The stealth action genre has had three major stalwarts over the years, those being Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell and today’s subject, Syphon Filter. Unrelated note, all three of those games have been dormant for a long damn time. Sure, Metal Gear was active a few years back with that awful Survive game, but the main stealth-focused series hasn’t been revisited since 2015’s MGS V: The Phantom Pain. Aside from a VR game, it’s been even longer since the last Splinter Cell game too.
However, Syphon Filter has had a hiatus longer than most games. A Sony exclusive series, Syphon Filter hasn’t been seen properly since 2007, with developers Bend Studio going on to develop other projects. The question is: will we ever see a new Syphon Filter game?
The History of Syphon Filter
Syphon Filter was a stealth action game that launched in 1999 for the PS1. The game was developed by Eidetic and published by Sony’s 989 Studios, a division of Sony Computer Entertainment America. A third-person stealth game was a bit of departure for Eidetic, considering their previous effort was the universally lampooned Bubsy 3D. Talk about a legacy.
For the most part, the series follows the impeccably manly sounding Gabe Logan as he travels around the world dealing with the titular Syphon Filter, an intelligent virus capable of being programmed and targeting specific groups of people. Basically, it’s a bit of a mix between Splinter Cell (but before Splinter Cell) and James Bond.
According to John Garvin, who was hired as a writer and director for the game, Syphon Filter was a difficult development process for Eidetic, in no small part because the game was nothing like Bubsy 3D. This was the first third-person stealth action game they’d developed, so of course there was plenty to learn along the way. It also doesn’t help that the original concept for the game came from a one-page synopsis. John Garvin explains more in an interview with PlayStation Blog:
“The idea originally came from a producer at Sony’s (then) 989 Studios who had written a one page synopsis that he called “Syphon Filter” which had zero meaning, i.e. there was no plot, no character, and no story, just an idea for settings, mechanics and gameplay. From the beginning it was to be a “stealth action” game (in the days before there was such a genre) that focused heavily on weapons, gadgets and stealth. Our goal was to make the player feel like a super spy. Our lead designer back then was pretty heavily influenced by Nintendo’s GoldenEye, which was probably the closest you could come to finding a game like Syphon in those days.”
The project was nearly cancelled a number of times, as the game’s story, structure and overall gameplay mechanics would change throughout its development. However, Garvin states in the same PlayStation Blog interview that 989 Studios had complete faith in the team and the project they were creating. Someone who didn’t believe in it though was Michael Beryln, a Bubsy designer who didn’t like the way Syphon Filter was going, leaving Eidetic as a result. In an interview with Gamasutra from 2005, he states:
“I will say this as nicely and tactfully as I can: I did not like what the game business had become, the people who were driving it, or the nature of the product. I left before it was done and said, ‘Do not put my name on the product.’ I walked away from my own company. When you tell me you want to put a monk or a nun in my game and have them standing there holding guns so I can justify having the players shoot them, I think that crosses the boundaries of good taste. It doesn’t offend ME, but it’s got to be in bad taste, and you have to know that.”
Syphon Filter would go on to sell a million copies in a year, and receive pretty much universal acclaim from critics. A 90 on Metacritic is absolutely nothing to sneeze at, and a sequel wasn’t too far behind. Syphon Filter 2 launched in 2000 on PS1, and according to Garvin, the development on this game was much easier, as he and co-creator Richard Ham had a plan ahead of time of what they wanted the sequel to look like and where they wanted the story to go:
“I think I spent a weekend and wrote the entire screenplay. Rich and I got together and he helped revise the second half of the game, introducing all the Moscow stuff, making the end of the story more espionage-like and exciting. When the [development team] came back, we spent the next year building exactly what we had written. That was the first time that we had a vision up front, which we followed until the end.”
Syphon Filter 2 and its sequel, the aptly named Syphon Filter 3 which launched in November 2001, still achieved a decent level of success, though the average score for each game would decline. Syphon Filter 2 would achieve an 81 on GameRankings (though GameRankings has since been merged with Metacritic), while the third game in the series reached 73 on Metacritic. Three games in three years probably didn’t help, so Eidetic, which was now rebranded as Bend Studio, went back to the drawing board.
After a couple of years in development, Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain launched on the PS2 in 2004 and sees players taking control of a brand new character who joins Gabe Logan’s agency. You’re in control of your looks, and can choose your own weapons and equipment, levelling up as you make your way through the game, and there’s nonlinear elements as you’re given the choice to complete or avoid certain tasks. It all sounds ambitious, but it wasn’t enough to avoid the game’s 65 rating on Metacritic.
What Happened To Syphon Filter?
Bend Studio would go back to their roots with the Syphon Filter series, while still moving in a new direction. Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror was a PSP release from 2006 (later ported to the PS2 in 2007), which saw players once again taking on the role of Logan as he investigated a brand new global conspiracy. The fifth instalment in the series introduces several new weapon types and options, but due to the PSP’s control limitations, Logan’s roll was removed. It was added to the subsequent PS2 port, though.
Dark Mirror was considered a return to form for the series, earning an incredible amount of praise and was touted as one of the big killer apps for PSP. That version of the game would earn an 87 on Metacritic, while the PS2 version of the game would only reach an average of 70. What worked on the PSP didn’t quite translate as well on the full screen, and that showed in the game’s review scores, with critics citing the dated gameplay and the lack of the PSP version’s multiplayer mode.
The last ever Syphon Filter game would prove to be Logan’s Shadow, another PSP game that launched in 2007 before being ported to the PS2 in 20-flipping-10. It’s not like the PS3 would have been out for a few years at that point or anything. Aside from the annual sports games and movie tie-ins, Syphon Filter: Logan’s Shadow would form part of the last era of PS2 games ever released.
Logan’s Shadow reviewed almost as well as Dark Mirror did, earning a respectable 85 on Metacritic, so it’s strange for that to be the last game ever made, especially when you consider that the game concludes on a bit of a cliffhanger. Gabe’s fate is left kind of uncertain, so to see these narrative threads left dangling has to be frustrating for a lot of core Syphon Filter fans. It has been suggested by former Bend Studio artist Athey Moravetz that the whole series didn’t achieve a lot of sales. Athey also states that John Garvin ended the Syphon Filter series so he didn’t have to make another one:
“John Garvin got burned out on Syphon Filter. He wanted to make something different. People seem to like to ignore that Gabe Logan died at the end of Logan’s Shadow. Garvin literally killed off the main character so he wouldn’t have to make any more SF games. Plus, despite all the praise, they didn’t sell. Very low sales all around.”
What’s even stranger is that, alongside the release of Logan’s Shadow on PS2, Sony promoted the release of a tie-in graphic novel titled The Opposition Effect, which would bridge the gap between the two PSP games while also offering some insight into the fate of The Omega Strain’s playable character, nicknamed Cobra. However, the full release never saw the light of day, and the series has been dead in the water ever since.
Will We Ever See A New Syphon Filter Release?
Well, let’s address the elephant in the room and say that we might have already had a new Syphon Filter release in the form of Days Gone, Sony Bend Studio’s most recent game. A series of easter eggs, references and collectibles in that game point to the events taking place either in the world of Syphon Filter, or in an alternate version where Gabe ultimately failed to save the world, leading to the Freaker outbreak. If we’re considering Days Gone as a follow-on from Syphon Filter, it’s hard to imagine how a new, pure Syphon Filter game would look in that world.
Days Gone’s Lead Designer Ron Allen confirmed in an interview with ScreenRant that there was an intentional crossover between Days Gone and Syphon Filter, stating that: “I guess I can talk a little bit about that. You know that obviously, Syphon’s really close to our studio’s heart. We were the original developers, and we carried it all the way through until the end on the on the PSP. And, obviously, we’re big fans of the Syphon Filter franchise in general. With the taser and things like that – I don’t want to go too far into all of that, but – yes, there was a little bit of that crossover with Syphon Filter. What happened in all of that stuff is still to be determined.”
As for Bend Studio post-Syphon Filter, they went on to work on Resistance: Retribution for the PSP, and two Uncharted games for the PS Vita. Between 2012 and 2019, Bend worked on Days Gone, which launched to some mixed opinions. Either people seemed to love it or thought it wasn’t all that, with little in the way of middle ground. Still, the game has managed to retain a healthy fanbase of players who have been clamouring for a sequel.
Unfortunately, it would seem that there wasn’t enough success to warrant a sequel, with reports emerging in 2021 that Days Gone 2 was pitched to Sony by Bend, but it appears it was shot down. According to Bloomberg, frustrations at the rejected pitch, along with Bend being perceived as more like a Naughty Dog support studio, led to a number of key staff, like game director Jeff Ross and creative director John Garvin, leaving the team.
Regarding any future projects for the company, it was confirmed recently via PlayStation Studios head Hermen Hulst in an interview with PlayStation Blog (which is like me being interviewed by Jimmy about my next article) that Bend Studio are working on something totally new: “And you know, Bend Studio is working on a very exciting new IP that they’re very, very passionate about. They’re building on the deep open-world systems that they developed with Days Gone. So I’m really happy for Bend Studio.”
But we’re here to talk about Syphon Filter, and it seems that certain staff members who worked on the series would love to see it make a comeback. John Garvin took to Twitter to show off a magazine article about PlayStation games the mag would love to see make a comeback, leading to speculation of a new Syphon Filter game. Bend Studio’s studio director Chris Reese also said “you never know” when asked about a new Syphon Filter game.
Like a lot of these articles, the question becomes, would it be worth it to make a brand new entry in the series, or should it receive a full blown remake like Crash, Spyro and other games before it? Due to Syphon Filter only existing on older consoles, the potential is there for a truly transformative remake package that can still honour the story, character, and gameplay themes of the original. If a remake doesn’t let you taser someone until they catch fire, it’s not a worthy remake.
The answer of if we’ll see a new Syphon Filter game is a tricky one. Clearly, Bend Studio would love to do it, but they’re deep into their open world games at the moment with Days Gone in 2019 and now a brand new IP. The responsibility of bringing Syphon Filter into the modern age would likely fall to another studio entirely, but that would also depend on Sony seeing any value in a new Syphon Filter. Is it likely? Not really. Is it at least more possible than a new Ape Escape?
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