destroy 28 computers” or “don’t shoot the hillbillies, even though they're shooting you” are the kinds of things that put a gamer right off his dinner. Granted, the straight-out stealth missions have been kept to a bare minimum, a very good step, as such missions have always been impediments towards the true, pulsating nature of a Syphon Filter game. But poorly designed levels, and the fragmented nature of the story (and therefore the missions) mean that one simply endures Syphon Filter 3 rather than enjoys it.

So what does the third chapter of this franchise have going for it, if the needless increase in difficulty and ridiculous mission design are likely to alienate many of the series’ fans? The answer comes, surprisingly, in a collection of mini-games. There are five such games, with differing objectives that include retrieving an object without being spotted, eliminating foes stealthily, or simply killing as many of the blighters as you possibly can. Although much of this is based in stealth, it provides the visceral stimulation missing from the game proper. Trailing an enemy slowly through a cemetery – the only cover available the thin veil of darkness proffered by the starless night – before grabbing the startled man from behind and silencing his muffled cries with the satisfying “shhhhlllp” of steel against jugular, is one of the highlights of the entire Syphon Filter 3 package. These mini-games (and, to a lesser extent, the two-player mode) are where the real action can be found, and only serve to further highlight the failure of the main game to provide such luxuries.

Luxury is also strangely missing when it comes to the graphics of the game. An unwitting newcomer to the game may come across a plucky, shotgun-wielding terrorist off in the distance and think to himself, “I will take cover behind the bush over yonder, launching a surprise attack”. Ah, the naivete of the whole thing. Cover can’t be taken behind the bush, because the bush is two-dimensional! No expense has been spared to ensure that a repulsive, sterile environment is found. Drab colours, nondescript scenery and ridiculously blocky characters merely add to one’s will to never bother finishing the game. Along with most other respects of the game, the design elements of Syphon Filter 3 take big a step backwards from the standards set by the predecessors.

It is with these earlier games that the Syphon Filter fan should align themselves. Chapter three offers nothing new, and comes across as little more than a diluted alternative to two much better games. The fact that Gabriel Logan stars in a smaller percentage of the stages than ever before is a sure sign of the drop in quality. He is the driving force behind this series, and to take Gabe from center-stage is to invite a ravenous money-eating monster into the bank vault of the developing studio. You have been warned.

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Community review by kingbroccoli (July 09, 2004)

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