Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow

The sun must be shining on Sony Computer Entertainment because it just cast Logan's Shadow. A brilliant blend of hard-hitting action and superb visuals, the latest Syphon Filter illuminates PSP as a handheld capable of increasingly delivering some of the finest portable experiences around.

Logan's Shadow opens on the eve of an extremist plot to board a US naval ship in the middle of the Atlantic. Series hero Gabe Logan is called into action, urged by a rather shady politician to secure the contents aboard the vessel from terrorist capture. Of course, Logan knows there's more to the story than he's being told, but ever the professional that doesn't stop him from becoming embroiled in an international arms race teetering on the brink of all-out war.

The central campaign consists of six chapters divided into three to five bite-sized levels. Each chapter takes place in a different location, offering a decent mix of settings ranging from a sunken ship to a Russian gulag to the sand-swept Iraqi desert. Jetting from place to place is more exciting than the predictable story that ties it all together, but it's a forgivable weakness in light of the title's excellent game mechanics.

Even brighter than the gameplay, however, is the amazing presentation. Logan's Shadow arrives on PSP as arguably the most visually impressive game yet on the system, with sound design to match. The environments boast an inordinate amount of detail, washed in awesome dynamic lighting. Watching flickering lights on a sunken ship accurately reflect off Logan's bodysuit, for example, is a memorable sight on a handheld title. And these elements are further brought to life thanks to some great voice work and sound effects, supported by a rousing musical score.

At its core, Logan's Shadow is an action game with shootouts, boss battles, underwater fights, and button-mashing mini-games. Impressively, never through the entirety of the single-player campaign does the action lose either its breakneck pace or its variety. It's consistently exciting and fun – the very essence of what an action game should be.

That doesn't mean it's brainless stuff, though. Tactics play a significant role in combat, balancing visceral shootouts with methodical battlefield strategies. Running and gunning through levels will only get you killed; instead, surviving requires utilizing cover, taking careful aim at enemies, and surveying your surroundings. The action is still incredibly intense, just tactically tempered for a more sophisticated experience.

Taking cover is fundamental to staying alive. The game employs a context-sensitive cover system that enables you to snap to any surface simply by pressing against it. This works fairly well, although you can't just wander up to a wall and 'snap' to it. Logan only snaps to a surface when you walk to it, release the analog nub and then press it towards the surface a second time. A small issue, sure, but one that feels unpolished.

There are a smattering of weapons and gadgets at Logan's disposal through his adventure, ranging from night-vision goggles and sniper rifles, to pistols and grenades. You can carry a handful of weapons at any given time, accessed through an ingenious radial menu via the right option on the D-pad.

It's a system used for other elements so that, should you want to switch to a pair of goggles, holding down left on the D-pad sees you set. It's remarkably easy to change equipment – even during a firefight – and as a result you're compelled to test different weapons out using enemies as guinea pigs. Fun for you, terrible for them.

About the only significant issue to be taken with the game's action resides with enemy intelligence. Or lack thereof. Opponents are sharp enough to take cover, popping up to take a shot or two, but that's the limit to their smartness. It's not uncommon to watch a foe pop up and empty his clip only to then stand out in the open reloading his weapon.

The lack of self-preservation goes deeper still, with soldiers frequently daring to run straight towards your busy barrel. In one level, defending guards were actually stupid enough to traverse the line of fire of their own machine gun turret. A disappointing facet of an otherwise formidable experience.

Of course, you can avoid the inane enemy intelligence and still get a fix on the action in multiplayer. Eight players are supported in both ad-hoc and infrastructure modes, with a natural emphasis on online play. This results in Logan's Shadow offering an impressive array of community features to complement its handful of customizable game types: full voice chat via the PSP headset, clans (called cells here), leaderboards, and a public message board are all included.

Great effort clearly has gone into crafting a unique and compelling multiplayer experience, not just because of the game's wealth of features but in the creativity of the game types available. Mainstays deathmatch and team deathmatch are found here, although the real gems are variants that capitalize on the game's covert ops theme. Sabotage, for instance, sees two teams vying to disarm each other's nuclear warhead after locating a detonator code in the level. Another mode, rogue agent, requires tracking down a mark operative. Simple but remarkably entertaining.

Multiplayer, then, does much to extend the value of the game, which already packs in a good chunk of gameplay within its single-player campaign. Issues with enemy behavior and intelligence darken the experience a little, granted, but as a package that effortlessly betters last year's excellent Dark Mirror, Logan's Shadow can only be considered essential play.

Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow

Undoubtedly one of the system's best titles to date, Logan's Shadow brightens up the PSP library with a thrilling mixture of remarkably entertaining gameplay and astonishing presentation
Tracy Erickson
Tracy Erickson
Manning our editorial outpost in America, Tracy comes with years of expertise at mashing a keyboard. When he's not out painting the town red, he jets across the home of the brave, covering press events under the Pocket Gamer banner.