Originally posted: January 26, 2011
2011 promises to be an exceptional year for gaming. The amount of quality, innovation and potentially epic releases throughout the year is easily sweetening the taste buds of gamers that suffered through a rather sour 2010. Sometimes, its the least expected release that generates the biggest amount of buzz (Red Faction Guerrilla, Valkryia Chronicles). Then there’s Mindjack, one of the first releases of 2011, as well as one of the first new IP’s introduced to the market.
For all intended purposes, Mindjack has some stellar concepts, though sadly none of them seem to really mesh well. This third person shooter with cover mechanics is a mix of Winback, a dash of Maken X, a cup of generic and about ten pounds of missed opportunity. Though there’s not one significant reason as to why Mindjack fails to deliver an engaging experience, there’s definitely a dozen smaller and medium sized reasons that blend together.
Taking place twenty years into the future, a new technology is allowing for the minds of man, woman, child and robot alike, to be ravaged and controlled by a third party source. Your role as a government agent is to track down infidels and divert any kind of mass hysteria to the public. Part of the way this is accomplished is through the use of the same technology that the perpetrators are using mindjacking your adversaries into doing your bidding. As a general premise, this does have promise, although how the government using this same technology against those using it first doesn’t stir up some panic among the public in of its self, I couldn’t tell you.
You assume the role of Jim Corbin, who works for the government as an FIA agent. This occasionally clueless, oftentimes poorly acted waif has the ability to mindjack those that are incapacitated. For gameplay clarification, you can basically use an almost Jedi Mind Trick on someone or something, and have them do your bidding. We’ll touch upon their competence in a little bit, but the generalized use for mindjacking is controlling others. You can even commandeer flying bots, mini tanks and other non human entities.
Again, the concept of the mindjacking is intriguing, but sadly there are a few things that mentally castrate it, the biggest being the AI. The first level allows the player to basically run and gun, forgoing any type of cover mechanics. The AI is so pitifully absent, that there’s no reason for cover. Similarly, when mindjacking an adversary, their AI patterns are completely broken. They take no cover, standing out in the open, acting as a bullet sponge, or performing a kamikaze rush towards an enemy in order for them to try (and fail) to melee them down. When players move past that first stage however, the difficulty spikes, becoming completely unfair at times, and yet your mindjacked ally AI remains incompetent. It isn’t so much the accuracy but the sudden damage spikes that the CPU delivers, in conjunction with swarms of enemies that really tips the difficulty unfairly. There are some points where players really have no idea what to do, with the AI relentlessly pouring down on you in what seems like an endless swarm. Its a frustrating pacing in difficulty that almost forces the player to just give up.
One stage in the third level has players avoiding a giant mech at a doorway, who’s spraying bullets towards their character. There’s an absence of chatter about finding a backdoor in, yet no nav point pops up. Swarms of enemies flood out, firing through the cover provided, killing the player an endless number of time, only to realize that access to that door is restricted until the robot at the front is down. The robot is impervious tom damage, so players are expected to kill every enemy that floods through, without being overwhelmed. The amount of schmuck dodging and unfair deaths in this section alone is almost unbearable. Then there are stretches of time later on in the game that are a breeze, allowing for an almost similar tactic from the first stages to be implemented.
Not just that, but the cover mechanics are mostly useless. Standing too close to either side and Jim gets hit. Standing in the middle with somehow get Jim hit, with no appendages exposed. The kick in the junk here though, is that the cover a player is behind can occasionally obstruct their own shots, while the CPU can somehow can get in shots from a direction that shouldn’t be possible. Its a paradox of near biblical proportions; stay behind cover to avoid gunfire and you get shot, yet popping out of cover with the most minute obstruction in front of you, and you cant shoot past it. Its a shame that the cover mechanics are so misaligned, as combat heavily relies on the plethora of cover placement areas around each section.
Weaponry in Mindjack isn’t quite plentiful, though whats available tends to feel pretty generic, and follows the typical shooter flowchart. The problem with most weapons is that it takes too many shots to fell an enemy. For the robotic foes its understandable, but when it takes three handgun shots to the head, or a near full clip to the chest of even the most stock fluky, then something’s not right. Weapons like the Sniper Rifle add some oomph, yet come with a literal handful of bullets, with reload times longer than any weapon of its class that I’ve witnessed. Melee in general has some serious issues. It’s a 50/50 shot getting it to work. Oftentimes you’ll pull next to a soldier, hit the B button and somehow push yourself away while attacking, becoming out of range and leaving yourself open to a counterattack. Even those you’ve mentally overwhelmed to do your bidding suffer the same crippling lack of accuracy in their melee attacks.
When it comes to death, Mindjack takes a somewhat unorthodox twist. At no point does Jim die, but rather he himself becomes temporarily incapacitated. If this occurs, you can scour around for another mind to jack, whether it be a homeless man in an alleyway, or a shielded robot. Your partner, if they are not incapacitated themselves, can come revive Jim and bring him back to the battle, where you can either remain in the mindjacked host or press L3 and R3 at the same time and jump back into your mind. The big issue is that it seems like most of the times I’m down, my partner is as well, so that counts as an instant loss, thrusting me back to the checkpoint. These moments become more frequent when a swarm of enemies are coming at you constantly, in what seems like an endless wave.
If you allow for it, you can have a random person via Xbox Live help you out through the game, as they take the role of your partner. On the other hand, you can also allow for random players to hack into your game, playing the role of whatever villains are in your way, as they try and stop you from completing the section. This is a fascinating concept, especially with the whole mindjacking motif and such. You can turn whats basically a broken down single player experience into one that’s either cooperative, or competitive, as you try and defeat every enemy ahead of you and move on to the next section. With the multiplayer options enabled, it does add a layer to enjoyment to the title, though it also means that you’re suffering alongside a handful of individuals.
As you progress through the game, you can acquire experience points and level your character. The actual leveling in general is pretty much pointless, as it seems that no alterations to your characters vitals, defense, etc are arbitrarily raised upon each level. However you can unlock some perks that augment certain things, like accuracy and subtle defensive traits. You can only select two at a time, with a small number of unlockable perks as well. Again, this is yet another concept to Mindjack that’s intriguing, yet isn’t fleshed out enough, and is all but pointless. You can’t really customize Jim as much as you’d want to, and even with what is available, hes still about all but useless on the battlefield.
The graphics in Mindjack range from drab, to high resolution PlayStation 2 quality. There are portions where the color palette doesn’t escape the color gray, making those section unbelievably dull. When entering section where the predominance of gray is not apparent, everything seems muddy, and just as lifeless. There are details here and there, but the overall quality throughout, from the very plain Jane character models to the alleyways you run through. There’s a stage later in the game that’s soaked in a putrid yellow tint, which literally made me feel sick to my stomach when I played through it. Even worse is the occasional slowdown, mostly when numerous enemies are onscreen at one time, being slaughtered almost simultaneously. The animation actually stutters to what seems like 5 fps at points, though that extreme is not generally seen. There are times when enemies will magically pop out of no where, with no rhyme or reason as to why, or forgo transitional animations from prone over too out of cover and firing. Its quite sloppy all around.
The voice acting has the tendency to fluctuate between passable and downright deplorable, especially on Jim’s side. Each line lacks the proper emotion and delivery, making subtitles one of the most welcome additions to Mindjack. The rest of the sound effects are stock, with nothing extraordinarily different. Every so often some music will pipe through the speakers, isn’t much to cheer for either. Its serviceable, but its nothing noteworthy that would help further engross a player into the experience.
The biggest compliment that can be given to Mindjack is that its ambition and concept are certainly commendable. If the package around it wasn’t so brainless, Mindjack could have easily been one of the more surprising new IP’s in recent years. Instead, were offered a whole lot of promise with a whole lot more of failed deliverance. Cover systems that don’t work, customization that ends up being useless, dated audio and video quality and an overwhelming sense of boredom give Mindjack an unfortunate brain freeze.