Stomach Check: A Spree of Graphic Violence

Stomach Check: A Spree of Graphic Violence

I purchased a Humble Bundle deal in July, which included a whole package of games on Steam, primarily to play Borderlands: The Pre-sequel. With some time freed up not catching Pokemon, I decided to play a couple games included in the package. The games I decided to play were Spec Ops: The Line and The Darkness 2. I did not really know what I was getting myself into, but I experienced the most graphic violence I ever have in my gaming career over a short span.

Spec Ops: The Line – Willie Pete

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Spec Ops: The Line doesn’t look very impressive on the outset, as seemingly “another war game set in the Middle East.” It is a third-person shooter, with a 2 weapon setup, and grenades. You can shoot things, take cover, use turrets, etc. You also command 2 other US soldiers to help you in the game. Some cool gameplay elements include using sand to kill your enemies.

The gameplay overall is what you’d expect, but the story is very compelling. You spend the game hunting for a bad guy (another American), but the whole time your character starts doing more and more atrocious things. It touches on mental illness, and in the end, you learn that your character was disassociative the whole time, basically killing a lot more people than you should’ve, through a deluded mind.

Through the regular shooting and granading, you don’t see too much extraordinary gameplay gore. You see pits of rotting bodies, hanging bodies, etc. But the kicker comes from victims of white phosphorous. You first see white phosphorous used in the battlefield, and you dodge it for a time. Then you are forced to use white phosphorous on your enemies, who turn out to be good guys escorting refugees. The constant shots of causted flesh and the crawling dead really set the scene of “what the fuck did I just do.” They really hammer a tableau of a mother holding a child, both melted to death. While your character doesn’t continue bombarding people with white phosporous, those 2 scenes of it’s usage are just disturbing enough to make me look away every so often.

The Darkness 2 – Vengeance and Evisceration

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I didn’t know much about The Darkness, other than that I knew Mike Patton voiced The Darkness. The setting is that you’re the head of a Mafia, who just lost your girlfriend in The Darkness. And you get attacked in a restaurant (with chick getting shot in the eye in front of you) and almost killed. You unleash The Darkness, a pair of tentacle arms, and are aided by a Darkling, a British imp. It’s a first-person shooter, where you can hold three guns, and dual wield often.

The guns provided in this game aren’t remarkable at all, but that is because a lot of the heavy lifting is done by your tentacle arms. A default move to regain health is eating the hearts of your enemies. So your tentacle head goes right in an eats their hearts. Your right tentacle can also whip in melee range to death. You can throw objects like metal poles, fan blades, and car doors, to impale or slice enemies to death. And of course, wounded enemies can be grabbed by your tentacle arm for execution. Executions provide benefits (and currency!) and are harder to perform, but they include ripping people in half (wishbone), eating their hearts, and popping their heads off (daisy pop). Since executions provide much more benefit than just shooting someone to death, get ready to see a lot of ripped up bodies.

Different types of violence

In the Darkness 2, I actually felt okay eviscerating bodies. The bad guys do lots of atrocious things to your people, including murdering your aunt in front of you, and killing innocent people. The violence was just so commonplace and occasionally comical, so it didn’t bug me. It was just a vehicle in getting through the game. In Spec Ops: The Line, violence and the reality of war is the overall theme. The game made it feel okay shooting various troops and civilians. Violence was not only a vehicle for getting you through the game, but it was meant to make you disgusted.

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Syphon Filter was the best

Syphon Filter was the best

To this day, my parents disapprove of my playing video games. It has always been this way, and back in the day, we struggled to have video game consoles in our home. My sister and I finally got our hands on a Playstation around the year 2000 or so, which was given to us by our uncle. Along with the console were a handful of bootlegged games, copies with sloppy titles written on with a Sharpie. It was through this collection of odds and ends that I discovered Syphon Filter.

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“MY GOD! Syphon Filter it’s…”

What’s Syphon Filter?

Syphon Filter is a third-person shooter series with the first 3 releases coming out in Playstation from 1999-2001, and later 2 releases on PS2, and the final coming out on PSP only. In this post, I will only be referring to the Playstation trilogy.

Haters say Syphon Filter was a ripoff of a more popular series, Metal Gear Solid. If the entire theme of Syphon Filter can be summed in one word, it would be bioterrorism. Syphon Filter is a genetically-programmable virus that can be altered to specifically target specific ethnic groups and demographics. You spend most of your time in Syphon Filter 1-3 trying to stop terrorists (and others) from spreading the virus.

Syphon Filter 1-3 are known for being notoriously difficult games. With poor AI characteristic of games from the turn of the century, exact precision is required to get by various points in the game.

Contrary to probably almost everyone who enjoyed Syphon Filter, I played the games backwards. The bootleg game I got from my uncle was Syphon Filter 3. Then I got 2 and finally the original.

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No idea what’s behind this stained glass window, but I’m jumping through it.

Mechanics

All three Playstation Syphon Filter games had the same exact game mechanics. Third-person shooters give you the advantage of being an omniscient presence, who can see over the character you try to keep alive.

Weapons – You can carry as many weapons as you want. You either get them from the mission, loot corpses or open green chests. Weapons usually carry over from mission sets.

Health – There’s no way to heal between mission sets. The characters cover their wounds with fresh flak jackets.

D-Pad – Moving around – Used for moving Gabe/Lian’s sexy ass.

Driving Wheels – Walk/face screen – Once in a blue moon, you have to walk, instead of run, for stealth purposes. You basically never use the driving throttles on the controller.

L1 – Manual aim – Pretty good for getting headshots, or shooting people in the legs, to bypass flak jackets.

L2 – Left lean/strafe – Leaning is good for hiding behind walls and getting head shots.

R1 – Auto-lock – The meat and potatoes of the trilogy. Auto-lock and shoot.

R2 – Right lean /strafe – Leaning is good for hiding behind walls and getting head shots.

Triangle – Action button – The all-purpose button for climbing, taking pictures, sabotaging, untying people, etc.

Square – Shoot – Hey, your thumb is your left most finger on your right hand. That’s why square is for shooting!

X – Crouch – Crouching is important, either to crawl around for stealth, or dodging bullets.

Circle – Combat Roll – A Syphon Filter trademark, the combat roll will not only protect you from gunfire, but also moving vehicles, explosives, and letting you salamander into tight spots.

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I’m sure this was pretty high-tech in 2000. Maybe.

Syphon Filter 3

How I got the game – Bootlegged copy from my uncle.

Game summary – Syphon Filter 3 is generally considered the worst of the trilogy. The storyline revolves around the Secretary of State grilling our protagonists at a US Senate Building. He tries to pin various crimes on them, accusing them of treason, etc. It turns out the Secretary of State was in cahoots with international terrorists. Most of the game includes flashbacks, which explain how each character got involved with the Syphon Filter virus.

New things – Given that SF3 was the first I played, I didn’t know what was new. You get to use Lawrence and Teresa for the first time. There are the most advanced weapons in this game, including an x-ray carbine, a magnum, and an explosive shotgun. I find out later that this the first game where the character’s mouths move for the first time in the cutscenes.

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Syphon Filter 3 also has non-story minigames! Here Elsa contemplates buying train station cola.

Level sequences

  • Japan – Gabe is out to assassinate the leader of a Chinese separatist group. After rescuing several hostages and escaping, Gabe is called to DC to testify at the Senate building. Some highlights of this level include saving a rival terrorist to get an explosive shotgun and tasing guys across a building.
  • Costa Rica (Gabe) – First flashback missions, where you actually have a flashback to the first cutscene of Syphon Filter 1. The first Costa Rica level is boring, and the second level consists of Gabe shooting out the final boss of Syphon Filter 1 out of a plane with an automatic shotgun or grenade launcher.
  • South Africa – You get Lawrence Mujari’s testimony as he talks about discovering Syphon Filter in Apartheid South Africa. Tasks in these levels include blowing up a mine, shooting guys on a mine cart, hostage rescuing, and just shooting guys.
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Mine carts always get in the action.
  • Afghanistan (Lian) – Lian Xing is testifying now and is working for the Chinese Secret Service in this mission. She is there to spy on Russians I think, and is saved by Gabe Logan. You take a bunch of photographs, blow up weapons caches and do a whole lot of sniping. A lot of tricking snipers in this level.
  • Ireland – While Lian is testifying, Gabe Logan somehow goes out to sink a ship containing Syphon Filter virus. These levels aren’t particularly difficult, but involve a lot of running around and shooting on the run.
  • Costa Rica (Lian) – One level foray where you run around shooting people, and saving a bunch of captured scientists.
  • Afghanistan (Gabe) – Gabe is back to testify, while Lian leaves for field work. Definitely the 2 most difficult levels of this game, some of the most difficult in the trilogy. Gabe has to defend a truck that is constantly being shot at by Afghans and mortars. Lots of snipers to deal with. The second level involves blowing up a tank with C4.
  • Australia – A mission with plenty of stealth components, sniping, and avoiding detection. You collect a bunch of ingredients, make a Syphon Filter vaccine, and inject a bunch of Aborigines.
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Dude on the left is casually walking by while his buddy is riddled by bullets.
  • Montana – A bombshell occurs when Teresa Lipan, who was shot dead in Syphon Filter 2, comes back to testify. This 3-level set in Montana gets pretty meta. As an ATF agent, you start working with the NSA and fight a nationalistic militia group, a lot like those guys in Oregon who took over the national refuge. Then the NSA tries to kill Teresa, and Gabe comes out of nowhere to save you. Then you infiltrate the militia compound to save a pregnant woman and teenage. Lots of nightvision going on, fighting in caves, and protection. Very difficult and intense levels, probably the best of this game.
  • DC – The Secretary of State is exposed as being a bad guy, but gets shot dead by a main villain of a Russian terrorist chick from Syphon Filter 1 and 2. The Senate Building fight is pretty fun, as it features some new weapons, and a return of vent crawling! Eventually you get on a DC subway train, where you have to disarm bombs, save hostages, and shoot terrorists who try to swarm you. You shoot Mara in the head again, and she somehow lives.
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In a pre-9/11 world, it was pretty easy to smuggle guns into the US Senate Building.

Syphon Filter 2

How I got the game – Got it from my friend in the 8th grade. We went to different high schools and lost contact, so I wound up keeping the game.

Game summary – Syphon Filter 2 is the monster game with the most levels and 2 discs. It is all about finding a cure for Syphon Filter after Lian is injected with the virus at the end of Syphon Filter 1. The theme of betrayal is pretty big in SF2, as almost everyone in The Agency seems to be a turncoat. You run into more turncoats before a final boss of another turncoat.

New things – SF2 seemed identical with SF2, albeit the characters couldn’t move their mouths in the cutscenes. More advanced weaponry than Syphon Filter 1, a good variety of missions with stealth, timed missions, plain old fighting. Lots of vent crawling. Notably, there is very little taser in SF2, so few prolonged frying shenanigans.

Level sequences

  • Colorado – Gabe is in a plane that is shot down over the Colorado Rockies. The first mission involves Gabe running around the mountains, rounding up his men, killing spooks (official name), collecting stuff. The next few missions have Gabe on I-70, where he has to kill more guys, diffuse bombs, and throw gas grenades. Gabe famously uses a flamethrower that he somehow found against a legion of armored men. Gabe finally is on a burning train, running and gunning. The Colorado series finally ends at the plane crash site, where he fights very difficult enemies and retrieves some CDs. Plenty of tough stealth situations here, and straight up difficult fighting against headhunters and guys with explosives. Gabe appears to survive an explosion after every cutscene in this series.
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Underrated skill: Jumping out of the way of a catastrophic explosion.
  • McKenzie Airbase – Lian is captured the same time Gabe is running around the state of Colorado. A test subject, she escapes McKenzie Airbase, where she is to be tested by Agency doctors about Syphon Filter. Because the US Armed Forces are good guys, Lian is forced to stun them using a taser to not kill them. A very frustrating stealth mission. Later, Lian gets outside of the airbase, incapacitating US Armed Forces, while killing Agency guys with silenced weapons. Even though she has a deadly, incurable illness, Lian highjacks a helicopter to eventually pick up Gabe.
  • NYC (Pharcom) – A 2 mission set. The first is a stealth mission that takes place in the same center in Syphon Filter 1. The second mission is a mission where you have Teresa helping you diffuse bombs, and a big boss fight against an old Agency guy in a suit, using an M79.
  • Moscow – Lian solos 4 missions in Moscow, where she tries to find a guy named Uri Gregorov. You start out in da club, an extremely grueling mission, where you fight in a bar, in a strobe-light flickering dance room, etc. You find yourself in the streets chasing Gregorv, and into a park. Lots of snipers, moving cars, other hazards abound in everyday Russian streets. You finally have to tase Gregorov in a dark park.
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The strobe lights look cooler in real-time.
  • Siberia – It turns out Gregorov is actually in a Siberian female Gulag! A very difficult stealth mission ensues, where you have incapacitate prison guards and free Gregorov from execution. The prison escape is another super difficult mission,  where you are seemingly endlessly under fire by prison guards. Lian succumbs to the effects of her illness after resurfacing from icy water, and basically soloing 6 straight missions.
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Russians have the ability to jump into the frozen sea while wearing a t-shirt.
  • NYC (Biolab) – Gabe infiltrates the Agency Biolab and pretends to be a scientist by stealing a guy’s lab coat (after asphyxiating him). A frustrating half-stealth mission where Gabe has to walk to be quiet, and face the wall so nobody sees his face. Gabe finds a knife, starts giving Colombian Neckties. He crawls some vents and confronts the Agency scientist to get Lian’s vaccine. The second mission has Gabe facing fully-armored guys who can only get killed with explosives. Using an M79 in a lab is a pretty bad idea given the close quarters of explosions, and flying individuals coming at you. Anyways, very difficult 2 missions here.
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“Give me the vaccine for Lian Xing. NOW!”
  • NYC (Outside) – Gabe traverses the Lower East Side and is finally united with the air taser, which means frying dudes in suits standing on rooftops. He encounters a hostage situation at one point, and the whole building is blown up. Gabe teams up with Teresa in the sewers, where they fight a lot of guys. Teresa is presumably killed by Chance, the final turncoat and your friend. The final act of SF2 is using an automatic shotgun to shoot the armored Chance into some helicopter tail rotor blades.

Syphon Filter

How I got the game – Got it from my sister’s friend. It was possibly a bootleg, since the entire CD was pink, but it had the official design on it.

Game summary – The original is considered the best one, though it is my least favorite. Syphon Filter breaks out through the world, as our protagonists learn more about it, who they work for, and stop terrorists.

New things – The original is the most vanilla of the Playstation trilogy, with a really bad voice actor for Lian. Because I played the games in reverse, it just seemed like a downgrade graphically.

Level sequences

  • DC – You go around shooting terrorists, and running around with CBDC agents (guys in yellow full-body ensembles) trying to defuse viral bombs. This takes you to the subway, where more bombs are, and you encounter a lot of flaming hazards. Eventually you run around subway tunnels to stop the main Russian terrorist trick, while dodging trains. You go to a park to save some hostages and diffuse some more bombs, Finally, you have to kill this pyro French terrorist named Girdeux.
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Don’t kill the guys in the funny yellow suits!
  • NYC – You attend a gala to try to track down Phagan, the head of a pharmaceutical company. These missions require some stealth and sabotage.
  • Somewhere cold in Europe – Not sure what is going in these levels, but you’re somewhere cold and dressed in white. You need some stealth moves to avoid detection and shoot out search lights. Lian gets captured in these levels, and you wind up fighting an attack helicopter as a boss.
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Gabe takes out a helicopter. Why couldn’t he do this in SF2?
  • Ukraine – Gabe finally learns about Syphon Filter by now and is dropped off at a cathedral, where you go around shooting guys in red cloaks. You shoot chandeliers onto people at times and have to kill some scientists.
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Stopping bioterrorism also involves vaccinating test subjects.
  • Kazahkstan – After saving Lian and temporarily joining forces with the terrorist Russian chick, you’re off to Kazahkstan where a big fight is going on. It’s confusing, but you have to tag boxes of bodies. It all culminates into stopping a nuclear missile and killing the final boss with gas grenades. All very difficult missions.

Conclusion

Syphon Filter on Playstation was just the best. While the game may or may not have future releases, it has developed a cult following over the years. Through the horrible voice acting and controller-hurling difficulty, the game made it’s mark in gaming history. This was a long overview of all three Syphon Filter games on Playstation. They’re pretty cheap online if you’re interested.

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This scene really makes no sense in retrospect.