I know we had a few negative points to make about Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror when it arrived last August, but it really is one of the best games on the PSP. Surprisingly Gabe Logan - the perennial B-lister of the stealth-action genre, did what Sam Fisher couldn't do before and Solid Snake couldn't quite manage after: deliver a hot slice of high-tech, super-spy thrills that worked perfectly well on Sony's handheld console. Visually it's one of the strongest titles on the system, but more importantly it managed to cram the kind of full 3D movement, climbing, crawling, melee combat and some solid duck and cover gunplay we'd expect from a PS2 game onto the PSP's tiny screen and rather less flexible controls. Well-paced and genuinely exciting, Dark Mirror was a beacon of hope for owners of Sony's oft-derided handheld.
Now Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow comes to put a few more logs and half a can of lighter fluid on the flames. As was the case with most sequels before everyone became obsessed with franchises and reinventions, it's really just more of the same, but better. However, in this case that's not actually such a bad thing.
For one thing, Dark Mirror was already so far ahead of most PSP games visually that the engine only needed a few tweaks to keep it ahead of the game. And tweaks it has got, not just in the form of improved character modelling and animation - Gabe looks a little less square this time around - but in the form of some superb water effects and some great dynamic lighting, complete with this season's must-have, bloom. You can tell the guys at 989 Studios got carried away with both, as early levels around and inside a terrorist captured Navy vessel seem designed specifically as a showcase for them. Architecturally speaking the levels seem a little more varied and more interesting, and the textures seem to have a bit more detail too. Throw in a good action-movie soundtrack and some fine gunshot and explosion spot effects, and Logan's Shadow feels even more like the full-scale console experience it's so clearly been designed to emulate.
Tweaked, too, is the pacing. If Dark Mirror was already about 25 per cent stealth to 75 per cent gunplay, Logan's Shadow seems to push the balance even more firmly in the noisier direction. You spend a lot of time hiding behind a doorway or lurking with your back to a low wall, preparing to pop out and blast the nearest bavaclava-wearing goon with something special from the game's fine stock of weaponry. The level of challenge is just about right. Between a recharging health bar and plentiful supplied of flak jackets it's not hard to keep yourself alive and everything hostile in the vicinity dead, but if you neglect to find cover or try the old ‘rush n'attack' routine, you won't last long at all.