So I've made it something of a pet project to write about lesser known or somewhat obscure games that are fun enough to be worth tracking down. And in my near constant search for good older and obscure games, I've certainly found some games that only really qualify as obscure. But I really thought I was on to something with MindJack. It has surface qualities that suggest that it might be a fun and worthwhile experience, but those qualities all reveal themselves to be purely illusory.
MindJack is a Gears of War clone by Feel Plus. Now, Feel Plus is an interesting little group. They mostly work with other studios on outside projects. They worked with Grasshopper on No More Heroes and Mistwalker on Lost Oddessy and Blue Dragon. They've also had a couple much more successful forays into solo game development with the Ju-On game on the Wii and that Moon Diver game on PSN and XBLA.
But getting back on topic, this game is a completely mess. The controls are generally garbage. Your character slows to a complete crawl if you strafe or walk backward, which is utterly maddening. I mean, you should walk faster forward than backward or strafing, but they obviously don't know how to set an acceptable walking speed at all.
The guns are mostly all terrible as well. The pistol is better for head shots, but aiming the damn thing is like pulling teeth. It takes at least a little bit of luck to line up a head shot again after the enemy moves, what with the recoil and whatnot. And weather that shot actually takes them down seems like a dice roll, which is always fun. The automatic weapons are somewhat more effective, since you don't have to worry nearly as much about aiming.
But the game seems to have accounted for that, and you have to dump Halo levels of bullets into these generic enemy soldiers before they finally go down, which is pretty messed up since you go down way way faster than them. So if you try to get in close to dump full automatic fire, you'll probably just get dropped before you can even get your iron sights up. And assuming you get in behind cover, and try the stop and pop tactic, the enemies move in the most stilted and robotic way. It's hard enough to aim at them with the god awful aiming, but then you have to contend with enemies who's animation routines defy prediction.
You sort of come to expect enemies in cover based shooters to get down behind a piece of cover and pop up to shoot sporadically. These guys seem more content to just sit behind cover like they sense your looming eyes watching them or something. And worse yet, the standing cover you take will jack you smooth up if there are enemies out of cover walking the floor around you. At this point, in order to avoid having your ass shot off, you have to retreat to some other cover.
So assuming you do get your ass shot off, for whatever reason, I've listed several already, you will turn into a white cloud of mist that floats around the level, and you are allowed to hack into another body, be it a civilian, your partner, or some sort of Roomba-like robot inexplicably sitting around the arena. So this is where the game attempts to get cool.
You can try to use this feature to some tactical advantage by taking over a new character behind the enemy forces, but the problem there is that the friendly AI can be accurately described as ineffectual. So instead of being able to flank the enemy, you're basically just moving the line of scrimmage to a different location, as your AI partner isn't actually doing anything really.
Half the time the damn things get stuck on walls and just stand there doing nothing. So the only tangible advantage to mind jacking, as they call it, is certain characters have certain weapons, so maybe the airport employee lady who's mind you took over will have a shotgun and that's pretty cool because you don't pick one of those up in the wild playing as the main character until later on. But that's about it in the way of tangible advantages to the titular mind jacking as it were.
Now, in addition to mind jacking, there is also a feature called mind slave. Basically, if you can down an enemy, like when you would do an execution move in Gears of War, you can shoot out this little beam out of your hand that will posess the enemy and turn them to your side. So whereas the mind jack ability is largely ineffectual, the mind slave ability is almost kind of useful. The AI is still useless, but they do help distract enemies from shooting only at you. And that's at least something.
I should probably take the occasion here to mention the melee attack too. It's hard to express just how much latency there is between when you push the button and when your character actually executes the move without having you experience it for yourself. It's so slow in fact, that most enemies are literally too fast for you to even be able to pull the move off on them. By the time your animation has played out, they're already well out of range. Not that you would want to use melee attacks anyway, what with how easily your character goes down.
The level design in the game is about half stupid as well. I'll give them this. They're true innovators in the field of thinking up new objects to put in their levels for you to press X and stand behind, but they're also leading innovators in the field of thinking up similar crap to put in the level to keep you from walking around to places that there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to walk around in. And in the event that they were exercising that specific talent in a combat environment, it takes an already stilted experience of getting from point A to point B and turns it into a maze, one in which you are getting shot up by robots and swat teams from multiple angles.
So say you've started getting kinda partial to the automatic weapons and have sworn off the pistols for being useless and slow. You might be excited to find out that they will replace your running weapon load-out at certain checkpoints with that busted pistol. They realize that you might have wanted that weapon load-out you just had, hence your having it equipped, so they place those weapons near you in the level after said checkpoint, sometimes.
Now where this really gets interesting is when that first room is also a large combat encounter, wherein you are running around trying to pick up your weapons and run back to cover before they shoot you down like they usually do. And I suppose you could say that the inclusion of that adds a further dimension to the game play, and I guess you might be right.
Anyway. If you've gotten this far, I should probably point out that you will at some point get to posses a giant robot gorilla and beat up enemies with it. And you might be interested to know that it controls like the worst piece of shit ever and goes down in just about as many shots as all the other characters. So if you were excited about the giant robot gorilla, I'm here to tell you not to. MindJack is the kind of game that can make beating up puny, gun-wielding humans with a giant robot gorilla something that you'd rather pass on.
The story is about as fun as piloting the robot gorilla. It's not even that funny either. The dialogue is more cringe-worthy than laugh-worthy most of the time. The story is so barely there that it doesn't even warrant describing, and I'm having a hard time remembering why I bought this game in the first place. But there's something there. I'm having trouble remembering exactly what it is, but there is something about it that's attractive. I thought there was anyway.
The art design is probably what drew me to it in the first place. That opening scene in the future airport was a real sight to see. It has this really cool sense of place to it that's hard to describe. It almost felt like the first time I got outside the city in Assassin's Creed. It was really exciting just looking around and seeing what they'd made. Unfortunately that airport very quickly devolves into a series of corridors.
The cutscenes are kind of cool though. They've got kind of a latter day PS1 cutscene atmosphere to them. Like it's all hover jet bikes and walking mechs with gattling guns. The models actually look quite nice in the pre-rendered cutscenes though. It's just a shame that the same can't be said for the in-game models.
Oddly enough, the main character, like, the character you play as, has the worst looking character model of them all. As though it wasn't bad enough that he is intensely generic looking with his jeans and gray jacket combo, his face just looks terrible. It's a really glaring annoyance in a game comprised mostly of glaring annoyances.
At any rate, getting back to the game play. You may have taken my complaints as a tacit indication that the multiplayer fixes all of this. It doesn't. It certainly does something about the AI, but the mechanics you're using still suck. The tactics against humans are to simply lay down and die if there's more than one against you alone. Anything outside of that does begin to verge upon becoming tactical.
Human opponents and partners can't fix the stilted gun play and brain dead level design though. I've already complained about the level design, and trying to squeeze a remotely interesting tactical experience out of them is a hopeless persuit. The game was made for standing behind cover and it's not even very good at that. So when you superimpose multiplayer game play onto that, it just doesn't accomplish anything good for anyone involved.
There is a leveling system, which doesn't appear to actually do anything other than unlock powerups, which themselves don't appear to actually do much of anything either. As much as the multiplayer aspect of the game comes across as one of the main focuses at first blush, it's apparent that most of the actual surrounding features were an afterthought at best.
It's funny. When I rented the game, I was enamored by it. I only spent enough time to know the controls were pretty bad and that the story was poorly delivered. When I bought it, I was still high off of my first impression of the game. But my experience playing since buying it has been uniformly miserable. And I thought somehow I had just magically forgotten what I had liked about the game and that I was just missing something.
But it's obvious that my first impression was the mistaken one, and I still hate to put this game down, as I had sensed so much potential, even just from a schedenfreude angle. But I can't find anything in this game that stands out as worthy of recommending. Worse than being bad, it's boring. And that is quite possibly the worst epithet to hurl at any game. But when your giant robot gorillas are bad, you know something is wrong.
Sometimes it's just not worth it to go to the trouble. I'm pretty sure this is one of those times. I paid five dollars for the game and I still regret buying it. Unless you are beyond desperately bored, then it's best just to stay far away from this game.