Mindjack is a great gimmick stuck inside a mediocre game. In Mindjack’s future disembodied consciousnesses can zip from person to person inhabiting them to further their own agenda. It’s a very interesting and scary concept that, sadly, is never really touched on in the game’s narrative. It made for an interesting, if flawed in its execution, gameplay mechanic, but it really would have shone as a central part of the narrative. It’s a shame that it was only intended to be believed as a part of this world and not an interesting part of the narrative.
And the narrative needs all the help it can get. Despite the interesting premise the story is sub-standard spy fiction complete with unexpected twists that you’ll see from a mile away and enemies cum allies that are easy to spot. While the by-the-numbers spy story is going on you’ll be busy mind-controlling enemy soldiers, inhabiting robots, and forcing civilians to do your will. Taking over enemy soldiers and robots in one thing. They’re out to get you, and you’re just fixing the odds in your favor. Everybody is a willing combatant. Everybody, that is, except for the small army of businessmen you convinced to storm the enemy and be ripped to shreds while you take potshots at them from relative safety. There is a huge missed opportunity here to show the player the negative repercussions of his actions. Instead the only criterion for success is that you must make it through the level and both agents must survive. There is only one outcome, and nobody cares at all that I sent innocent people to their deaths.
Much of this would be forgivable if Mindjack were a competent shooter. I’ve enjoyed my fair share of mindless shooters with terrible stories. Responsive controls and decent enemy AI that make for fun firefights can save just about any FPS for me. Mindjack stumbles on both counts. Movements feel robotic (which is only okay when I’m inhabiting a robot) until you try to dodge – then you have superhuman speed. Enemy AI is sub-par as well. Enemies will try to take cover to shoot at you, but you’ll never see them execute a flank, and occasionally they’ll just run around in circles as the code behind them desperately tries to figure out which box is the best one to hide behind.
Mindjack’s most interesting gameplay feature, though, is the ability to enter other players’ games. We’ve been doing this for years. Co-op is the best way to play Halo: Reach, and the co-op mode in Shank is a blast. The difference in Mindjack is that more often than not when you join an online game you’ll be playing as the bad guy. This is great on paper. We’ve wanted enemies that felt like human opponents for as long as we’ve had enemies. And now we do. The problem is that there is no real reward for the enemies when they win. Since somebody else is playing through the story your win is their loss which makes their do-over the closest thing that you have to a reward. This serves to frustrate those playing the protagonist and bore those playing as enemies. It’s entertaining at first to play an enemy and make the game more challenging for the guy on the other end, but it’s only fun to yank the football away from Charlie Brown for so long.
Mindjack reminds me a lot of the first Assassin’s Creed – amazing premise with loads of potential that just doesn’t come together. Mind hacking is a very interesting concept that needs to be better explored, and adversarial multiplayer bleeding into the main story could be amazing. As it is now, Mindjack is a collection of neat ideas jammed into a mediocre game. The neat ideas just aren’t enough to forgive the below average movement and shooting. Mindjack should be a much better game. Hopefully we’ll see a sequel flesh out those ideas and deliver on all that potential.
Pros: Mindhacking is a great concept, adversarial campaign multiplayer is interesting
Cons: Controls feel stiff and unnatural, sub-par plot that ignores mindhacking altogether, no real reward for those playing as enemies online