Syphon Filter (video game)
|Genre(s)||Third-person shooter, stealth|
Syphon Filter is a third-person shooter stealth video game developed by Eidetic and published by 989 Studios for PlayStation. It is the first game in the Syphon Filter series, the plot centres on special agents Gabriel "Gabe" Logan and Lian Xing who are tasked by the United States government to apprehend an international terrorist from Germany.
Development on Syphon Filter began with the intention of creating a new "super-spy" genre hybrid that contained elements of stealth-action and puzzle solving. The game was almost cancelled several times during development as Eidetic faced many difficulties due to the lack of inspiration from others and their inexperience in creating video games. Despite the initial drawbacks faced, Syphon Filter was met with positive reviews from critics upon release, mostly directed at its innovation and immersive plot.
The game is presented in a third-person perspective, and the player can freely move in three-dimensional space and rotate the camera in any direction. The top left corner of the screen interface shows the status of Logan's armour, a 'danger-meter' which rises as the player engages enemies through combat, and a target lock. A radar is displayed in the bottom left corner of the screen which shows the location of various objects including friendly units, enemies, weapon pick ups or mission objectives. The current weapon equipped is always displayed in the bottom right corner, with the ammunition count. Depending on the weapon used, the camera will shift to first-person mode to assist in aiming.
The core of the gameplay is focused on stealth-based tactics, which require one to silently take out enemies using silenced weapons or other lethal attacks. However, most of the game is action-orientated, which involves Logan navigating through levels whilst loudly shooting at enemies with no consequence to the mission. The game takes place in a wide variety of locations, including narrow interior streets of Washington D.C. to wide open plains of Kazakhstan. In some stealth based missions, the game will involve various puzzles. Some locations feature low light ambience, which force the player to use their flashlight despite its drawbacks imposed during stealth missions.
In the year 1999, Gabriel Logan and his partner Lian Xing investigate a series of biological outbreaks triggered by international terrorist Erich Rhoemer. When fellow agent Ellis loses contact during a mission in Costa Rica, the top-secret Agency dispatches Gabe and Lian to find him. They discover Ellis is dead, and Rhoemer's suspected drug operation is a cover for the viral operation. Another outbreak in Nepal leads to more questions when an infected person who should have died somehow survived.
Before the Agency can pursue Rhoemer, he assaults Washington, D.C. and threatens to detonate viral bombs scattered across the city. Gabe battles several terrorists, including Mara Aramov, as he follows the trail of bombs across city streets, subways, Washington Park and finally Freedom Memorial where he must incinerate munitions expert Anton Girdeux to stop the final threat.
Gabe's investigation takes him to a new lead from PharCom, a multinational pharmaceutical and biotechnology corporation headed by Jonathan Phagan. The Costa Rican plantation was growing PharCom compounds, meaning Phagan and Rhoemer were cooperating. At the PharCom Exposition Center, Gabe shadows Phagan to a meeting with Aramov and Edward Benton, an apparent Agency turncoat who assisted Rhoemer during the Washington D.C. attack.
After Gabe eliminates Benton, he saves Phagan from assassination only to have him escape. Mara Aramov, now in custody, had attempted to locate PharCom's virus labs. Gabe must set aside the hunt for Phagan to destroy Rhoemer's base in Kazakhstan. During his assignment, Rhoemer seemingly kills Lian, but Agency Director Thomas Markinson rescues Gabe.
Markinson gives Gabe a report on the virus called Syphon Filter, a bioweapon that one can program on a genetic level to target specific groups of people. Markinson orders Gabe to infiltrate Rhoemer's stronghold in Ukraine to inject test subjects with a vaccine and locate Phagan, who is now Rhoemer's prisoner. In the catacombs, Phagan tells Gabe that Lian is alive, and they reunite. Lian has become infected with Syphon Filter, and she says there is no universal cure.
Mara Aramov arrives to shoot Phagan, but she convinces Gabe and Lian that she came to help. The three travel to PharCom's warehouses in hopes of preventing Rhoemer from launching a missile. Lian reveals that the serum Gabe injected into the test subjects was really a lethal chemical, and Markinson was having them killed. Using the fighting between Rhoemer's terrorists and Phagan's security personnel to cover his insertion, Gabe descends into a silo and searches for the missile's detonation codes.
He finds Markinson, who admits that the Agency was in fact in cahoots with Black Baton all along. Rhoemer worked for Markinson, since the latter wanted the virus in the Agency's possession. He never authorized the missile attack, but before he can stop it, Rhoemer kills Markinson with a headshot. Gabe must reach the missile's control center in time and destroy it. Enraged, Rhoemer engages Gabe in a final fight, but is killed with a gas grenade.
Their mission completed, Gabe and Lian call in the U.S. Army Chemical and Biological Defense Command (CBDC) to secure the area. They do not know how far Markinson was cooperating with Rhoemer and Phagan, but Gabe believes they may never know. In a post-credits scene, Aramov approaches a mysterious man inside the Agency headquarters and whispers something in his ear. He congratulates her while the camera pulls back to show PharCom boxes in the office.
John Garvin in an interview with PlayStation US, October 2012
According to creative director John Garvin, Syphon Filter was originally conceived as "just a name" from a producer at 989 Studios. Initially, there was no plot, character or gameplay from the original one page synopsis. Eidetic decided to set Syphon Filter as a new 'stealth-action' hybrid that focused heavily on weapons, gadgets and stealth. The team's lead designer was influenced over Rare's successful GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64, and implemented the game's mechanics to have a similar feel for a new "super spy" genre.
The team experienced immense difficulty in creating the game, as Garvin noted that there were "no, or few, games" from which Eidetic could draw inspiration. Most of the team that developed Syphon Filter had little experience with making third-person action games, as Eidetic's only video game released for a console was Bubsy 3D, which was released three years prior for the PlayStation and was infamous for being critically panned as one of the worst games of all time. Despite the initial difficulties with staff and lack of experience, Eidetic produced a prototype which involved a shooting segment in an underground. Garvin admitted that the team "didn't know anything about making realistic shooters set in a spy world" as the game came close to being cancelled several times throughout development because the team was missing deadlines, revamping mechanics and changing the story. During development, the team of thirteen re-wrote several drafts as the game was being conceived. The original plot of Syphon Filter was intended as a science-fiction orientated approach and involved a group of kidnapped scientists who were being forced to build a time machine by an unspecified antagonistic organisation. The storyline was radically changed when John Garvin was hired to be art director, later creative director.
Syphon Filter received "critical acclaim" reviews, according to video game review aggregator Metacritic. Edge stated that, although the game borrows elements from both GoldenEye 007 and Metal Gear Solid and that "the execution could have been better accomplished, Eidetic [introduced] a few ideas of its own, and these go a long way towards providing the game with its own identity." The blend of a stealth-action hybrid gameplay was praised by most critics. Doug Perry of IGN enjoyed the implemented skill-based action that he considered was "hard to come by in a PlayStation game". Perry praised the game's detail and advanced graphics, but criticised the low resolution and noting that the game's frame rate was "not perfect". Despite this, he noted that what Syphon Filter "gives up in frame rate [it] provides in character and environment detail".
Game Revolution similarly praised the attention to detail, calling every texture of the game "well planned and rendered". However, they claimed that the graphics were not as good as Metal Gear Solid. They also noted that during some points the game "suffers from many typical PlayStation polygonal errors", causing some textures to become "warped" when viewed from an angle, although they noted that glitches were uncommon and did not affect gameplay in any way.
The gameplay and artificial intelligence were the most praised aspects of the game. Game Revolution noted the gameplay was "well above average" and had an excellent replay value, in contrast to games such as Star Fox 64 once completed. Perry praised the game's wide variety of weapons and gadgets, having counted at least thirty different weapons and equipment for the player to use, with the added bonus of secret weapons, adding to the gameplay value. Game Revolution added that the AI was "perhaps the best part of the game", commending on how certain enemies react on when one of their comrades are killed nearby. IGN similarly praised its AI, pointing out on how every time a level is played the AI would change its behaviour, sometimes hiding behind trees or carrying different weapons.
Due to its popularity, Sony commissioned 989 Studios to make various sequels and spin-offs to the game. Syphon Filter 2 was released in 2000 to popular reviews from critics, and another direct sequel, Syphon Filter 3 was released in 2001 to mixed reviews upon release. Two spin-offs were released for the PlayStation Portable in 2006 and 2007; Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror and Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow, respectively. A port to the PlayStation 2 for Logan's Shadow was released exclusively in North America in 2010. The two spin-offs were met with mixed to positive reviews from critics, which led to the end of the Syphon Filter series in 2007.
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