Every once in a while a game concept comes along with the potential to change the way we fight our online multiplayer battles. Hopefully next time the developers won't drop the ball as badly as developer feelplus did with MindJack.
MindJack is a third-person shooter with a mind-bending twist. In the not-so-distant future, mankind has developed technology that allows them to mindhack creatures, machines, and even other people, taking total control. Special agent Jim Corbijn must use these abilities to uncover a plot that threatens the free will of every person on the planet. He'll take control of fallen enemy soldiers, powerful robots, and even cowering civilians in his mission to take down the shadowy corporation that threatens the world.
Making his mission even more difficult is the fact that at any moment (as long as the player has the option enabled) other players can break into the game, taking control of Jim's allies or opponents, transforming a routine single-player third-person shooter into an online battle royal, taking possession of new vessels when the old fall. Like the sinister agents from the Matrix series of films, they relentlessly burn through body after body with only one goal in mind: Completely pissing you off.
Consider MindJack a cautionary tale. No matter how amazing and game-changing your new idea might be, it's nothing if not implemented with the proper degree of passion, skill, and finesse.
The Concept: It was the very idea of MindJack that made me raise my hand when review assignments were being passed out. Imagine playing through the campaign mode in Gears of War when suddenly a colored cloud engulfs one of your enemies and it shudders convulsively. Now you're facing a real player, not some computer-controlled lackey, and should you manage to take him down, his cloud rises and floats above the battle, seeking another host. Sounds pretty amazing, doesn't it? Well keep imagining. This is no Gears of War.
Screwing With The Enemy: MindJack's strange level structure works best when you're jacked into another player's game. He or she is trying to progress through the game's story, while you're trying to keep them from doing so. Each level is constructed of a series of two to four firefights. If the player loses any one of those firefights - even the very last - they start back at the beginning of the level. Not only do you get to grief your opponent in a truly frustrating manner, they actively leave themselves open to it. It's supremely satisfying. Of course it's not so pleasant when the shoe is on the other foot.
Dull, Repetitive Gameplay: Strip away the nifty gimmick and MindJack is a very basic cover-based third-person shooter that's as formulaic as they come. Hide behind cover, picking off your enemies one-by-one until the wave is over and then move on to the next wave. Boss fights mainly consist of finding the guy holding the rocket launcher, killing him and taking his weapon, firing at the robotic monstrosity blocking your path, and repeating. The only real exceptions are the battles in which you have to shoot a normal human opponent several hundred times before he's had enough and moves on. For the body-swapping gimmick to raise this uninspired mess above the lower range of mediocrity it would need to work flawlessly. It does not.
Ghosts Stuck in the Machine: There I was, hacked into another player's game causing no end of havoc, hopping from enemy to enemy and doing my best to keep my opponent from progressing. I failed this time, but the next battle was going to be mine. My opponent runs through the door to the next area . . . and it slams shut behind him. My swirling mass of red particles can't pass through doors, so I'm stuck there for 15 minutes, wondering if the door will ever open. It doesn't, and I'm forced to jack out. This happened to me multiple times in other players' games, which was bad enough, but it also happened in single player. My AI partner (you have one in every level) would get caught behind a door. I'd go down, setting my swirling essence free to possess my partner and heal myself, but I couldn't pass through the door. My only recourse was to restart the level completely. Bad show.
What Artificial Intelligence?: Non-player character enemies in MindJack are incredibly stupid. They sneak slowly across wide-open space, waiting to be shot. They run right past you, ignoring you in favor of a particularly shiny corner. This would work in my favor, one would think, but should I choose to use my fancy mindhacking ability to possess a civilian or one of the game's powerful robotic enemies, that same AI takes over my abandoned shell. If that shell and that of my AI partner both go down for the count, then I have to start the level over. So the game discourages you from using one of its core features because it's so astoundingly inept.
Plot Holes No One Cares About: You're an agent for a mysterious government organization that teams up with a mysterious woman to help foil a mysterious plot after mysteriously punching a man she was talking to in the face for no real reason. Apparently there's this mind control technology you're completely unaware of, despite using it on a regular basis from the very beginning of the game. Towards the end the mysterious woman begins flirting with you, despite being cold and distant for three quarters of the game. It makes no sense, and the hideous voice acting doesn't help.
It's painful to see so much potential squandered away like this. During the most intense multiplayer firefights I can almost taste the greatness that MindJack could have been. Then I wade through another wave of faceless enemies, suffer through the next poorly-acted and scripted cut scene, or find myself incorporeally thrusting myself against a wall in a futile effort to rejoin the conflict. Then the only taste touching my tongue is bitter disappointment.
MindJack was developed by feelplus and published by Square Enix for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, released on January 18. Retails for $59.99. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through entire game single player, allowing other players to enter my game until it became too frustrating to do so. Spent a couple hours screwing around with other people's games. Played Xbox 360 version.