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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain (PS2)


By: Michael Palisano


The newest installment in SCEA's long running espionage series, Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain takes the franchise online for the first time. The intriguing storyline has players trying to locate and destroy the strains of the virus that has reappeared in various locations throughout the world. Featuring many user-customizable agents, the single player mode encompasses 17 expansive missions that are challenging and engaging. However, the series' new online mode adds excitement and depth, allowing you to take you agent and battle the terrorist forces online with up to three other players. Unfortunately, Omega Strain's numerous camera and control problems detract from the experience. However, this is still a solidly entertaining title that offers plenty of enjoyment for your money.

After hibernating for several years, sinister terrorist forces have once again begun to spread their deadly Syphon Filter virus throughout the world. A clandestine government agency run by former agent Gabe Logan, IPCA, has uncovered this malicious plot and recruited you to take on the terrorists. Uncovering the plot and finding clues will take you through many world locales including Quebec, Yemen, Tokyo and the Amazon. There are 17 single player missions to complete in the game. Each mission is quite an undertaking with multiple checkpoints and tasks to complete. Your mission is to neutralize these enemy forces, while completing secondary objectives, such as finding information. Your agent also has to minimize collateral damage by not injuring or killing civilians or police forces. You can modify and select which weapons you'll use during the mission. This is important since you have limited space in order to carry weapons. This makes it imperative that you read the mission objectives before you equip yourself. There are three basic weapons: sidearm, auxiliary, and holster. You can choose grenades and one hand-to-hand "melee" weapon such as a knife. You can also pick up weapons from fallen terrorists, but must switch weapons if your agent's inventory is full. In addition to the standard weapons, agents have a number of tools or gadgets such as heat, night-vision, and sniper goggles, which let you pick off enemies from afar. It's not all shooting and bombing because you'll also need to use your brain. Your agent is also trained to implement special abilities such as climbing and hanging. You can roll or duck for cover during the missions. In addition to the many weapons and gadgets, you can also uplink to the agency's mainframe. Connecting to this lets you access information and updated mission objectives.

During each mission, you can view your agent's status on the HUD display. This shows your health, danger level, and ammo levels. You can also use the onscreen radar to keep moving in the right direction, and its sensors that indicate the location of enemies. Players can also call up the onscreen map to find their position, find objectives, and anticipate enemy locations. Omega Strain's controls and game interface seems complicated at first, but a quick run-through of the painless training level allows you to learn the controls with little risk. There are problems with the weapons interface that makes Omega Strain more difficult than it should be. Specifically, when you collect weapons or collect ammo, a small indicator shows up on-screen. This would seem intuitive on the surface, but the awkward controls make it difficult to figure out which weapon you're dropping and picking up. This also means that isn't always obvious which weapon you're switching to, which can get aggravating in a hurry. While this system is decent, it adds needless complexity to the gameplay. It doesn't work as smoothly as it should and makes you a sitting duck all too frequently. The game's weapons don't always operate effectively, making you lose precious ammo trying to aim your weapon. The auto-targeting feature, which locks onto enemies, mitigates these problems to a large degree. The controls are also much improved when you switch to first-person sniper mode. Controlling your agent and moving around isn't a problem. Omega Strain's camera system is more intuitive and mitigates these flaws. Performing special moves is seamless and these added techniques make for a more realistic experience. The structure is open, giving you more options during the course of each mission. The action mostly takes place in third-person perspective, figuring out your location is easy. There are some rather abrupt camera angle changes when you switch modes that can lead to some disorientation at points. Omega Strain's control and interface are decent, despite some problems.

Omega Strain's single player missions are surprisingly challenging with long levels, expansive environments and multiple objectives to keep you occupied. Fortunately, there are several checkpoints on each level. This reduces backtracking and makes things less frustrating. Early areas are straightforward, but hidden and secret areas appear later on. These bonus sections let you to pick up extra ammo and health power-ups while providing a needed breather between battles. Omega Strain's solo experience is exciting and makes for a worthwhile purchase on its own. However, the real attraction in the sequel is internet play and Omega Strain impresses mightily in this department. The online missions allow up to four agents to work co-operatively to take down a team of terrorists in one of the many locations. Omega Strain's online maps are just as large and impressive as the single player ones, but allow for some intense cooperative play. There are several online modes, including capture the flag and fortress modes. Players can select a quick start using predefined parameters or create their own rules to create custom games. During online play, you can communicate with the other players using the USB Headset. This adds to the immersion because it lets you issue commands to direct the team in different directions. You can also tell your team to provide covering fire and stage raids on enemy compounds. The broadband game performed flawlessly and did not suffer any noticeable lag. Online games generally matched the intensity of the solo mode. Setting up games was a snap thanks to the intuitive menus and commands. Communicating with other players posed little problem and the socialization adds intensity that solo levels lack. Playing Omega Strain in this mode is quite exciting with a flawless implementation that makes it one of the smoothest PS2 online titles to date.

While the Syphon Filter series has appeared only on the PS1, the leap to PS2 presents significant graphical improvements. The polished graphics engine is quite impressive by PS2 standards with elaborate cinematic cut-scenes that lends the experience a dramatic flair. It doesn't hurt that the engaging plotline is surprisingly sophisticated for an action video game. Syphon Filter's excellent voice acting and characterizations are another major plus. These smooth production values give Omega Strain a high degree of plausibility. Aesthetically, the in-game graphics look impressive. With such large maps, its impressive that the polished levels don't lack detail. The game uses light sourcing and shadows effectively. The locations feel authentic, whether in urban or open areas. This definitely adds to the realism and the developers deserve credit for creating a surprisingly realistic game environment. Omega Strain's burning cars, underground corridors, and rooftop snipers create a tense, gritty real-world atmosphere. The characters move beautifully throughout with realistic motion capturing and animation giving them a lifelike appearance. While Omega Strain's design is impressive, the unrelenting darkness becomes monotonous after awhile. It doesn't quite match the visual splendor of Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid 2 but Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain is still an impressive espionage title.

Unfortunately, a few nagging flaws bring down the experience and make it less impressive than it could have been. The awkward controls and weapons management system is likewise clumsy. This interface gets in the way of the action more often than it should. Omega Strain also suffers from occasionally pronounced camera problems that rear their heads, causing you to lose your place frequently. This is still a fun title and the good points definitely outweigh the bad. Omega Strain's single player missions are challenging with long levels that should keep you engaged for hours. Add in a decidedly intelligent storyline that will keep you on the edge of your seat and you have a winner. It starts slowly, but picks up momentum as the conspiracies unfold. The single player experience is quite enjoyable but the impressive online mode makes the gameplay memorable. Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain should provide many hours of entertainment for PS2 owners looking for some clandestine action. Its single player game doesn't match the intensity of Splinter Cell and its multiplayer mode isn't quite up to the teamwork precision in games like Rainbow Six 3. However, Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain is still solidly entertaining and an excellent effort on the part of SCEA that should please fans of espionage action.

Grade: B

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