MindJack Review

The concept of MindJack ends up being more interesting than the game it embodies — kind of like the gameplay itself of flying from character to character and taking over their minds, which is more interesting in theory than in practice. MindJack centers around digital ghosts “mind hacking” other characters, but despite a pretty good idea, the game itself ends up being a retread of ground covered before, and better, by other games. For the most part, it’s just boring.

At its heart, MindJack is a standard third-person shooter with little new to add to the genre. You’ll dash from position to position, ducking behind cover, shooting at guys with your requisite pistol, assault rifle or shotgun. Nothing especially interesting happens, and you’ll hit a lot of drawn-out, excessive battles with the same enemies, more or less, for the lion’s share of the game.


MindJack (PS3 [Reviewed])
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: January 18, 2011
MSRP: $59.99

What’s supposed to set MindJack apart is its mind-hacking system. This is the idea that the player isn’t actually controlling the main character of the game, an agent of some fictional futuristic government agency called the FIA, but instead a digital ghost known as a Wanderer. The Wanderer has the ability to “hack minds,” which means you’ll be able to take control of various characters during the game, as well as enslave the minds of your enemies.

The mind hacking at first is pretty standard and a little bit interesting. As you move through MindJack, you’ll be able to knock enemies down to within an inch of their lives, then zap them to control their brains. A meter measures your amount of mind-control juice, which refills over time, and if you’re careful about it, you can have quite a few enemies-turned-allies running around, distracting enemies and blasting them with their own weapons.

Turning enemies to your side helps out a lot, as you’ll fight through hordes of bad guys taking up defensive positions and shooting back at you. It evens the odds pretty substantially, although the AI teammates are fairly stupid — a little moreso even than the AI enemies. In fact, all the combatants that aren’t controlled by human players are pretty idiotic, often standing still while they get blasted or walking straight at you and your tactically superior position. Converted AI allies are worse by far, as they rarely if ever take cover and always walk straight to their deaths.

The good thing about grabbing enemies and turning them into allies — apart from having fewer people shooting at you because of a glut of friendly targets to draw fire — is that you gain the ability “mind-hack” them. Clicking in the thumbsticks allows you to jump out of the main character’s body and float around the battle, zapping into controllable allies and taking them for a spin. This includes robots as well as human characters, and when a character dies or is incapacitated, you’re kicked out into the air to find someone else to drive. You can heal downed main characters the same way you hack downed enemies, but if both your main characters stay dead for too long, you hit a Game Over screen.

In theory, it’s a cool and novel way to play, especially when you throw a multiplayer mode into the mix. MindJack is actually supposed to be played as online-all-the-time, allowing other players to “hack in” to your game at any time and start taking over enemies, or lend a hand on your side cooperatively. You can have up to three players on each team, each floating around and jumping into different bodies as if you were playing in The Matrix. The opening FMV of the game suggests an instant war fought by warring Wanderers, turning regular people into murderous combatants. It’s a very cool idea.

In MindJack, though, that idea is poorly executed. Sure, if you wanted a challenge, opening your game for hacking is the way to go — but bring a friend, and make sure you’ve played through the campaign already, because you’re not likely to get very far. Having an enemy Wanderer in the game with you means every fight goes from largely unengaging to particularly frustrating, because  a human player is a much better opponent than the AI MindJack brings to play.

The whole multiplayer experience is marred by an inconsistent, largely stupid series of autosaves. After every “scene,” which consists of one or more battles, the game will drop a save on you. If you’re playing with an enemy hacker, though, even when you kill him, he has the ability to hop up and find another body. That means you can have the hacker appearing in enemies that have circled around you or even just in front, who is suddenly playing with a full deck. You’re a lot more likely to be killed, and because of the save system, you’ll be bounced to the beginning of a scene, forced to play it over again.

It’s just not a lot of fun, unfortunately. Playing as a Wanderer is cumbersome and irritating, and a delay between when you’re bounced from a body and when you’re allowed to take a new one usually means that you have no chance of finding a new body and saving your main characters before they die. That means it’s Game Over, please play that whole section again. And it happens a lot — not because the game is particularly difficult, but because every once in a while you’ll step out into a mess of fire and get cut in half by enemy characters. They’re not smart, but they are definitely accurate.

You can play the whole game without hacking into any other bodies and not lose anything, and the novelty wears off in a hurry. Having the ability to build a small army during fights is nice, but no fight really requires that level of commitment, even when you take on bosses. For some reason, bosses like a monster cyborg gorilla or a huge metal gear-esque mech are always accompanied by minion enemies — the kind you kill for the whole of the game. Take out these guys (rather than the gorilla, the mech or the other boss enemies) and you’ll trigger a cutscene in which the big thing goes down entirely without your help. It’s a weird, counterintuitive system that’s by no means fun, turning even the big set piece moments of the game into more ho-hum experiences.

There are other little irritations as well. Since MindJack is supposed to be always online, the game treats even the campaign as a single player as an online experience. You’re unable to pause the game (which is completely and utterly baffling, as well as annoying), and every scene or level ends with you being remanded to just a pistol and having to pick up all new weapons. The idea is to break up each encouner into its own multiplayer match, but when you’re playing alone, it just feels like another stumbling block randomly placed in your path to slow up the game.

MindJack’s concept vastly outpaces its execution. If the whole game were like that opening FMV, it could potentially be great, turning every character on the screen into an enemy or an ally. But it isn’t. Instead, there’s a half-baked sci-fi storyline filled with half-baked concepts and throw-away generic gray “futuristic” locations, and it’s nothing like the idea that players are sold at the outset. The whole thing reminded me a lot of Kane & Lynch 2 or the arcade rail-shooter Time Crisis: forgettable, bland, short and none too interesting.

Pros:

  • Interesting multiplayer concept and execution — every level is potentially a competitive or cooperative experience
  • Competent third-person shooter mechanics and controls
  • Lots of enemies to shoot and a few different kinds of characters to overtake and control

Cons:

  • Boring combat and cover that barely provides safety
  • Multiplayer gets frustrating in a hurry, since opponents never die, just move to other enemies
  • Throw-away sci-fi story and uninteresting environments
  • Shortish, uninteresting campaign with boss fights in which fighting the boss isn’t actually necessary
  • Mind-hacking isn’t all that useful; playing as a free-floating “Wanderer” is slow and frustrating
  • Always-online setup means no pausing

Final Score: 50/100

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