Game developers were still figuring out 3D controls when Syphon Filter released in 1999. Bend Studio, then known as Eidetic, were bruised by the critical reception to 1996’s PS1 platformer Bubsy 3D – and wanted to create something truly groundbreaking. Ultimately, both Metal Gear Solid and GoldenEye 007 deployed during the super-spy title’s protracted three-year development cycle, lessening some of its sheen – but this remains a somewhat unique stealth action title today, even if its rudimentary gameplay feels unbelievably dated when observed through a modern lens.
Despite being fiddly, however, you can see the origins of cinematic third-person shooters like Uncharted here. You play as Gabe Logan, a personality vacuum on an impossible mission. Flanked by his trusty associate Lian Xing, this globe-trotting escapade takes you from the mean streets of Washington DC to a cathedral in Ukraine – an elaborate front for a shady underground base, of course – where you’ll be double-crossed with regularity by people with villainous names, like Phagan and Rhoemer.
With the World Health Organisation closely involved, and a deadly virus in the wrong hands, Syphon Filter’s story hits differently in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. But writer John Garvin – who’d go on to pen Days Gone – had his airport fiction hat on for this story, which perfectly encapsulates the late 90s period where Pierce Brosnan played James Bond. While there aren’t too many gadgets here, you do get a Taser that sets enemies on fire, which never really gets old.
One mission even sees you infiltrate a museum, and the environmental variety is impressive for a PS1 era action game. One minute you’ll be silently picking off guards in an Ancient Greece exhibit, and the next shooting through windows next to the moonlander – it’s all brilliantly melodramatic, and is underlined by a soundtrack that has shades of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. The campaign does run out of ideas – and, presumably, budget – towards the latter stages of its story, resulting in a slew of dismal catacombs, but the aforementioned gothic cathedral is a real graphical highlight, complete with gargoyles and stained glass windows.
Unfortunately, the control scheme can’t quite carry Bend Studio’s ambition. Logan’s iconic over animated run cycle is tied to up on the d-pad – or, indeed, the left analogue stick if you’re lucky enough to have a DualShock – and you can lean him left and right by slightly pushing to either side. Pulling down prompts him to slowly amble backwards, while left and right twist him on the spot. It’s not quite tank controls, but it’s unresponsive and awkward – a real refresher course on how Tomb Raider and its ilk used to play.
You can strafe by pressing L2 and R2, and this is where Syphon Filter’s movie influences really shine. By holding R1 to target lock, you can effectively run-and-gun – and you can even roll like Tom Cruise by hitting the circle button. Fascinatingly, damage is represented by a ‘Danger’ metre which fills up as enemies fire at you. Let this maximise and you’ll begin to take chip damage to your armour and, latterly, your health until you’re dead. Perform dodge moves like strafing and rolls, however, and you’ll get a temporary reprieve.
Despite being awkward, the first few levels are manageable once you wrap your head around the controls. The game really falls apart when it introduces enemies in Flak Jackets, a way to increase the difficulty, which are effectively bullet sponges. In order to kill these you need to aim for the head using a stop-and-pop first-person perspective that requires you to manually control a cursor. While this is fine in stealth situations, it’s infuriating during action sequences, as it prevents you from using the defensive methods discussed above, and means you’re inevitably going to take damage while desperately dragging an unwieldy green reticule across the screen.
Another issue with the game is that it’s far too obtuse for its own good at times. Some of the levels lack direction, rendering them a maze of samey looking polygonal décor, and it can be difficult to figure out where to go and what to do. While we appreciate the open-ended nature of the maps, it’s incredibly easy to overlook a single switch or computer terminal, which is blended into the background and required to proceed.
But Syphon Filter does deserve credit for pioneering a gameplay style that didn’t really exist at the time. While, as mentioned, Metal Gear Solid and GoldenEye 007 ultimately released while it was in development, Bend Studio’s effort is best considered as a precursor to something like Uncharted. There’s a good mix of stealth and all-out action across its six or so hour running time, as well as a handful of headline set-piece moments – including one in which Logan climbs atop a giant missile which is seconds away from launching.
Syphon Filter’s unwieldy controls make it difficult to play today, but Bend Studio helped pioneer the third-person shooter genre with this memorable 1999 outing. A globe-trotting campaign with large open-ended levels make many of Gabe Logan’s missions memorable, and while the story errs on the side of airport fiction with its ludicrous double-crosses and ham-fisted voice acting, there still aren’t many games that make you feel like James Bond quite like this one does.
This game blew me away when I first played it.
Controls are so awkward though, I doubt I'll go back to it.
Like all these old games they were great for their time but are not good at all today. Probs why they should remain a memory
This was the first PS1 classic I played through for the Platinum. It was difficult to get used to the controls but I still enjoyed it. It was weird, I remembered most of it like I only played it a few years ago. Haven’t played it since it came out.
He controls like a drunk guy on puppet strings. I couldn't do it.
I loved Siphon Filter back in the day. But I tried it again recently on my Vita and it was virtually unplayable because of the controls. kids these days, don’t know they’re born!
Loved this game when I was younger. Playing it again years later on PS3 and now on PS5, it doesn't hold up that well. The controls are horrendous and this will be a turn off for somebody much younger who just happens to stumble across this game on PS Plus Premium. Hopefully Dark Mirror and Logan's Shadow are added quickly, neither of those are perfect either but they were massive improvements and are still hold up well enough today.
Those controls make 3D games like Syphon Filter so hard to enjoy. I think it's cool to have these games on a subscription like Plus, though, if only for the nostalgia.
Really makes you appreciate the invention of dual analog sticks!
Tried it again recently, my memory of it is tarnished now 😐
I enjoy syphon filter back in the ps1 days.i got to say syphon filter and crash bandicoot is my favorite ps1 games ever.word up son
I love Syphon Filter series on PS1. It's one of my fondest memories from my childhood. This is a classic that I used to play over and over again. That said, I am never going to try it again.
I would very much play a remake, however. Or an all new game. I really hope the stealth genre makes a come back. I miss Metal Gear Solid, Syphon Filter and Splinter Cell. (Hitman is great, but Hitman's style of stealth is very different)
Considering the studio's previous game was Bubsy 3D, it was an unbelievable improvement.
I had this on the PlayStation........ Thought it was an awesome game back then......... Recently downloaded it on PS+ and I am ripping my hair out at the controls lol
I remember loving the first 7 levels or so, and then didn't care about anything past that. I also remember it getting shockingly difficult later on.
My memory is that it was amazing. Will try it again at some point, but I suspect it will be painful going back to PS1 era controls.
U just can’t compare psn extra and all that to switch online premium
The games are just too good and older!
@sketchturner Yeah it gets really tough later on with the emphasis on the Flak Jacket guys. Rewind in these PS Plus versions makes it a little less irritating, though!
And it definitely drops off after the first half or so for sure. The cathedral level is cool, but the catacombs are really dull.
I relived my childhood by running around the first level tasing dudes until they lit up. Fun times!
The controls for this one are just too awkward for it to be enjoyable for me , I thought the characters looked like Lego people lol
Never played this. I'll give it a go at some point.
This game is awesome for what it is, an 90s game. If your first venture with the game is in 2022😬my apologies. Muscle memory helps a little, but updated controls would be nice. Same for time splitters, max Payne 1, manhunt, tenchu.
Funnily in the Syphon Filter demo Lian Xing is named "Mei Xing" an obvious ode to Mei Ling in MGS1 but clearly they couldn't keep that in lol.
Without prior knowledge I would've considered Syphon Filter a Sega Saturn game, it sort of has that look to it that I can't describe that reminds me of Resident Evil & Tomb Raider's Sega ports.
I recommend that after playing syphon filter for a few hours is to immediately jump into a fast pace game that runs at 60fps for some giggles.
I remember playing it emulated on my laptop some fifteen years ago or more, I guess. Back then, I found it enjoyable and innovative, one of the best 3d shooters I found.
I still have fond memories of tasering enemies untill they burst into flames. 😁
So for that alone its a 10/10 and its the series i loved on the PS1 all three of them.
I feel like this is such an accurate review. But oh man did I love this game back in the day. I don't think I'll play it now though. I'd rather just have the happy nostalgia tinted memories.
I hope Bend Studio make a new one, for PS5...With both Snake and Sam Fisher as good as dead, Gabe is the only stealth hero we have left!
Glad the taser got a mention. My brother and I used to take great glee in tasering the baddies for as long as we could (psychological profiling would probably have had a field day with us as youngsters). A great trilogy of games and I was excited to replay so downloaded immediately. Unfortunately I couldn’t stomach more than 5 minutes (and about three taserings) due to controls. Had I more patience then perseverance would have likely meant I coped better but with games like Ghost of Tsushima to play instead I’m afraid Gabe and his wobbly hips lost out.
I tried it on my PS5, but I could not be bothered to come to terms with the controls. Such a shame, I had fond memories of the game. I still have the original SF1 and SF2 discs for PS1.
I saw this was free for any one with PS Plus so had to give it a go for the Nostalgia. I thought the classics would be for the top level only so nice to see it in Essential.
Whoa boy was that a trip. Hardest part for me was going into the pause menu every time to switch weapons. Being able to rewind the game is also very strange but probably means once you get to grips with the controls it would be quite short.
@Vorlon @Ico1977 @Would_you_kindly @BNAG_Gamer @ShogunRok @Gamer83 @Dommice @jmac1686 @SoulChimera @Wiggo Controls were the hardest part of the game for me, rewind featured saved my butt countless times in the beginning.
I eventually got the hang of it and platinumed the game, took me around 5-10 hours.
Not as great as I remembered it being, but it was one of my very first shooters as a kid.
@PVTHudson hold select and you can scroll through your weapons.
@KidBoruto wow. I admire your patience
@Dommice I'm not always patient but when I try I'm usually really good lol.
Yeah it's certainly aged, but after a few minutes of getting used to the tankish controls, I was having a hoot.
"it’s incredibly easy to overlook a single switch or computer terminal, which is blended into the background and required to proceed."
Omg this! Even back in the day I remember running up and down the subway looking for a teeny tiny elevator switch that was completely cloaked in darkness
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