Mindjack Review

The whole “3rd person shooter” thing is a bit old-hat at this point; you can barely glance in the window of a game store without seeing a few of them proudly positioned in the sales charts. So it’s no surprise then, that it’s also a genre that now places very highly on Square Enix’s “Westerners like these” list of game archetypes. Combine that with their recent tendency to fund any project that sounds even vaguely like something an American would play, and you get Mindjack.

To an outsider looking in, Mindjack might not seem half bad. It’s got quite a few neat ideas for a type of game that’s usually pretty formulaic, chief among them being its mechanic of “mind-hacking”. Yes that’s right, mind-hacking, not mind-jacking. Rather humorously no one in the game ever refers to anything called mind-jacking, which suggests the game’s name was changed at very short notice. But anyway, I digress. The hacking of minds can be performed in one of two ways, by either turning an enemy on the brink of death into a “mind-slave” that fights for your side, or by taking direct control of a nearby civilian, inert machine or one of your mind-slaves though use of the ghostly “wanderer mode”.

The way they integrate all this into the multiplayer is quite an ambitions concept, mainly because Mindjack doesn’t actually have a dedicated multiplayer mode as such. Instead players can “hack” into your single player campaign and become either an adversarial “red” wanderer who takes control of your enemies or as a “blue” wanderer who take the place of one of your AI allies; it all feels like a cross between Demon’s Souls, Lost Planet 2 and Left 4 Dead. Wow, sounds fun! With a big emphasis on the Sounds part.

 Not pictured: Fun.

Not pictured: Fun.

I firmly believe that there’s something positive to be said for every game, no matter how terrible it may be as an overall experience. But with Mindjack, I am well and truly at my wits end. Every single element of the game, from the narrative right down to the core combat mechanics, feels like it’s been implemented with a devastating level of ineptitude. And so I sit here, desperately struggling to think of even the smallest part of the game that I could consider being, even in the vaguest sense, enjoyable. I think the whole mind-slave thing probably comes the closest to qualifying; I felt the occasional sense of satisfaction as my little possy grew and grew, gradually outnumbering the enemy force. But the game wouldn’t even allow me that small pleasure for very long. Instead it decided to unceremoniously kill all my mind-slaves every time I reached the arbitrary checkpoints at the end of every firefight, often with the invisible trigger that starts the next battle only a few feet away.

It wouldn’t bother me so much if these checkpoints served some sort of real purpose other than doling out EXP, at the very least being able to restart at them after a game over would’ve made the game a little more bearable. Instead you have to wait for the “special” mid chapter checkpoints, all of which are situated as far away from sections where you’re likely to die as possible. Even when you DO eventually manage to reach one of those, the game decides that it’s also going to inexplicably take away any weapons or ammo you’ve found up till now and replace it with the useless default pistol.

I can’t even begin to understand the thought processes of a director who would sign off on such a totally obnoxious way to “reward” the player’s progress. Or for that matter, one who thought a good way to handle the games difficulty curve would be to throw ever more absurdly large numbers of machine gun wielding enemies into every subsequent area of the game, thus ensuring the player is bombarded with a constant wave of gunfire at every given moment.

 Should both the protagonist and their sidekick run out of health at the same time, you’re then given 10 seconds to mind-hack the nearest humanoid and use your revive ability on one of them, otherwise it's game over. But bare in mind that mind-hacking takes 5 seconds to charge and the hack itself takes another 3 or so to perform, so in reality you only have 2 seconds. And no, that’s nowhere near long enough.

Should both the protagonist and his sidekick run out of health at the same time, you’re then given 10 seconds to mind-hack (takes 7 seconds) the nearest humanoid and then use your revive ability (takes about 4 seconds) to avoid a game over. Do the math.

The only real defence you have against this onslaught is your opponents pea-brained AI. When they’re not busy trying to shoot at you through walls they’re developing maniacal obsessions with bits of cover that they simply MUST get behind ASAP, which often involves trying run right past the player like you’re not even there. Your AI companions on the other hand are actually quite apt and staying alive. Not because they’re smart or anything, but because once the bullets start flying they’ll go and hind as far away from combat as possible, occasionally popping their head out to take a few poorly aimed pot shots at the nearest wall. On a related note, I think watching two NPCs (with unlimited ammo) continually trying to shoot each other with short range rockets at well beyond the maximum range of such a weapon is possibly the stupidest AI behaviour I’ve ever seen.

 Your characters outright refusal to lean against surfaces you’re trying to hide behind means that the so called “cover” almost always leaves you laughably exposed to the never ending stream of bullets heading in your direction.

Your characters outright refusal to lean against surfaces you’re trying to hide behind means that the so called “cover” almost always leaves you laughably exposed to the never ending stream of bullets heading in your direction

So what about that crazy multiplayer/single player integration stuff? Well, if it’s your single player campaign that’s being hacked into, just imagine everything I’ve said so far but with either your enemies being controlled by something competent (gasp!) or you AI ally being controlled by something suicidal. I have to admit though; I only tried hacking into someone else’s game once. The game placed me as red wanderer, which meant I had to kill the player as they tried to progress through their campaign, a task I managed to achieve within a minute or so. Technically I’d won. But it quickly dawned on me that all I’d accomplished was negate the last few battles they’d managed win and push the poor sod back to the last far off restart point they’d crossed. I felt like a total bastard. Yes, Mindjack is a multiplayer game that makes you feel BAD for beating your opponent. And as for my reward (punishment?) for winning? Getting to try and kill them again until one of us gives up or they manage to claw their way to the next major checkpoint! Thankfully you can turn the multiplayer hacking off, something I recommend you do right away. Then again, if you still want to play Mindjack at this point then you’re probably some kind of masochist anyway.

The game ain’t exactly a looker either, all the cardinal sins of 3D graphics are on display: dodgy frame rate, screen tearing, PS2 grade aliasing (i.e. jaggedy edges), the whole lot. Things only get worse should you decide to start running or dare to try and rotate the camera; it fills the screen with a bizarre ugly haze which I assume is meant to be some kind of motion blur effect, however it more closely resembles watching a bootleg VHS tape.

While the actual designs of the environments and characters aren’t necessary BAD as such, their so absurdly drab and generic it actually hurts. At one stage in the game, my usual sidekick was replaced with a character who looks so ridiculously similar to the protagonist that the only way I could tell them apart was by looking at what (also nearly identical) gun they were holding at the time!

 Normally if my video capture card started outputting images like this I would start moaning about pixel aspect ratios and compression types or some such. But no, this is just what Mindjack looks like.

Normally if my video capture card started outputting images like this I would start moaning about pixel aspect ratios and compression types or some such. But no, this is just what Mindjack looks like.

But as bad as that all sounds, none of it even comes close to being as bad as Mindjack’s “narrative” if it can even be called that at all. Ok so let’s start from the top, you play as Jim Corbijn who………erm……. well I’m not sure what he does actually, all the game ever tells you is that he’s part of something called the “F.I.A.” which I assume is meant to be some sort of covert government agency or something? But anyway, at the start of the game you meet up with Rebecca Weiss who is..…uh… ok well, I know even less about her. But Jim seems to know who she is right off the bat and apparently that’s good enough. Right so, after meeting her you’re attacked by……Terrorist? Police? Spanish Inquisition? I honestly don’t know, the game never just comes out and tells you anything directly; I’ve played through the whole damn thing and I still only have a very slight comprehension of what any of it was about. But it doesn’t really help that almost all the dialog feels like it’s made up of stock audio clips that were somehow strung together to form vaguely coherent sentences, all delivered with emotion and depth on par with voice acting from PS1 era Capcom games.

 “I’m furious!” is not an appropriate response to someone snapping the neck of the guy you were just talking to.

“I’m furious!” is not an appropriate response to a guy who just walked up to the dude you were talking to and SNAPED HIS NECK.

Even the nature of the games morality eludes me; at one point the armoured troopers I’d been fighting were temporarily replaced with bog standard police officers, to which neither character voiced any qualms about filling with lead. Stranger still, the game will deduct EXP if you should accidentally shoot a civilian, yet turning them into mind controlled meat puppets until they die is a-ok! In fact, it’s positively encouraged at every turn; the game even randomly spawns guns into their hands every time you mind-hack ‘em! Well, either that or air stewardess now carry pump-action shotguns as hand luggage, in which case I’m very out of touch with the modern world. That said, you’re not likely to be mind-hacking them very much anyway as their capacity for taking hits somehow manages to be even lower than the protagonists, so odds are you’re only going to get a few measly shots off before you literally bite the bullet(s).

 It wasn’t until long after I started writing this review that I discovered Mindjack has an into sequence. Somehow it made the story make even less sense than it did before, something I thought impossible.

It wasn’t until long after I started writing this review that I discovered Mindjack has an into sequence. Somehow it made the story make even less sense than it did before, something I thought impossible

For the 9 or so torturous hours I played through Mindjack’s campaign, there was one thing that kept me going. One element of the story that still had potential to be good: Is Jim the one doing the actual mind-hacking, or is he merely a mind-slave himself? That’s not to say a proper resolution of that story thread would have given Mindjack any chance of redemption, it’s WAY past that ever happening. It’s just It would have been nice to have something positive to say after all this negativity. But no. Something that had the potential to at least given the game a bit of depth was instead treated in such a poor manner that it managed to eclipse the stupidity of everything else that came before it.

I think that’s a good analogy for the whole game actually; evidently the designers of Mindjack had some pretty cool ideas on their hands, ones that could have made a really impressive and unique game within a genre that’s been getting a little samey as of late. But it seems as though they were totally flummoxed when it came to actually implementing those ideas in a way that could facilitate anything resembling entertainment. So, in good conscience I could never recommend this game to anyone (unless I really hated them), especially when there are legions of other 3rd person shooters out there that are superior in every way. But you know what? I’m still glad I played Mindjack, every god-awful second of it. It made me realise something: That yes, the 3rd person shooter is a crowded genre, crowded with GOOD games. Crowded with games that are nothing at all like Mindjack. I solemnly hope it stays that way.

The Good

  • Mind-slaving is satisfying for the short time it lasts.
  • Uh…. those cyborg monkeys were cool I guess?

The Bad

  • Difficult for all the wrong reasons.
  • Ridiculous checkpoints.
  • A.I. is embarrassingly incompetent.
  • Narrative is somewhere between nonsense and non-existent.
  • Multiplayer that makes you feel bad when you win.

Recommended similar games
Vanquish (PS3/Xbox360)
Left 4 Dead (PC/Xbox360)
Lost Planet 2 (PC/Xbox360/PS3)
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (PS2)
Demon’s Souls (PS3)

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