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Syphon Filter (PlayStation) artwork

Syphon Filter (PlayStation) review


"In the spring of 1999, following the milky virtual explosion known as Metal Gear Solid, Sony had their precisely engineered follow-up with a similarly nonsensical title: Syphon Filter. Part Tomb Raider, part GoldenEye, wholly derivative; a "syphon filter" is not something you use when stealing gas out of your neighbor's SUV, but rather a fictional supervirus that makes ethnic cleansing as easy as A-B-C. A worthwhile thing for terrorists to steal, for sure, which is wh..."



In the spring of 1999, following the milky virtual explosion known as Metal Gear Solid, Sony had their precisely engineered follow-up with a similarly nonsensical title: Syphon Filter. Part Tomb Raider, part GoldenEye, wholly derivative; a "syphon filter" is not something you use when stealing gas out of your neighbor's SUV, but rather a fictional supervirus that makes ethnic cleansing as easy as A-B-C. A worthwhile thing for terrorists to steal, for sure, which is why the US Government pays wet-works ops such as Gabe Logan so well. Survival rates for employees of The Agency eventually drop to zero, but Logan and his lady techie sidekick Lian Xing are among the upper percentile when it comes to their success rate. Shadowy mucky-mucks lurk in their corner offices on Capitol Hill, scheming and waiting for Logan to fall into their studiously coordinated trap, hinting at a much vaster conspiracy than anyone could comprehend, save the Illuminati. While ambitious, Syphon Filter eventually collapses under the weight of its own hubris, although thankfully not in a Kojima-like fashion.

Logan is in the midst of a heated battle with terrorists on the streets of Washington, DC, in a pretty damned awesome opening set piece (for the PSX). Snipers with M-16s pin down DC cops and CBDC operatives; police cruisers explode and flip through the air before landing and causing more carnage on the ground; Logan, pinned behind a building, is forced by Agency superiors to press on into the chaos. He's well armed with a silenced 9mm pistol, M-16 and an infinite-use taser that can cause spontaneous combustion. The terrorists, all identical with their body armor and ski masks, are all simpering inaccurate faceless nobodies, but don't let that lull you into a false sense of security. Logan can take them out from afar with lock-on targeting or pull off head shots with manual aiming. Both methods make dealing death into a very simple enterprise. Snipers on rooftops are easily roasted with that lovely taser, plus the groans they grunt before bursting into flame are priceless. The AI does make it easier than it should be to escort the CBDC bomb squad through a couple of cordoned-off blocks of downtown DC, first in an abandoned bank and then in the besieged underground subway system. Logan's gut tells him those are shitty places to plant bombs, and what do you know, his gut is ace at detecting plot twists. The CGI cutscene of several square blocks of downtown taken out with Semtex is an early highlight, a sure indicator of awesomeness to come. In a perfect world, anyhow. But this is Sony we're dealing with here.

This second level, in the flaming ruins of the DC subway system, is when the Tomb Raider aspects start to emerge into full focus, for better and for worse. Logan does an awful lot of running from one end of the terminal to the other, mainly flipping switches or opening doors; basically whatever Lian tells him over the radio. He has no "walking" animation, it's either running or standing still. Worse, Logan seems to be kicking himself in the arse whenever he runs. Controls are exactly like Tomb Raider for the most part, but the useful evasion abilities from that older, better title are replaced by strafing controls that are never once helpful except as ways to accidentally fall off high structures or into fire. Thankfully there are no jumping puzzles but there is a lot of hanging from ledges, shimmying, and walking along insanely narrow paths at vertigo-inducing heights. Soon afterwards you will come across firecrotch Mara Aramov for what is definitely not the last time (even if you shoot her in the head to end the battle instantly).

She's but one of a host of villains all answering to Teutonic baddie Eric Roehmer. Eventually you come across the second-lowest threat to humanity in the pavilion of a public park. In an unintentionally hilarious cutscene, the flamethrower weilding Anton Girdeux is voiced by someone with the worst French accent since Pepe Le Pew. What is supposed to be a menacing speech about armageddon and napalm death for all turns into sub-Dinner Theater when the puke voicing Gabe Logan counters these apocalyptic threats with a decisive "I don't think so!" Anyway, this fight is even easier than beating the firecrotch, and in no way does it involve shooting the fucking massive and unprotected flame pack strapped to Anton's back. Watch him roast in the surprisingly gruesome CG cutscene and you're done.

Many, many plot contrivances abound in the levels to follow. A loathsome pharmaseutical CEO named Johnathan Phagan factors heavily into the plot, and his voice actor might be the worst ever to speak into a microphone. When Firecrotch has an Uzi to his temple, the man sounds like he's ordering a Baconator with a Frostee to go, rather than pleading for his life. At least that level awesomely takes place in a natural history museum and involves crawling up dinosaur skeletons and lunar landing modules in order to blast black-suited thugs with your wickedly automatic G-18. Syphon Filter is much better than MGS solely because of the lack of talking. The action is also much better done and the later levels, such as an exodus from a burning warehouse, are crazy difficult. There are some ingeneous weapons like the aforementioned taser and the K3G4 SMG that chews through body armor like notebook paper. There are also many bland and predictable action mainstays that warrant no further mention.

The weakest aspect of Syphon Filter is the plot by far, which doesn't even try to be intelligible but it does not, under any circumstances, involve shadowy Illuminatus-like figures inside the US Government engineering a terrorist attack. This game could not possibly be made today, in the form it's in, with its hopelessly naive terrorism yarn right out of Clancy's worst. If the narrative of Planescape Torment is like a finely strung taut high-wire, Filter is like a lumpy mass of undercooked spaghetti. Its ugly blocky graphics and horrendous musical score are also detrimental factors. It definitely achieves an accidental kitsch factor because of all the above. Whether that's good or bad is solely in the eye of the beholder.

Rating: 5/10

johnny_cairo's avatar
Community review by johnny_cairo (July 14, 2007)

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