What’s more, Dark Mirror has all the staples of the spy game genre down pat. You want gadgets? You’ve got them: infrared, night-vision and electronics-sensing goggles, plus a sniper rifle loaded with exploding cartridges, high-voltage ‘insta-death’ darts (for when you must have that silent kill) and poison gas darts (take out several baddies in a single go). You want stealth? Dark Mirror doesn’t quite match Splinter Cell for cool wall-creeping, corridor spanning or stealth-attack moves, but it’s not that far behind.
And if you want action, Dark Mirror does that too, outdoing Perfect Dark for hide-behind-the-crate-then-pop-out-to-take-a-shot gun battles. In fact, it gets several things right that most grown-up console action games get wrong. There are guard and escort missions here where your companions actually have the sense to take cover rather than blunder into the enemy’s sights; where they’ll actually take on the baddies by your side, or give you covering fire if asked politely. The game is even quite imaginative in these moments. There’s a superb chapter quite early on where a friendly engineer will fix some server issues for you, but you need to keep him alive while he crawls around the ventilation system and finishes the job. As the enemies are attacking him from within ventilation shafts, you need to change your current goggles to keep him safe. It’s not just smart – it’s truly brilliant stuff.
Better still, Dark Mirror is far from the usual truncated experience you expect on PSP. About three hours in my heart sank as I came towards the end of my mission; I’d worked my way through a besieged chemical refinery, saved some innocent bystanders, and started to unravel the standard-issue terrorist plot, and I’d begun to fear that the game was working up to a speedy conclusion. But then the mission ended, I found myself at a cut-scene, and it was on to the next exotic location. With seven missions in four different environments, there’s actually a surprising amount of game here. What’s more, completing the main game unlocks several bonus missions.
Nor do those missions get samey. That’s partly because the game continually throws in new objectives to spice up the pacing – within the same hour you may be defusing bombs within a time limit, covering a colleague from a sniper position and then escorting an old flame around a South American warzone while she searches for confidential documents. However, it’s also because the game has you playing as other playable characters. Every now and then you get a holiday from Gabe Logan – the slightly low-rent take on the Sam Fisher/Solid Snake archetype (though Gabe actually predates the gravel-voiced Splinter Cell hero by a few years) – to play as his attractive colleague, Lian Li. Admittedly, there’s not all that much to choose between them, but her differing objectives help round out the mission and add a breath of fresh air to the game.