Mindjack is just one of those disheartening games. It has a great premise and concept and if it had been implemented correctly, the end result could’ve been both satisfying and even innovative. The idea itself is actually quite unique and the idea of a single-player adventure blended with multiplayer elements is one that is borderline futuristic. Of course, you can control how much of that evolution you wish to sample but regardless of your choice, there’s no getting past the fact that hacking into minds, resisting the possible chaos caused by numerous other players hacking into your adventure, and mowing down adversary after adversary just grows tiresome. It also doesn’t help that we only have mediocre technicals, flawed control, retarded AI, a convoluted, erratic story, and plastic, robot-like animations. In short, it’s nowhere near what it could’ve been.
Unfortunately, the visual presentation is the epitome of underwhelming. Just about everything, from the aforementioned mechanical animations to the stark and uninspired level design, just makes you want to yawn. There are some cool graphical elements as a few of the special effects are all sorts of futuristic, but you can’t go five minutes without being disappointed. Every enemy moves in just about the same fashion, their reaction to bullets is the same, faces don’t really show much reaction, and every setting and area consists of the same blue/gray atmosphere. I understand it’s for the purpose of the sci-fi theme but it quickly becomes monotonous. We do get some enhancement thanks to bullet holes in glass and some decent particle effects here and there, but there’s really nothing to get excited about. For a game that strives to define slickness in its own way, Mindjack has almost no sense of visual identity.
The sound isn’t any better. Much of the voice acting is poor, forced or contrived, the dialogue writing is definitely contrived, and the balance is all over the place. Many times during your adventure the effects will almost completely override the voices, and the music – while somewhat fitting – gets tedious and repetitive after the first hour. There’s a fair amount of crispness involved with weapon fire but there’s little in the way of human reaction, in that enemies never seem human. Emotion isn’t exactly this game’s forte, whether we’re talking about allies or foes. In short, the sound is much like the graphics, in that we’re never impressed, never entranced, and never captivated. We’re always just sort of muddling through a sub-par technical presentation that continually mars our overall enjoyment of the game. …a game that could’ve used some help.
As I said before, the idea is super cool- it’s the year 2031 and evil corporations are on the rise (yeah, that’s not generic). People can hack into other people’s minds and take control of their bodies, and surprisingly enough, there isn’t much of a back story to that idea. You will play as Jim, a special agent who must infiltrate the nasty NERKAS corporation along with the help of his compatriot, Rebecca. As you move through the game, you can allow other players to hack into your adventure, which is where the multiplayer element comes in. They might show up as friend or foe, which means you always have to be on your toes, and you can also mind hack downed enemies, thereby turning an enemy into an ally. Plus, we’ve got a third-person shooter mechanic that’s similar to Gears of War or Uncharted. Not that I’d put Mindjack into the same category of quality; just making a comparison here.
Sure, you can get into cover, role, dash forward, aim and fire with the trigger buttons, toss grenades with the L1 button, restore allies and hack into minds with the Square button, and de-hack by simultaneously pressing L3 and R3. It’s not a bad control scheme and for the most part, the game is playable. But the problems begin to mount up immediately and you’ll soon realize you’re in for a frustrating, unrewarding experience. The first problem centers on the certain annoying eccentricities: the game doesn’t always recognize that you’re near a cover point and instead of snapping into cover, you’ll accidentally roll…and usually into a hail of bullets. The walls often have invisible corners and you’ll often fire a whole round into a wall without realizing you’re not hitting your target. Tossing grenades is inaccurate, collision detection is iffy, and the control is simply not very refined.
And you know, I would’ve been more willing to overlook such significant drawbacks if the one innovative feature had succeeded. But even that falls well shy of expectations; it’s just nowhere near as cool as it sounds. Yes, other players can hack into your single-player adventure and spice things up, but in my experience, they were always just enemies looking to cause problems. Furthermore, although you can turn foes into your “mind slave,” they’re essentially useless. I sat and waited for a slave to kill someone, and it never happened. In fact, I never saw one of my mind slaves kill anything, ever. Factor in the horrible AI where the enemies move the exact same way all the time, and you’ve got an extremely repetitive, surprisingly uninspired quest. There are only a few enemies in the entire game, boss fights are usually just an exercise in futility because you’re given little in the way of instruction, and the environment is just…bleh.
The only fun I ever had was when several people hacked into the same scenario I was playing, and it sort of turned into a chaotic free-for-all. It doesn’t have anything to do with the campaign itself, of course, but the constant action sort of worked for a while. The iffy control scheme hindered everything but at least it was more entertaining than dealing with the hordes of faceless, brain-dead enemies. Lastly, it just takes way too long for the story to really get going; for the most part, you just shoot more bad guys (without even knowing why they’re bad), struggle through another seemingly aimless battle, and deal with the mediocre voice acting and repetitive, bland levels. Perhaps the biggest issue is that the neatest aspect of the game are always buried beneath the issues. That’s a real shame, too, because developer Free Plus had the right idea: make something that actually feels fresh and new.
But at the end of the day, Mindjack just doesn’t cut it. Almost every element of the technical presentation seems outdated and unimpressive, the gameplay suffers from less-than-perfect control and a host of smaller – yet still irritating – problems, the story is poorly written and the pacing is questionable, and ultimately, the mind hacking concept isn’t a fraction as bad-ass as it sounds. If you desperately want to try something new and are willing to put up with a totally disappointing production, maybe you’ll want this when it drops down to a budget price. But other than that, considering all the fantastic titles currently available and on the immediate horizon, I just can’t find a good enough reason to recommend this seriously flawed title. I wouldn't do that to you.
The Good: Mind hacking idea is innovative and loaded with potential. Multiplayer element works well enough. Some of the situations are intriguing.
The Bad: Mediocre graphics, sound and voice acting. AI is terrible. Balance and pacing is way off. Control isn’t always reliable. Hacking seems cool on the surface but falters big time. A myriad of minor issues. Quest is often repetitive and tedious.
The Ugly: “My bullets are…hitting the edge of the wall? …what edge?"
1/20/2011 Ben Dutka