Old-school. Retro gamer. At one time, these were terms I absolutely despised when they were applied to me and video gaming. Outside the negative connotation that accompanies the label subconsciously, thoughts of me talking about games released over ten years ago in today's game stores while shaking a cane like Cranky Kong were never far behind. "These young whipper-snappers today don't know anything!" I'd say in a crotchety old voice with my pants pulled up well beyond my waist. Sure, it's funny when you illustrate it in such a comical manner, but a part of you feels a bit lost when most people are worried about the XBox 360 and you're still more than content with the original PlayStation. Another part of the equation lies in only being twenty-eight years old and having no real right to reminisce to such a level.
Thankfully, just as my interest in gaming eroded to its lowest point since its inception, a new, non-chain game store opened up in the neighboring town. Extending a hand to where gaming had been unlike most outlets, I was soon reminded of how great some of the games I grew up with really where. Soon after, the realization that those terms that annoyed me so many years before summed up the gamer that I'd become and, best of all, I was still enamored with the PlayStation. While that may only seem natural given its huge library, if I was forced to pick a group of a games that summed up my affection for the system, I would probably pick Syphon Filter.
Why Syphon Filter? Why not something like Tomb Raider or Final Fantasy, titles that lured me away from the Nintendo 64? In Tomb Raider's case, the overall difficulty of the games eventually eclipsed their fun factor (which happened by the third installment) and Final Fantasy lost a lot of luster in the post 32-bit era when the name became synonymous with the phrase "cash cow." Disheartening as such fates ended up being, there is something about Syphon Filter that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy about the time and the console. It wasn't perfect. Sometimes far from it, but then it didn't need to be. There was just something about controlling Gabe Logan in a fight against international terrorism that just worked and needed little explanation.
Gabe's first adventure in 1999 more or less set the standard for the games that followed, introducing the game play engine that would pretty much power the series to it's (first) finale and presented the narrative to build upon. Syphon Filter's second shot would more or less add a few refinements to the gameplay (the most notable being a new aiming mode for grenades and enabling enemies to get head shots on you) and, most ironically, end up souring the storyline slightly by biting off a lot more than it could chew. The later is perhaps the most important aspect the third game in the trilogy needed to work on and Syphon Filter 3 definitely delivered.
As many people know, many of the missions presented this time around are flashbacks of events that have only been alluded to in previous cut scenes or character dossiers. We get to see first hand the events in and leading up to the opening jungle scene from the first game, Gabe, Ellis, Benton and Lian's involvement in the middle east conflict during the Soviet occupation, Lawrence Mujari's first encounter with the Syphon Filter virus as a freedom fighter and Teresa Lipan's first encounter with Gabe during her ATF days. While some players have made their dislike of this approach well known, I can't love it anymore than I already do. Even in such a late hour for the series, discovering and experiencing more about these characters (and even some of the more minor ones) fulfills some kind of an unknown, insatiable appetite within me. Simply put, I found the set-up, execution, and interweave with current day missions to be perfect. I love these characters and I enjoy playing as them, and it is certainly one of the reasons why the game is so resilient.
Once again, the levels feature excellent design throughout. This really isn't a surprise since it's something that Syphon Filter has always had, although there are parts that will have you pulling your hair out. One of the more infamous levels presented has to be Convoy and the myriad of nightmarish scenarios it throws at you, especially the ridiculous ambush near the end. It's quite maddening, as is the crazy lack of ammunition found throughout would suggest, but the entire experience totally nails that desperate, last-ditch effort the narrative paints for the player. It also happens to give you an unprecedented feeling of accomplishment when you finally reach its end. All in all, almost every level has its own charms despite the game’s aging engine which does its job respectfully enough.
In-game unlockables (which mainly consist of multiplayer/mini game arenas) are unlocked a little bit differently than they were in Syphon Filter 2. Instead of finding a particular gun or item in the field of play, the player must complete a certain objective within a given level. Sometimes the objective is in line with another mission parameter and other times it's rather inconspicuous. Some of the more covert ones involve not putting bullets in the heads of certain NPC's that seem unimportant. Others, like Lian's hidden Afghanistan objective, fall in line with mission parameters but require a bit more effort. The reason I bring this one up is the game is insanely finicky about this one and most FAQs don't go into enough detail. Seriously, I had to go on you-tube and watch some video, as this one had eluded me since 2003. It's not just enough to kill all seven snipers without being seen, you can't acquire the AU100 prototype rifle before this. On top of that, it seems you must kill the sniper right in front of said rifle last. I wish I'd known this seven years ago! Talk about a poorly though out and ill-explained secret trigger.
Other additions in Syphon Filter 3 center around a small handful of new weapons (the Spyder is a rather interesting toy as is the X-Ray scope AUG Assault Rifle) and the Mini-Games. Sadly, while the Mini-Games are rather creative, they have arrived too late to be of any value. There doesn't appear to be anything unlocked by their completion either. One flaw that rears its ugly head is the uneven difficulty in the Elimination mini-game. On one difficulty setting you'll be able to mow your enemies down without having to take cover, but the next one up they'll cut through you like a cheese grater. Sure, you can survive by taking cover but wouldn't that undermine the underlying theme of the game?
On the sound side of the spectrum we're provided with a few peculiarities. I wonder, if in some alternate universe, if Gabe and Mujari would actually sound the same when hit by a bullet. If so, I think the game takes place in that universe. I know that disc is pretty full and all, but I think Mujari has paid his dues and deserves his own grunts and groans. Outside such mishaps however, most of the voice acting is of a reputable quality (there are some parts that are really bad like the hicks in the Teresa levels but that was pretty much done on purpose) and does its job of enhancing the game's key moments - it just wouldn't work otherwise. Can anyone imagine anyone other than John Chacon voicing Gabe? Musically, I was quite surprised to see that Chuck Doud did not reprise his role as music composer, Chris Stevens continuing his style and level of quality without a hitch.
Much like the first Syphon Filter (and the slightly, less impressive second one) I consider Syphon Filter 3 a solid title for any PS1 library. While it's true the series never reached the cinematic grandeur of Metal Gear Solid or ever made any significant strides in gameplay within its subsequent sequels, the game mostly stands tall when it comes to giving fans more of what they want. As is the case with any series, it's usually expected to judge the games at the end a little more harshly, and while I didn't really go too deep into the problems that are here and there, that's mostly due to the fact they exist in the earlier games and aren't severe enough to distract from the experience. Despite that, Syphon Filter 3 still isn't a sum of its parts; it's actually greater than the sum for some strange reason.