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Game Review

James Bond. Lara Croft. Sam Fisher. Agent 47. These are some of the gaming world's most well-known heroes. Using stealth, speed, strategy and, above all, an endless array of blow-'em-up weaponry, they've sleuthed their way into legendary status.

With Sony Bend's Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror, you can now add Gabe Logan to the list. The one-man wrecking crew was first introduced back in 1999 with the premier of Syphon Filter, a not-entirely-original addition to the secret agent/hired gun genre. Back then, despite obviously melding the best of hit titles such as GoldenEye, Tomb Raider and Metal Gear Solid, the game—and Gabe—were still well-received.

Six years and three games later, the same rings true. After a slight dip in the franchise's quality, Dark Mirror reminds fans why they liked Mr. Cool-Under-Pressure in the first place.

EDTs, EDSUs, PIDs and RTLs
For those unfamiliar with the name, Gabe Logan is a government operative who leads a clandestine agency that's called in for situations too sticky even for military or intelligence forces. In other words, this guy, with his raspy voice and square chin, is bad (in a good way). He's ultra-covert, ultra-sharp and ultra-effective.

Here, Gabe gets sent to infiltrate an Alaskan oil refinery that's been taken over by a paramilitary group known as Red Section. His assignment? Reconnoiter the situation and execute a "precision strike." Yet as all heroes do early in a game, Gabe senses there's more than meets the eye, something Washington isn't telling him. And throughout seven multilayered playing levels that take him to Peru, Bosnia, Russia and Germany, he's determined to find out what that secret is.

To do so, he'll need his EDSU (Electronic Device Sensing Utility), NV (Night Vision) and IR (Infrared) goggles; his RTL (Rapid Traversal Line); EDT (a zapper that gives enemies a mighty big jolt of electricity); and PID (Personal Illumination Device). Yup, that last one's a plain ol' flashlight.

Little Platform, Big Issues
Despite its obsession with thingamajigs of all shapes and acronyms, and the laughable vocal acting, Dark Mirror still raises the bar for PlayStation Portable-exclusive games. If you've never taken Sony's latest handheld device for a test drive, you'd be hard-pressed to believe the gaming experience could match playing in front of a regular TV with a standard game controller. Yet after 15 minutes, I'd forgotten I was playing on a 4-by-2-inch screen. There was nothing I couldn't do on PSP that I could on a larger system.

That and almost every other facet of this game (sound, graphics, online and console-to-console playing functions) are thoroughly impressive. Indeed, Dark Mirror's pitfalls have nothing to do with technology or logistics. Rather, they boil down to fundamental decisions made during the storyboard phase of development. Gabe kills people. A lot of people. It's his job to take out opposition in whatever ways he can. That includes slitting throats. Breaking necks. Electrifying people until they burst into flames and die—slowly. And of course, gunning them down with a variety of firearms. (Almost all of these attacks result in sprayed blood and/or gruesome sound effects.)

If that level of violence isn't a big enough deterrent for discerning gamers, the foul language included in Dark Mirror should be. F-words, s-words and abuses of God's name pepper Gabe's dialogue as often as bullets spray from his gun. And though I never encountered it while playing, the ESRB includes "partial nudity" as one of its reasons for attaching the M rating to every game box.

Strike, and Strike Again
I know it's difficult to create a realistic secret agent game without including violent combat and an inevitable body count. A strike-force unit is bound to, well, strike. But for players actually giving thought to what they're prompting a character to do onscreen, the levels to which game-makers take this violence is disconcerting. So are the completely unnecessary extras (obscenities, for instance) tossed in for additional "realism."

Still, maybe the most frustrating aspect of Dark Mirror—and other sophisticated games in which the nuke-'em-all approach isn't readily rewarded—is this: With its multifaceted and technically sound game play, this game is enthralling, enticing and exciting. In other words, it's bad. And unfortunately, that's bad in a bad way.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

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Crude or Profane Language

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PSP, PlayStation 2




On Video

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Marcus Yoars Kevin Simpson

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