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The return of Syphon Filter

By Sid Lipsey
CNN Headline News

"The Omega Strain" is the fourth installment in Sony's best-selling "Syphon Filter" series.
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(CNN) -- Fans of "Syphon Filter" got some long-awaited good news last week. The fourth edition of the best-selling video game series was finally released for the Sony PlayStation 2.

"Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain" continues the adventures of a team of government agents trying to keep terrorists from unleashing the deadly Syphon Filter virus.

Although gamers may celebrate the new release, they still might ask one important question: "What the heck took so long?" It's been nearly three years since the last "Syphon Filter" game. For those who've had to spend that time playing stale "Syphon" wannabes, the wait has been excruciating.

Fortunately, Sony has been using that time wisely.

"A lot of tuning went into the [new] game," Sony technical director Chris Reese said.

And it shows. "The Omega Strain" features something never before offered to "Syphon Filter" players: multiplayer online gaming. PS2 owners with online capability can now join three other players online to complete a series of missions.

For those who prefer to play solo and offline, "The Omega Strain" offers more than a dozen single-player missions. In the other major first for the series, you're no longer playing as super-agent Gabe Logan. Instead, you're a rookie member of his counter-terrorist team. You can adjust your character's gender, facial features and hairstyle to create your own personalized agent.

Because this is the first "Syphon" game made specifically for the PS2 (the others were for the original PlayStation), it goes without saying that the graphics are a vast improvement over earlier versions. The third-person perspective offers exceptional maneuverability. And the on-screen targeting -- which moves effortlessly between manual, automatic and even a first-person mode -- is one of the best you'll find.

With the well-designed controller interface, you can roll out of the line of enemy fire, target the bad guy and take him out in three simple motions. Sony creative director John Garvin said that even with all the changes, players still get the "classic 'Syphon Filter' run-and-gun experience."

The terrorists and biological weapons in "Syphon" are fictional, but the series maintains a gritty, real-world feel.

"I don't want ['Syphon Filter'] to be like the 'G.I. Joe' cartoon," Garvin said, referring to the '80s afternoon TV staple that featured comically inept "terrorists" who wore matching blue outfits with red ascots. But sometimes, Garvin said, "the real world gets a little too close."

In "The Omega Strain," players can create their own agent and play online with a team, or offline and solo.

That's often been the story with this franchise. Sony dropped a level from "The Omega Strain" after Canadians objected to its depiction of Quebecois separatists attacking a Toronto subway. And for sadly obvious reasons, the previous "Syphon" game was delayed from its original release date in September 2001.

But the best part about fantasy is that the good guys always win. Longtime "Syphon" fans may be pleased to learn that in the newest installment, Logan's team finally solves the mystery of the virus. Still, Garvin promises, "it is by no means the end of the franchise."

That's great, John. Just don't make us wait another three years for the next one.

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