The Syphon Filter series started out extremely strong, and it quickly went downhill from there. The original game was a solid third-person shooter with an interesting, if unoriginal premise. You, as super secret agent, Gabe Logan, were out to get to the bottom of an international conspiracy surrounding a deadly virus known as Syphon Filter. Two increasingly weak PlayStation sequels were released, and the series seemed to fade back into obscurity. Now, after a couple years off, Syphon Filter is back in the form of an online-focused game, The Omega Strain. This new Syphon Filter game sticks to the basics of the previous games, but even in the attempt to make the game online-friendly, a collection of small annoyances add up to make this new Syphon Filter a letdown.
Gabe Logan is back, and this time he's in charge like Charles.
In The Omega Strain, you won't play as series hero Gabe Logan or any of his allies that you've seen in previous games. Instead, you'll be a no-name recruit working for Gabe Logan's secret antiterrorist organization, the IPCA. The game opens with you creating a character using a fairly rudimentary set of features, and from there you're ordered into training and then eventually you're sent into the field.
The game contains 17 different missions that take you from a mysterious virus outbreak in Michigan to faraway locales like Yemen and Japan. Each mission gives you a sizable chunk of gameplay. Levels are typically pretty large and throw a lot of different objectives at you, both at the start and as you proceed. The first mission is a perfect example of how this works. You'll start out just trying to find some water and tissue samples from the scene of an outbreak, and you'll also be trying to assist local authorities in stopping a never-ending onslaught of terrorist troops. But as that mission unfolds, you'll try to upload sample data, protect a generator from attack, and eventually take out the leader of the local terrorist threat. Other missions expand in a similar fashion, making each one pretty lengthy.
Online, the game really doesn't change much. You connect and you're basically presented with the same mission-select screen that you get in the single-player mode. You even use the same created agent. The difference is that selecting a mission instead lets you join a group of up to four agents to take on the mission together. Some missions are online-specific, and others get easier. For example, you'll have to learn the level and take the exact, proper path to a handful of spaces around the map to collect vials of the Syphon Filter virus when you only have five minutes to do so. But in a group of four, it's as simple as getting on the headset and figuring out who is going where. However, there really isn't much incentive to work together in many of the missions, which makes splitting up and working on different objectives a more effective tactic when it comes to getting the job done quickly. At the end of a mission, you'll earn commendations based on your performance, and then you'll drop back to the mission-select menu to find another game.
On paper, Syphon Filter sounds like a cool idea and, much like Resident Evil: Outbreak's recent attempt, it's a potentially interesting way to make multiplayer activity more meaningful. But lots of little things add up to drop a wet blanket over the whole experience. For starters, ammo is pretty scarce in some missions, meaning you'll have to switch back and forth between your pistol and a variety of primary weapons, such as a combat shotgun, FAMAS, and so on. Even though the game offers multiple ways to change weapons, none of them are fast and easy enough to pull off in the middle of a firefight, leaving you rolling around like a maniac as you try to dodge bullets while you get the weapons to change. In many cases, enemies respawn at a very rapid rate, which, on one hand means you'll always have plenty to shoot at, but it also means that you'll never really be able to clear an area out for long. The game does have a map, but like most 3D maps, it's difficult to get a bearing on where you are in relation to your objective's location. On top of that, the action doesn't pause when you check your map, making it impossible to use when time is of the essence.
Combat in the game is handled either by locking on to your targets with the R1 button or dropping into a first-person manual aim mode with L1. Headshots are one-hit kills, making manual aim a much more attractive proposition than the decidedly poor lock-on aiming ability. Even up close, most enemies will gladly take four or five rounds from your pistol before giving up the ghost. Getting good at shooting people in the face doesn't take long and it certainly saves ammo, making it the preferred route.