Appropriately enough given his game's covert ops theme, Gabe Logan has stolen onto PSP while the genre's big players, Sam Fisher and Solid Snake, were off guard. As their backs were turned, Logan spotted a Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror-shaped gap in the market and quickly moved in. When Fisher and Snake return to the portable system, they'll have not only each other to contend with but a third, long-forgotten shadow-hugger to worry about. Surprised? Yup, but that's the whole point - you're not supposed to know too much about stealthy things.
Gabe Logan burst onto the scene in 1999 on PSone, in the original, tense, action-packed Syphon Filter, but since then his star has fallen. The last time he showed his face was in the awful PS2 game Omega Stain (sorry, Strain). With Dark Mirror, we were expecting Gabe to stumble further into the quicksand of his own demise, but actually this is really rather good.
There's one simple reason for this upturn in form: it's been made especially for PSP. It's not a semi-decent PS2 game that's been shunted over to the handheld to squeeze a few extra quid out of it - this is an all-new, finely tailored game that fits the PSP's svelte figure perfectly and looks ever so slinky with it.
There is a story to the game, but it's irrelevant. We'll toss a few key words your way so you get the general idea: government, terrorists, conspiracy. Nothing new there, then. The game could be about trying to track down a kid who threw stones at Gabe's cat for all the difference it would make. Dark Mirror is about action - shooting bad guys, trying not to shoot good guys, blowing stuff up and not dying while you're at it. Even though the cutscenes in the game are well-produced, you can take them or leave them and still get
the same level of satisfaction from the game, which means it doesn't matter that you've seen hundreds of other games with similar plots.
What makes the game so accomplished is the simplicity of the controls, and bearing in mind how many PSP action adventures fail on this count, it's a major achievement. The default setting sees the face buttons used to govern movement and strafing, the analogue nubbin used for aiming, while the digital pad handles functions such as kicking down doors, climbing, crawling and weapon and equipment selection. It doesn't sound like a great leap forward, but Dark Mirror feels simple to play in comparison to its rivals.
GOING GREAT GUNS
It's also refreshing to see just how many weapon options there are in the game. The current trend seems to be for games to cast their heroes as weaklings - men and women who can only manage to lug a couple of weapons about at any one time. Not here. Gabe Logan will carry as many as he can fit on his back and down his trousers, and seeing him steaming into a shootout with a sniper rifle, two assault rifles and a sub-machine gun weighing him down is reassuring.
Other toys include his special sniper rifle which can also fire shocker darts, gas darts and explosive darts. These add more depth to each burst of gameplay - traps can be laid for patrols, and enemies can be silently taken out to avoid raising the alarm (particularly useful given how determined enemy troops are to not die when they encounter you).
Missions are nice and varied, too, with a lot packed into each segment of action, and there are regular checkpoints to break up the play. You could be manning a turret to cover a partner as they go to work, before escorting a soldier separated from his unit back to where he should be. Again, none of it's particularly original, but it's handled so well that it really doesn't matter.