Sequels are a risky proposition. While most will agree there's a lot less at stake when extending a known property than creating a new one, a bad sequel can absolutely shatter a customer's faith in a product line. When one speaks of bad sequels and the consequences surrounding them, one can't help but think of Xenosaga II where the developers wound up so far off base it wasn't even funny. Games with the prefix Xeno in their titles may have had their issues before Xenosaga II, but the damage done by that title was, by all accounts, insane. Such lessons observed, fans of Syphon Filter can rest assured that the continued adventures of Gabe Logan and crew steers clear of such trouble, but the series has become the victim of its own success – at least somewhat.
So what's wrong with Syphon Filter 2? For the most part nothing. What we basically get is the first game with new levels, a few new toys, two new combat engine elements (a new aiming mode for grenades and the ability for enemies to get head shots on the player), a chance to play as Lian Xing and some minor tweaks to the character models. Beyond that, the game is pretty much more of the same. So how could things go wrong? While some will question how a full motion video can sum up the problem with a game in general, the opening video where we see Lian being kidnapped from the Pharcom Warehouses by the Agency is the tip of the iceberg. Now, I don't think there is anyone is going to argue that the first game was free of cheesy moments, but there's a fine line between “cheesy” and "do your worst impression of a Hollywood blockbuster" cheesy. The first kind of cheese can be bad but, as anyone who gamed through the early days of full voice acting will tell you, can be downright delicious for all the wrong reasons. Syphon Filter had this kind of cheese. A few minutes into the aforementioned video, we find that Syphon Filter 2 goes with the latter. Watching Gabe leap from box to box, shooting soldiers from left to right in slow-mo, I can't shake this feeling that the game wants to be taken seriously despite looking utterly ridiculous. Not the best combo per say.
Okay, so that's extreme case scenario, but there are several moments throughout Syphon Filter 2 where the narrative simply tries to be more than what it is. Most of these revolve around plot points that seemed firm enough ten years ago but now feel impossible not to pick apart. The story wants to have it all and in all due respect does, but the experience becomes top heavy and unbalanced. The capper to such a conundrum has to be the final twist the player is presented with. I'll admit I loved how this revelation blindsided me back in the day even though I should have seen it coming a mile away, but in being a little bit wiser than I was back then it simply doesn't hold water. What makes this so ironic is that the third game in the series is free of this detachment despite its missions taking place in all sorts of different years and locales, not to mention having its own, unrealistic twist.
Compounding the above is a battle between time and cleverness. While Syphon Filter 2 seemed downright clever at times despite being cliche, time has shown it's vulnerable to deprecation. One of the more obvious examples of this is when the player revisits the Pharcom Expo Center. This level was originally interesting because it didn't feel like a sorry excuse to re-use a pre-existing map. In many ways, this feeling lives on yet doesn't feel as bulletproof as it once did. Still, if anything has failed to bow to the contortions of time, it would have to be the final few levels that take place in the New York City Slums. Other levels have their charms, but there is something dead-on about playing cat and mouse with Agency goons in dilapidated buildings that just nails what Syphon Filter is all about. This doesn't really apply to the plot points that unfold in these locations (Lyle Stevens has nothing on Markinson despite getting his hands dirtier) and it shows that the gameplay outguns the narrative by a mile, which is Syphon Filter 2's saving grace.
Whether it's the result of over posturing or the pressure that comes with expectation, most of Syphon Filter 2's problems can be traced back to storytelling. Unfortunately, with Syphon Filter being such a story driven series, the effects it has on the remaining elements is as unsurprising as it is unavoidable. Disappointing as it ends up being, the gameplay is more than willing to make up for it and easily allows the series to get away with a mere flesh wound. If you're a fan or a newbie, Syphon Filter 2 is worth your time, just be ware just like most Mega Man games it's a standard sequel that may or may not be a low point in the series for you.