With the emergence of the current console generation has also come one of the industry’s most popular genres; the cover-based third person shooter. Strangely enough however, since its first, most refined appearance in Gears of War, very few games have been able to improve upon the solid chain of mechanics, Uncharted 2 being one of the rare examples. Unfortunately, Mindjack falls into the category of game which fails to grasp the basics of the third person shooter, and then instead of fixing the core mechanics, instead the developers paint over it with a handful of gimmicks, fingers crossed that the foundation is just strong enough to keep the whole experience from toppling.
Mindjack puts players in the boots of generic agent, Jim Corbijn, who is working for a government organisation known as the FIA (special ops, if you like.) After tailing and intercepting the mysterious Rebecca Weiss, a fellow agent, the tables suddenly turn as the couple find themselves in the middle of crisis, accused of being rogue FIA recruits who are planning a terrorist attack. Meanwhile, there are strange goings on within the shady NERKAS corporation as new “Mind Hack” technology is being developed. It’s up to Jim and Jessica to discover the truth behind the FIA rebellion and find out who is pulling the strings at NERKAS.
The story is painfully dry from beginning to end, and it’s difficult to care about the characters or what they are trying to achieve. Mindjack occasionally throws in one or two flashbacks which are meant to give depth to Jim’s character, but even this come across as lifeless and feel detrimental to the experience. With such an original base concept there could have been a fantastic plot to work around, though the ball was obviously dropped somewhere along the creation process.
Mindjack follows an unconventionally linear game design, with levels broken down into a number of contained gunfights. Each battle has a set amount of enemies to kill and once all have been dispatched, a score screen will appear and the player will be free to move towards the next instance. At first it feels like nothing more than an odd design choice, but for those who are connected to the internet, it is justified.
If there is one thing Mindjack can be applauded for, it’s the integration of multiplayer, which many have likened to that of Demon’s Souls. During any stage in the game, red (enemy) and blue (ally) hackers can jump into your lobby and possess the bodies of un-hacked NPCs. The objective of the blue team is simply to wipe out every enemy in sight, with the red team specifically trying to take down Jim and Rebecca. If both protagonists are down for ten seconds then it is classed as a red victory and the game warps back to the last checkpoint where the battle restarts. If the blue team wins however, the game simply progresses to the next stage and the same process is repeated. It’s a brilliant mechanic, and though higher level players can jump into newbie lobbies and vice versa, there are measures in place, such as the ability to kick players, which keeps the game fair. The first few times it will prove to be refreshing and great fun, though after an hour or so, Mindjack’s fundamental gameplay issues will begin to crop up again and again.
If there is one thing a third person shooter needs to get right, it’s the gunplay, and this is where Mindjack begins to fall apart. Available to the player is a small array of firearms, including three main types: pistols, machine guns, and heavy weapons, each with one or two variations. Though they are functional, each weapon feels incredibly underpowered, the worst culprits being the sniper rifle and frag grenade. Even on the easiest difficulty, it will still take two to three bursts of machine gun fire to the head to bring down a grunt.
What’s worse is the actual cover mechanic; firstly, you cannot cling to all surfaces which is in itself a problem, though once tucked behind a wall or column you will occasionally find that enemy fire is still dealing damage. One of the most ridiculous examples is the fencing scattered around the city levels; even when in cover, the enemy will be able to shoot through a permanent gap in the fence, dealing massive damage. The last point worth mentioning is the melee combat. Where other third person shooters try to make it as dynamic and engaging as possible (chainsaw duels, need I say more?), Mindjack takes a much more pedestrian approach, allowing for only one or two CQC animations which are an absolute pain to get to work.
Occasionally you will be presented with boss battles, none of which are at all interesting, and require the same tactic: find a rocket launcher or next best thing and spam continually. It wouldn’t be so bad if there was an indication as to how much health a boss has, though this luxury is replaced with mere guesswork from the player.
If not for the unique “mind hack” mechanic, the gameplay could easily be written off as a complete mess. Anytime during a fight, you will be able to turn into a Wanderer, a bodiless entity which can traverse the battlefield and inhabit NPCs, giving you direct command over them. The only criteria for mind hacking is that your target has to either be converted into an ally or is a neutral NPC (citizens, machines.) Converting an enemy is as simple as knocking them down to minimal health and then using a fraction of mind power (represented as a bar) to “mind slave” them. The only other mind powers used within the game is a revive ability, though it only works on Jim and Rebecca.
Another off-putting element of Mindjack is its visual presentation. Bar one, all of the environments are incredibly dull and sterile, recycling sci-fi designs which have already been thrown around the park a dozen times. The same can be said about character design too, completely unimaginative and mediocre. Apart from the under-par graphics, there are also issues with the frame-rate too as well as a number of rough textures.
Though the music and sound effects are of an average quality, the voice work is dire, not at all helped by a melodramatic, flavourless script. The finest example, which will possibly go on to win “most cringe-worthy one-liner of 2011” is after defeating a giant mech; Jim approaches the fallen boss and exclaims “you’re discontinued,” before slowly walking away. In a way it’s lucky that Mindjack didn’t have much of a good plot, or else the voice-overs and poor writing would have likely destroyed it.
- Unique multiplayer component
- The “mind hack” gameplay mechanic
- Appalling storyline, with very thin character focus
- Awkward and sometimes defunct gameplay
- Generic design and visuals
- Embarrassing voice-acting, coupled with a diabolical script
- Failure to capitalise on a great concept
Mindjack is a sheer disappointment. Going into a game like this, a Japanese shooter built for American audiences, there was always going to be low expectations, but for the first segment I was genuinely enjoying the blend of mechanics, especially the online interactions. However, an hour or so into the experience, Mindjack had nothing else offer, eventually turning into a relentless downward five-hour grind. This game is only recommendable to the most die-hard of third person shooter players, or rental gamers.