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Mindjack

Ever had something you greatly disliked in your life? Turn that into a video game, pitch it to Square Enix for publishing, and the result is Mindjack, a product built on interesting ideas and poor quality. While the game might have had promise in another decade, it is now easily a contender for the title of “Worst Game of 2011”, in a year when games like Duke Nukem Forever and Homefront flopped.

Mindjack (inspiring inappropriate jokes right out of the gate) suffers from its generic, unoriginal and frighteningly uncreative nature in every aspect of the game. Technically, this whole review is unnecessary as I can sum up what I think of the game in one sentence: Mindjack is an unholy nightmare and I recommend that all copies of it be buried in Atari’s old landfill for eternity. However, out of obligation to myself (for buying and suffering through it) and to my audience (particular those who bought and suffered through it), I will continue on.

Tackling the story first, there was potential here. The plot is set-up as a near-future conspiracy set in 2031, as a new technology called Mind Wave is becoming popular. Allegedly, a malevolent corporation has interests of their own as they are scheming to use this technology for…some evil purpose involving people with brain tumors. If the clarity of what exactly is going on seems to be lacking, that’s the point – there’s no clarity to be found.

The entire story is a mismatched mess of inconsistent plot elements, non-existent character development and a plodding sense of pace. Everything from fighting monkeys in an underground lab to watching special forces hunting down two people in a public place occurs, with no clear explanation of how this all connects together. Some might be intrigued by these extreme events, but it is made less interesting by the shifts in pace – from speeding through sections to slogging through a single level for an hour – as well as the unclear narrative tone and general lack of character and plot logic.

The assumed “main characters”, a man called Jim and a woman called Rebecca, act as though they are senseless children, often disregarding people’s orders or feelings to do whatever they wish without clarifying their intentions or motives. There is no chemistry between them or with other characters, as everyone the player encounters seems either out-of-place or un-dedicated to their acting, which is downright atrocious. However, likely due to how ridiculous and overdone the acting and/or accents of certain characters were, I did laugh at seemingly serious situations (like shootouts and “deep” story reveals).

Worse still is that feelplus, the developer, had the gall to make the setting and plot expansion negligible and meaningless. The places that the player visits lack any form of distinct personality or energy, and they ultimately come off as shallow, C-grade science-fiction locales. Supplementing this are the most tacked-on flashbacks in gaming history, which work in tandem with poorly written, innuendo-laced dialogue to create a convoluted series of references to characters, events and organizations that are never clarified or explored further.

All of this culminates in a single scene that serves as a contradiction to several hours of gameplay, in which generic female “heroine” Rebecca introduces Mind Hack, a technological ability which allows people to directly control other people’s minds, to dull, poorly characterized Jim, despite the fact that the player had been using it for quite some time. This summarizes how idiotic, underdeveloped and even paradoxical the story turns out to be.

None of those issues, however, are as infuriating and disappointing as the gameplay, which goes beyond being generic and simplistic to act as an example of “below the standard” experiences. The game is what a kind person would call a “standard third-person shooter”, with all of the over-the-shoulder combat and cover mechanics one could ask for. Trouble is, none of the mechanics work well…at all.

It’s not just one thing wrong with the combat; the whole system was below average from the get-go and was just designed to get worse as the game goes along. Aiming at enemies will irritate gamers with limited resolve, as the holographic ammo counter gets in the way of the reticle. The melee move shares the story’s nonsensical nature, as you use it to merely grab human enemies and use them as shields, during which you can only throw them and you cannot change or reload weapons.

The movement of characters is reminiscent of Gears of War‘s COGs, only somehow clunkier and hard to control when running (which defies these characters’ much slimmer nature). The cover system also likes to mess with the player, as you will see when enemies blast you through cover with bullets and rockets (not destructible cover, by the way; apparently, enemy ammo can now phase through objects). It also has players stick out from its surface by about a few inches and extends its sides by an invisible foot to prevent precision aim at targets directly facing the object.

Fighting enemies in proper shooter fashion – that is, running and gunning – really doesn’t work so well for a variety of reasons. First, there’s only a small number of guns (pistol, shotgun, rocket launcher, sniper rifle, and two types of assault rifle/SMGs) and they all have issues of sorts. The pistol feels like a peashooter and is frustratingly methodical to fire (typical for most TPS’s, notable here), the rocket launcher tends to irritate when trying to carefully aim and only carries two rockets, the sniper rifle zooms in to an extremely close range when looking down its sights and the other three weapons are only really useful for ganging up on enemies and getting headshots to quickly end firefights.

The guns only present part of the problem, as they function on a very, very basic level. Every god-damn NPC in this game must have been programmed in a weekend by a five-year-old, because enemies act irrationally and even in a broken manner – shooting at walls, running past you before turning around to fire, absorbing most of a clip before reacting, running out into the open without cover fire – yet they have the rationale to gang up in Zerg-like manner to gun your characters down cheaply and without mercy. Allies fare marginally better, as they have the presence of mind to stay in cover from time to time, but they still seem brain-damaged at various moments.

Then there are the boss battles. Viewed by many as tests of skills learned and strength gained in levels past, this hallowed tradition has been violated in one of the worst ways possible: they make no sense! You do not destroy the bosses themselves, at least not right away. Instead, you target the minions surrounding the boss who you have been fighting for the entire game (the same special forces soldiers, floating bots, ED-219 clones, and jetpack troopers that will never change as the game continues) and either kill all of them or target one equipped with a rocket launcher and take it from them. Either from all other enemies being killed or being repetitively targeted with 3 or more rockets, the boss will suddenly explode and you will have learned virtually nothing that could be applied to other encounters.

Repetition might be this game’s strong suit, but it still manages to defy convention in truly terrible ways. While the enemies and tactics will not change whatsoever, the layout and length of the levels seem to go the opposite direction and always change. As mentioned, some levels will have you trekking for an hour, with checkpoints few and far between and no manual saving options, while others end within minutes or seconds. Their environments are also littered with objects, which makes for plenty of cover-based firefights but little room for movement.

The game’s apparent lack of grasp on the genre comes to a head once the player realizes that the entire game consists of linear corridor shoot-outs with inconsistent level design and occasional backtracking to pad out the length. There are no additional modes, collectibles or anything to come back to after the story is finished, which may take up to 8 hours if you persevere. In addition, there are no special set-pieces or gameplay changes, such as vehicle or turret segments, which will add to the sheer strain and hatred you experience. Some may point at the ability to control firearm-wielding monkeys at various points as “gameplay variety”, but this is the poorest example of a game’s saving grace.

Of course, as this game likes to toy with ideas without developing them further, it has certain features that other third-person shooters haven’t quite tackled in this manner. For one, multi-player and single-player are joined together in a “seamless” experience that allows online players to enter into your game to either aid or hinder your progress by controlling NPCs – though I never once encountered anyone in my game. The other key features are Mind Slave and Mind Hack, which allow you to either control enemies and turn them on their friends or directly take over their bodies, but the poor artificial intelligence gets in the way of the former and it is difficult to move around as a spirit-like Wanderer, which leaves your body at the whim of the AI, to use the latter function.

The final nail in this game’s coffin is, appropriately, the presentation. Its visual appearance is beyond subpar, with graphical quality that aims to be sleek but feels undetailed and dull, particularly in the plastic-like character models. The art design is also uninspired, with a small range of grey taking precedence in all of the locales. It should also be noted that the animations are clunky, particularly the slow-paced reloading of weapons.

The sound design is more obviously offensive to its audience, as there is no consistency in quality save for how terrible it is. The sound effects are average at best, but the ambient sound that squeals as you Mind Hack an enemy will go down in history as one of the most physically painful sounds of all time. The voice work represents the lower-end of campyness, with terrible accents and little commitment by the actors (which makes sense). Last and certainly least, the soundtrack is a monotone series of notes and beats that is equal parts generic and forgettable.

Mindjack is a goodrepresentation of feelplus’ questionable reputation and the lowest point of Square Enix’s career. Both companies should be ashamed for allowing this god-awful, half-baked “product” to get past Quality Assurance. It has no notable qualities, no well-designed features and no replay value. There is no way on this good Earth, with games like Uncharted and Mass Effect refining the third-person shooter genre, that I can recommend this game to any sane-minded person. Stay away, gamers – this is a dud.

Score: 2/10

-Kurt Hvorup, Founder and Administrator

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