Review: Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy (XB)

Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy
Release Date: 06/15/04
Genre: 3rd Person Action
Developer: Midway
Publisher: Midway
Systems Released on: Xbox, PS2

Midway’s last title, THE SUFFERING, blew me away and it’s still my GOTY for 2004 at this halfway point. And needless to say that plus the trail for Psi-Ops made me believe the hype for Psi-Ops. Plus the fact it came with a free copy of Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance helped to persuade me to order this game.

Less than a week later I’ve beaten the game (takes about 10-15 hours) and find myself with mixed feelings about it. On one hand, Midway has done some truly original stuff here in regards to gameplay and created an excellent physics engine. On the other hand, it makes the same sloppy mistakes that seem to be inherent with most 3-D games nowadays. Meaning some bizarre controls, bugs, and camera angles that bog the game down and leave you wondering where the common sense of both the designers and play testers were before releasing this. In fact, there is a massive game stopping bug in one of the boss battles that makes you have to go back and start from your last save point because if/when it occurs, you literally can’t beat the boss.

I was both blown away and disappointed in this game at the same time. It’s nowhere as good as the Suffering, and I can only hope that a sequel with some major tweaks eventually surfaces, because this game has some truly amazing aspects to it.

Let’s Review

1. Story

The story is basically a hodge podge of X-files episodes, The Uncanny X-Men, and every crackpot book on government funded paranormal psychic research ever made.

In an appeal to the dozen or so people left alive who believe Reaganomics was a good thing, the basis of Psi-Ops is that when the Cold War ended, the need to fund research projects involving testing psychic powers was no more. And so the government pulled the grants and the money probably went to line the pockets of Enron and Haliburton. Or missions to Mars. Who knows?

It all revolves around a US army general who used his psychic troops in unsactioned ways running away from his war crimes trial and convincing evil psychics to join his ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world. Basically the General is the love child of Magneto and Cobra Commander.

The General and his Movement take over an oil refinery and capture a bunch of troops to brainwash into being their cannon fodder. And that’s where the game begins.

Hidden amongst the troops defending the oil field (The manual says “US soldiers”, but we all know 95% are American, 3% are British and 2% are from countries America begged to join in to say it’s not just about oil; it’s about PROTECTING OIL I mean countries with oil. I mean countries that happen to have oil. Yeah. That last one’s it.) is the character you play as, Nick Scryer. Nick is the Ultimate Psi-agent, having every power known, from Telekinesis to psychic vampirism. Of course, to help him infiltrate the Movement as a prisoner, the government erased his memories and knowledge of his psychic powers so none of the Movement’s telepaths would be able to psi scan to learn the truth of his mission.

Once inside, a double agent pretending to be Part of the Movement (Yet oddly, SHE isn’t mind wiped and the telepaths are none the wiser) injects Nick with a serum that slowly begins to restore his memories and powers. Convenient for the game, eh?

And so you go out as a one man army destroying an entire terrorist organization, the heads of which all have super powers. Meanwhile we spend 166$ billion on the war in Iraq and barely even managed to half ass that little escapade. God bless video games and their eternal optimism! Just imagine what would have happened if Bush put that cash into Psychic Research. We’d have a total of 2 dozen people in the army, and each one could conquer a third world country on their own. WHOO! North Korea, your nuclear weapons program will be nothing compared to might of Jack Anderson from Mississippi and his ability to shoot sulfuric acid from his eyes.

The rest of the game is killing things and a pretty transparent plot. Some characters have special agendas. There’s third rate intrigue and a lot of badly designed characters in terms of personality and back story. No, Psi-Ops is not a game you play for a gripping story. It’s a game that you play because you can reenact your favorite scenes from Scanners.

Psi-Ops tries hard with a back story, but it comes up short by reusing every super villain cliche in the book. It’s not a bad game story wise. It’s just not a good one.

Story Rating: 5/10

2. Graphics

A mixed bag here. I find the character models pretty poor. Nick’s face looks like it was hit with a bat a few times, and most of the characters don’t look much better. Even in the cinematics, only Jov Leonov looks good, and he actually looks amazing. Especially what they do with his hair. I remember a console generation ago, realistic long hair wasn’t possible. Every other character is pretty average to poor looking.

Backgrounds in the game are pretty good, as are the details put into the tiniest of objects. Maybe this is because practically everything in the game can be used as a weapon thanks to Telekinesis, but it’s a great touch.

The best graphical effects come with the psychic powers you can use in the game. TK is accompanied by a blue lightning/aura effect while Pyrokinesis had a reddish-orange vibe. The Creators of Psi-Ops went out of their way to give each power a distinct visual effect. Remote Viewing has a hazy psychic aspect to it. Mind Drain comes off looking like electricity from the Emperor in Return of the Jedi. Although none of Nick’s psychic powers stretch the power of the Box or PS2, they’re still an original way to express them visually and add a lot to the disbelief needed with the game.

There is some slowdown in the game, but it only surfaces with a lot of enemies on the map or when massively using Pyrokinesis. Overall, Psi-Ops is a decent looking game, with some very original and beautiful effects, but nothing truly jaw-dropping.

Graphics Rating: 7/10

3. Sound

Let’s leave it at this. My cousin was in the other room while I was playing this game. And he calls out and asks “What movie are you watching? It sounds pretty cool.” That alone should give you a clue of the effort that went into the sound in this game.

The voice acting is pretty good, with each character save one sounding real and full of emotion in their voice. The Blake Sisters and The General are the only negative points in the games in terms of voice acting. Both Blake sisters sound wooden and poor while the General’s voice doesn’t fit the character at all.

The music is wonderful and the tune for each scene or stage fits the mood of the game perfectly. The Cold music video is poor though. I wouldn’t bother watching it at all if I were you.

Special effects sounds are super. Everything from the gun shots, to the sounds associated with each Psychic ability to the noise a chair makes when you kick it over. All sound as if, like my cousin assumed, this was a summer special effects bonanza film unfolding and not a video game.

Sound Rating: 8/10

4. Control

And here’s my real issue with the game. I know, I know, Lucard having a problem with the controls of a 3D action game? Gasp! Shock! Horror and amazement! But this time I’ve got a legit beef.

Problem #1: How the controls are laid out. Now, I’m happy Midway gave us 4 or so choices for control schemes, but when all of them are pretty badly designed, it doesn’t do you any good. This game would have been infinitely more enjoyable had they allowed you to control what buttons to what. Case in point: the button for your psychic powers are all over the bloody joystick. The Left trigger is TK. Well and good but then remote view and Aura view are on the D-Pad and Pyro and Mind Drain are the white and black buttons. Wouldn’t it have been so much easier to have put all four non TK powers on the D pad? Or to assign each one to the XYAB buttons? I can’t begin to tell you how annoying it was that every power and action seemed to be assigned haphazardly to the joystick.

Problem #2: Jump and Action are the same button. This causes trouble. Believe me on this.

Problem #3. To stand up against the wall is clicking in the Analog stick you use to move with. Again, this creates problems. Especially when sometimes the controls are unresponsive and won’t let you unglue yourself to the wall.

Problem #4. The crouch button is the B button and the Auto Lock on button is the Y button. For sheer comfort of your hand, these two buttons should be reversed.

Problem #5. The Auto Lock on doesn’t really live up to its name sake that well. In fact, in order to actually lock on, you need to use the camera button which still doesn’t help with aiming that much, as your target crosshairs is always in the exact middle of the screen. I really dislike that and wish you could in fact actually aim your gun correctly in this game, but in fact, you can not.

Problem #6. Although you have control over your camera angles, there’s no way to set the camera back to behind the main character with a single tap as you can in so many other 3D 3rd person action games. This is a real detriment, especially when in the thick of the action.

So you’re probably wondering what I DO like about the controls, eh?

Well I enjoy the psychic abilities. Telekinesis, which truly is the meat of the game, is designed beautifully, from how hard to press the button equally how high you lift something, to TK surfing and levitating, dropping a bit and levitating again to make the item higher than your normally can lift it. The TK part of the game is amazing to the point where, like the designers themselves admit, it rather breaks the game. Although hucking things properly takes a bit of getting used to, it’s hard not to get a smile on your face when you lift someone up, hurtle him into another enemy and they both fall very very far. Gotta love the telekinesis.

All the other powers are easy to control and are nearly flawless. You can really tell the designers put a lot of emphasis onto the psychic parts of the game, while letting the rest of the controls fall to the wayside a bit. If the whole game was as well oiled as the psychic parts of the game, this would be the best 3d action game ever. Instead the amazing parts and the parts that just plain suck average it out to well…an average game.

Control Rating: 5/10

5. Balance

Again some serious issues with the game. The main one is that in the boss fight with the pyrokinetic Marissa, there is a bug where if it is triggered, you can’t defeat her. And you end up having to reboot the game from your last check point. Not good. Not good at all, because the bug can be triggered at any time. This right here should NEVER have made it past playtesting and I have heard so many people complain about it, there is now way the QA or playtesters could not have known about it. Shame on you Midway.

Other issues include that you can have unlimited health and TK energy by saving the game and immediately loading that save. Once you do that, your life and psi-energy are totally replenished. A neat little trick, but it makes the game far too easy.

Other than that, Psi-Ops isn’t that bad a game in terms of frustration. The puzzles are good, but neither impossible or too easy. And there is always multiple ways to defeat the many “mean puppet” foot soldiers running around

Balance Rating: 6/10

6. Replayability

Here we come to another enjoyable aspect of Psi-Ops. With four difficulty levels, a Co-Operative play mode, a fun training “danger room” type sim, and a TON of unlockables, including skins of practically everyone in the game, you can enjoy Psi-Ops in multiple ways, multiple times. However, the game is only ten to fifteen hours long in the main version of the game, and there really is little desire to play again except to unlock more skins and codes by beating it on a higher difficulty level.

Replayability Rating: 7/10

7. Originality

Although story wise and gameplay this game isn’t much, the psychic aspects of this game are incredible and really remind you how untapped the potential of all the current systems are. Sure, we’ve been improving graphics, but more the most part no one has tried anything new with gameplay. That’s where Psi-Ops comes in. I am very impressed by what Midway did with all the different effects and powers and have a feeling that a lot of companies are going to take this as a wakeup call to try something new. I just wish they would have tried harder with the other aspects of the game as well instead of letting them be the same old, same old 3D second rate crap and a lackluster story.

Originality Rating: 7/10

8. Appeal

I think Psi-Ops is going to reach a lot of people. It’s on the two most popular systems. Action games are amongst the most popular genre, and it has a great deal of originality to it. Most action gamers are used to and accept the wonky controls and camera that comes with 3D action games, so I doubt they’ll be put off by this. Hopefully with excellent word of mouth, the game will sell well enough to let this team do a sequel with superior gameplay.

Appeal Factor: 7/10

9. Addictiveness

Except for the Psychic aspects, this game did nothing to draw me into it. Often I was quite bored with the game, playing it only to use Mind Drain to blow up people’s heads while quoting lines form scanners or playing “Squish the zombie commando with a wooden crate.” Psi-Ops truly is a one trick pony where you enjoy the psychic aspects of the game so much, when you’re not using them you really notice how whitebread everything else about the game is.

Addictiveness Rating: 4/10

10. Miscellaneous

The game has literally dozens of unlockables, a bunch of neat codes, alternate play modes, some trailers of other gamers, and most importantly: DOCUMENTARIES. Quick hint to developers and publishers looking to get me to pad your game score like you do other gaming websites with freebies and kickbacks. I’m a folklorist and cultural anthropologist: giving me a documentary or “Making Of” extra in your game jacks up your score in this category way up!

Midway always delivers the good with extras, and the Making of video in Psi-Ops, like every aspect of this game, takes a silver medal to the Suffering, it is still good in it’s own right, although parts are quite laughable as they talk about government conspiracies seriously and come off sounding like a pack of Fox Mulder Clones. Too bad they didn’t do a similar documentary to the Haunted Prison they included in the Suffering disc as a second documentary. That would have been truly interesting.

Again, great extras with all the different modes and unlockables. And remember, include more documentaries/making of videos on your games!

Miscellaneous Score: 9/10

Short Attention Span Summary
Psi-Ops is a highly original game bogged down with some serious issues, but it still worth playing to see how creative the developers of this game were. There are aspects of Psi-Ops you have never seen before in gaming and it boasts a magnificent physics engine. However, it’s still better off as a rental instead of a purchase due to the fact it can be quite boring for lengthy periods of gaming and also is rather quick to beat. Too bad, as high sales will equal a sequel and get the developers to fix the issues this game sorely needs repair work on.