Taking a page from games such as Demon’s Souls, Mindjack claims to offer a revolutionary experience allowing any player in the world opportunity to enter your game as either an npc in your aid or actively take control of any member of the opposing force. As one of the freshest multiplayer gimmicks to be released in years, does Mindjack bring true innovation to the field or does it simply fall at the heels of the established hitters in the genre?
In the recent wake of gaming, it seems that many companies are striving to etch their name upon the monolith genre of third-person shooters. From Koei to Sony, Eidos to Capcom, all of these companies are all vying for a piece of that gaming pie. With so many niches filled there lies a new challenger waiting to enter the ring: feelplus.
Traditionally a Japanese-style game based company, feelplus has branched out from the small inhouse team focused behind the phenomenal 360-exclusive Lost Odyssey and later the HD conversion of No More Heroes for both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 to finally making a stand on their own with the latest title with Square-Enix’s publishing backing, Mindjack.
From the first press of the start button, Mindjack opens up to a dystopian future filled with state-of-the-art product placement, commercial airliners, and headsets that seem to convey more than mere words; they can transfer the user’s will into another’s subconciousness on demand. It’s this latter principle that governs every aspect of combat that isn’t strictly by-the-books “run, cover, shoot.” See an enemy that you want to take control of? You’ve got to unload an entire clip into their cranium before they’ll let you control their mind. How about that guy over there with the shotgun? Wanna take up out mano-a-mano in melee combat? You’re going to have to shoot him some more before a melee context button appears. Only then can you exclaim one of only a handful stock one-liners as you apply the butt of your gun directly to his forehead.
Graphically speaking, Mindjack doesn’t look too bad.. for an original XBOX title. Aside from the futuristic setting, much of the game looks ripped straight from the original system’s life cycle. Enemies are limited to just under a dozen types including about four or so basic infantry. Each of these enemies are essentially the same character model with maybe a bigger pair of sunglasses. Up close, the game runs at a steady 30 fps with an unpassable number of slowdowns whenever you’re engaged in combat with more than three combatants (which is just about every other encounter). Once you increase the distance to your target, the game turns into an utter mess. Enemies frequently teleport in an out of cover, an enemy running around in the open will do so in a choppy manner that the entire game looks like a flipbook with about half of the pages ripped out.
From the first time you insert the disc, you’re assaulted with a lackluster title screen coupled with a generic ambient electronic track. Unfortunately the remainder of the game seems to follow this trend with lackluster tones and crescendos. The entire aural experience seems to feel as though it’s just there to fill empty space when the main characters aren’t spouting cliché one liners. Any semblance of dialogue or story exposition is brought in such a contrived manner, you’d think that the voice actors were trying to read items off a menu. If anything, it makes the game feel as though it’s a new entry into
the House of the Dead series.
The whole premise of being able to take over any AI on demand may seem like a great idea on paper, but it requires a certain execution to pull off. It seems like feelplus still has some work to do in this field. When compared to games with a similar mechanic such as Battlefield 2: Modern Combat or Modern Combat: Domination that allow a near instant snap-in system upon death, Mindjack feels like a waiting game. Any time that you want to enjoy an out of body experience, there is a three to five second delay between actually leaving the body and being able to roam the field as a giant cloud of zeroes and ones. When you finally do find a suitable host, there’s another transitory delay that leaves you standing out in the cover as a prime target for headshots.
As for the cover mechanic, the entire duck and cover system feels like a shoddy after thought. Once you become magnetized to a chest-high wall, your only options to get away are a combat roll to the side or a vault that only seems to work on specific barriers, typically those blocking the path to the next objective. Any time your character moves around behind cover, their head sticks up like a beacon for any other players’ crosshairs. This isn’t true for the enemy. You’ll often find yourself lining up a shot and having your bullet sink cleanly into the air in front of the enemy’s face. Every object in the game seems to have this invisible shield that extends almost a foot on any side. This also applies to guard rails or anything else with what should be open space. There will be times where you’ll feel absolutely frustrated with trying to take out an enemy sniper only to find out that the only time that you can actually land a shot is when they step out and just stand out in the open while a three-inch hand rail seems to cover their whole crouched form.
The multiplayer aspect is Mindjack’s only real form of creativity so it only makes sense to make it the high point of the game. The most fun you’ll have in Mindjack is with a full group of 3v3 enemy and ally hackers. Each encounter in the game feels like a high-stakes deathmatch. Win and you progress to the next chapter with enough experience to gain a level tag next to your name and another cosmetic upgrade; lose and you’re sent back to the beginning of the chapter, sometimes anywhere up to thirty minutes in the past.
At any time in the story, you can and will be invaded by players from around the world. Because of this always-on feature, you actually can’t pause the game. If things are getting too hectic, you have to either fight your way to the end of the scene or open up a menu and boot anyone out of your game at will. If you get kicked out, you’ll lose all experience or progress since the last chapter. Be prepared to handle seeing the title screen pop up after a winning streak or during a boss fight. These two big oversights that mar an otherwise enjoyable gaming experience.
Despite all of the potential with mindhacking, Mindjack just barely comes across as a mediocre experience. With its poor presentation, clumsy combat, and nearly non-existent story Mindjack just exists to fill time until the next blockbuster title hits the shelves. Perhaps one day another developer can work on the foundation feelplus created and expand the ideas of instant multiplayer and AI control into a grade-A game.