Inside Pulse 12

Review: Mindjack (Sony PS3)

Mindjack
Developer: Feel Plus
Publisher: Square-Enix
Genre: Third Person Shooter
Release Date: 1/18/2011

Normally this would be where I’d open things up with a little bit of personal backstory relating to the game I’m about to review. But this time around, I can’t really think of anything I could possibly use as a personal anecdote to properly convey my feelings about Mindjack that without getting myself fired from the site, or possibly arrested, depending on the state you’re reading this in.

I’m sure by now you’ve surmised that this isn’t going to be an especially positive review, so you might as well let go of what little suspense you have left. This game is the polar opposite of good in just about every way imaginable. Words cannot properly express the lack of enjoyment I derived from this game, but I will nonetheless make the effort to do so, because if I didn’t, you’d have nothing to read while pretending to work.

1. Story

The writers of Mindjack must have gone to Books-A-Million and picked up a copy of How To Write Derivative Dreck, because I can’t think of any other possible reason that a script like this could have been written intentionally. The plot takes place in the year 2031, in a future that’s been touched on in everything from Minority Report to Blade Runner to Robocop, where governments are failing left and right and super corporations are taking everything over.

You play as Agent Jim, an operative of some top secret agency who’s sent to an airport to apprehend a woman named Rebecca and lead her through a twisting maze of action set pieces that seem to be completely disconnected from one another plotwise as you fight to keep her alive until the closing credits. Oh and by the way, you have the ability to both control the minds of fallen enemies/machines/animals AND leap or “mindjack” into another person’s body, Dr. Sam Beckett style. But you won’t be putting right anything that once went wrong on this trip (and yes, I wrote that reference knowing full well that most of the people currently reading this are too young to remember Quantum Leap.)

The story is hinted at during numerous cut scenes between fights. I say hinted at because there’s never a point where what you’re watching on screen clicks enough for you to care what’s actually happening. The guy says some things, the girl responds back, then you walk into an area that looks just like the one you just finished and the same three or four guys you already killed four thousand times magically reappear to provide further cannon fodder for your EXP bar. The twists can be seen coming a mile away, and the characters are utterly generic and devoid of any personal range. You won’t be hear any “Drake and Elena” style love for Jim and Rebecca. There are stories that are so bad they’re good. This is not that story. This plot is just bad: Syfy Movie of the Week bad. It’s the Battlefield Earth of third Person Shooter plotlines.

2. Graphics

Straight up, this game looks like a 360 launch title. There’s bad aliasing all over the place. The texture work is extremely poor compared to games a year and a half older like Uncharted 2 or Gears of War 2. There is horizontal screen tearing all over the place, unexplained frame rate drops that seem to happen regardless of how many characters are or aren’t on screen.

Allow me to ask you this. Do you remember how, in the Matrix films, everything in the Matrix had this green sheen to it? Mindjack is like that, only with blue-gray. Everything is blue-gray. And no matter what environment you’re supposed to be fighting in, everywhere looks like an office complex ripped out of the F.E.A.R. series. Of course you shouldn’t really blame Square-Enix for that. The game was developed by Feel Plus, the guys behind Juon: The Grudge for the Wii and Ninety-Nine Nights 2 for the 360, so mind-blowing graphics aren’t exactly their specialty. I hear they’re also the guys who are porting No More Heroes to the PS3. Allow me a moment to cross that one out from my Must Have list.

There, that’s more like it.

3. Sound

The voice acting is atrociously bad, and not in a campy way. It feels like the voice actors are on an episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway? and someone pulled a “pretend you’re in a Michael Bay/Uwe Boll Movie” challenge card. I kept trying to spin the camera so I could catch a glimpse of the AI que card guy, but alas, I never saw him.

The sound effects are passable I suppose, but the music is so bland that I honestly can’t remember a single bar of it now. I try to think back to the last time I played the game, and it might as well have been TV white noise, as that would have been just as memorable. There was not one ounce of recognizable theme throughout. I really do wish developers would hire actual Hollywood composers like Naughty Dog has with the Uncharted series (Hey, “Nathan Fillion for Drake” fans, did you know that Greg Edmonson, the composer who wrote the scores for all three Uncharted titles was also the composer on Firefly? Let the conspiracy theorizing begin!)

All in all there’s just not much I can say about the music because there was nothing at all noticeable about it. It doesn’t stand out, much like the rest of the game. It’s just sort of there, and in this genre, dominated by the Uncharted and Gears of War franchises, just sort of there is just sort of pointless.

4. Control and Gameplay

The control scheme is very similar to the Uncharted series, with the one exception being that Uncharted actually works. You aim and fire with the shoulder buttons. You move around and look around with the analog sticks. You can press X to take cover behind various structures. The problem there is multi-faceted: one, your character rarely hides behind what you want him to, which results in your getting shot. Two, The “quick flip” to switch from one shoulder to the other for multi-angle aiming like Uncharted‘s system is not here. So often times, you will aim at a guy from behind cover, the reticule will turn red to indicate you have a shot, but when you fire, the opponent doesn’t react. So you come out of aim mode and realize hat there’s some unseen edge to the piece of cover you’re standing behind and you’ve been filling the wall with lead the whole time. It’s incredibly annoying, and happens a LOT. Even when trying to blind fire over a piece of cover, more often than not I’d just be plugging holes into the top of whatever I was hiding behind, even if the cover was only waist high!

And that’s assuming you even make it far enough to try using cover. See, this game borrows one of the pages from the Demon’s Souls online playbook. Essentially, the game’s campaign and online modes have been combined. So unless you know to go into the features and turn this off, you can be playing the campaign, working your way through what passes for the story, when another human player who is a thousand levels higher than you will force his way into your game, kill you, and cause you to have to start all over from the last checkpoint. Words cannot possibly describe how monumentally stupid and “counter-fun” this is. If I want to play online, I will play online. I don’t need some jerk who’s already put more time into this game than I ever will, (and that is a guarantee), “mindjacking” his way into my game for quick XP. I bought this wanting to play a third person shooter, not a gimped MMO. As this can happen over and over and over again before you ever make it to the next level, trying to play from the start and build yourself up while this “feature” is turned on is enough to make you feel like you just Mindjacked yourself right into a nice healthy stroke.

I could almost overlook that whole online douchebaggery concept if they’d at least gotten the controls right, but no. The aiming is horrible, and the only way to adjust the sensitivity in any useful way is to build up experience and earn perks that improve things like ammo capacity, accuracy, and so on. Until you earn a few of those accuracy perks, let’s just say there won’t be any barns who tremble in fear when you’re around.

5. Replayability

You can play this in a co-op fashion through the whole game, but the customization you have to go through to make this work while preventing exp hunters from whizzing in your digital Wheeties isn’t worth the effort. The campaign is short, but the fact that everything looks the same will make it seem much longer. There are trophies for leveling your character to various plateaus, but after completing the game there’s just no motivation to keep playing, unless of course you yourself become one of these online mindjackers, then I suppose some karmic retribution might be in order, but otherwise this game’s offerings are on the “light snack” side.

6. Balance

Remember the issues with ducking behind cover that I mentioned? Well it’s certainly an annoyance, but not really a necessity, since you can usually just stand there and aim out in the open, and so long as you don’t have three or four guys all shooting at you at once, your target should give you plenty of time to pull off enough rounds to end him. But aside from the online players coming in to mess you up, the biggest detractor to the balance is the act of mindjacking itself. Whenever your health gets low or you become incapacitated, you will become a Wanderer, a free roaming spirit capable of mindjacking into Rebecca, or any machines/soldiers/giant gorillas wearing Virtual Boys you have mind slaved, OR you have a third alternative. Every fight has two or three civilians cowering somewhere. As long as you can get to one of them quick enough, this basically makes it near to impossible for you to die, as you can always just continue the fight as someone else.

7. Originality

Hmm, how can I get this across to you outside of the influences I already mentioned earlier? Wait, I got it!

“Freejack Plot synopsis: In the year 2009, the super-wealthy achieve immortality by hiring “bonejackers,” mercenaries equipped with time travel devices, to snatch people from the past just prior to the moment of their deaths, for use as substitute bodies. Those who flee, rather than allowing their minds to be replaced with those of the rich, are known as “freejacks,” and considered less than human under the law.”

Yeah, I think that just about sums it up.

8. Addictiveness

I had to force myself to play this game to get this review done. All the while I had Dead Space 2 and Mass Effect 2 for PS3 staring at me from my game shelf, trying to lure me away with its superior… well… EVERYTHING. It took every ounce of self control I could muster to keep headshotting away at one masked F.E.A.R. guard after another. One should come to the end of his or her time with a given game with a mixture of fulfillment and accomplishment, not relief and remorse for the five hours or so that you’ll never get back.

9. Appeal Factor

This game was obviously designed by committee to appeal to the Western audience, which not only served to alienate their native audience, but also made it clear to any Western gamer that he/she should probably avoid any Square-Enix game that doesn’t have the words Final or Dragon in the title. This is a game that misses its mark so badly that I’d almost want to call it the Deadly Premonition of third person shooters, but that would be an insult to the humor in Deadly Premonition’s storyline, as Mindjack doesn’t have any. Deadly Premonition is so bad it’s good. Mindjack is so bad, playing it is like having a mind enema. The banality of it just flushes anything in your head that even slightly resembles coherent thought right into a deep blue-gray hole of “meh.”

10. Miscellaneous

Several years ago, when Western audiences stuck their noses up at Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII, one would think that Square-Enix would have gotten the hint that trying to design Western style games just wasn’t the way to go for them. This is a sad trend that’s currently sucking the life out of most games coming out of Japan. I fully expect to see a plethora of horrible Japanese first person shooters hitting the shelves just any day now. When the Japanese take just a bit of what makes Western action games fun and reinterprets it into their own style, you get great games like Bayonetta and Vanquish. When the Japanese just try to copy the West outright, you get garbage like Quantum Theory and Mindjack. Games like Mindjack are the reason why the, “You’re Doing It Wrong!” meme exists.

The Scores
Story: Pretty Poor
Graphics: Pretty Poor
Sound: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Awful
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Poor
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Pretty Poor
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Awful
FINAL SCORE: Pretty Poor Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
I honestly hope that this game sells so poorly that Square-Enix and other Japanese companies learn that it is their distinctiveness that will help them succeed, that this “also-ran” strategy that they’ve been trying since this generation started back in 2005 has brought forth a handful of decent titles, like the Dead Rising series and the first Lost Planet, but most of it has been trash like Lost Planet 2, Quantum Theory, Final Fantasy XIII, and yes, Mindjack. If there can be found no other value for this title, it is the hope that Japan re-embraces its own creativity after seeing how poorly they do when they attempt to just follow the trend. Square-Enix, please stop investing in rip-offs of Western games made by outside developers and pour that money back into making games we WANT to play. There has not been an actual GOOD Final Fantasy title released this generation, no new non-handheld Final Fantasy Tactics since the PS1 original, and no Dragon Quest released for PS3.

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