First experiences of Mindjack are fairly mixed, you'll sit through an over-acted, poorly scripted, B-movie intro before being thrown into the fray with little real idea of the game's backstory or your mission goals. Sure the level environments are of a high quality with a super modern atmosphere comprised almost entirely of stainless steel and reinforced glass panelling, but the combat doesn't really grab you. The AI are fairly passive, allowing you to pick them off at your leisure, ducking back behind cover to let your health regenerate whenever one of them gets a little too accurate. If you wanted to show someone a textbook definition of a mediocre shooter then this would be it, the first few minutes of Mindjack.
But keep on playing and then something rather magical happens – a red orb will appear and start to move around the playfield. All of a sudden that civilian non-combatant in the corner starts to glow red and pulls a pistol, intent on putting several rounds in your cranium. And it's like the enemies' brains finally kick in to gear as they move to pincer you in response to the red hued character's actions. Then inevitably you die, from out of nowhere the player is shocked out of their leisurely complacency, forced to immediately up their game and start fighting a real opponent.
This is because that red orb is another human player and Mindjack is not your normal shooter. It has a campaign sure but it was never designed with the solo player in mind. Instead up to five other players can join in your game, which by default has public visibility, and choose to either help you by taking control of friendly units or fight you by taking control of the enemy forces. Players are free to leave their current body at any time and assume control of other valid personnel on the battlefield. Neutral characters such as civilians can be grabbed by either team while combatants who become severely injured can be turned to join either group, thereby becoming potential hosts for that team's players.
It's a sublime and genius concept that provides a whole raft of different gameplay facets and experiences that you just don't get in any other title out there. When you have a versus match in play, the game isn't just about your players' abilities behind the trigger, it's about everything - the players, the AI, the level design, all working in concert to close out the round. The NPCs are resources, play too cautiously and the opposition will be able to pull them in under their control and outnumber you, but overextend yourself and you open your team up to attacks from the flank and rear via bodies that can be jacked by the enemy. Knowing when and who to take control of in the midst of a battle can make the difference between success and having to replay the last twenty minutes of the game.
It's necessary to factor in all the character models in the level, who controls them, what weapons they have access to and the positions of every other human player in the game. The scope for ambushes, the need to grab those neutral entities before the opposition (despite leaving your key characters in the less capable hands of the AI) combined with the risk of opening yourself up to more damage in order to capture a member of the enemies' team rather than just killing them all combine to make a game that has a constant ebb and flow across the playspace. The forces are always in flux and the rapid redeployment of the other team is a constant threat that requires dynamic balancing of all these elements in the field.
When a good game gets going it can turn what would have been an otherwise mundane section of a level into a tense, fraught battlefront that can go on for several rounds as the blue team try and get past the red opposition. Sometimes losing can send the blues several areas back but this just adds to the tension, knowing that if you foul up at any moment you can cost your team a reasonable amount of progress. With the drop in and out nature of play it also means that you never really know what to expect – one moment you can be playing a co-op game with a fellow blue player, the next it's a full on three versus three street war. Switching between hosts is also handled really simply with players able to cycle through the potentials with the shoulder buttons or alternatively just point the camera at the target and press the fire button.
From the hacking side of things the game is equally rewarding whichever tack you take. If you want to be on the griefing side it's thoroughly enjoyable to flit around, jumping into matches set up on easy difficulty and locking the player down for a good half hour by way of punishment for them wussing out in the first place. On the other hand when a bunch of other red hackers jump on your coat tails and outnumber your victim it is equally enjoyable to switch sides, helping the very same person you were fighting a moment ago, and enabling them to get through the next few levels.
Because of the way the game plays out, with the AI working quite effectively when given a human to work with, games generally work just as well even with unbalanced teams. If there's a sway of one human in either direction it still stands strong and works perfectly well. A clear plan and inventive tactics are more important than player count and the level layouts are designed with this in mind, offering a range of viable approaches for each setting. This human player element is what makes each playthrough so very different to the last. Whether you're playing a one on one match or a large scale game there are always events to challenge both parties.
On the negative front, the plot so ridiculously foreshadows itself it could have been written by a child, in a few places the game's clipping blocks also occasionally mean that you can't blind fire from the odd piece of cover and the dialogue is cringing but this kind of stuff really is irrelevant to this type of game. It's a multiplayer focused game not a solo one and in the competitive arena if you rely too much on camping from behind cover then your strategies need some serious reworking. The visuals are repetitive in theme, eschewing warm tones, but look a treat for the majority of the duration, with tall, shining skyscrapers stretching up all around the players, covered in modern materials and ambitious construction. Although it has to be said that the internal settings do lack much of this flair and architectural quality. While there's a decent variety of different human, creature and robot types that can be controlled, it isn't possible for players to pilot any of the bosses, perhaps understandably given their often vast size and extreme durability. This does have the rather strange side-effect that in such end of level encounters it's the human sized enemies you really need to be watching out for and overall these scenes do drag on for longer than they should, but are so infrequent that it's really not much of an issue.
When it comes to multiplayer shooters you can usually count on one hand the number of truly left-field, innovative and enjoyable games that come along in a console's lifespan. While established franchises continue to churn out polished, tweaked, yet fundamentally repetitive experiences with each release, every so often a game will come along that doesn't just offer team deathmatch or standard objective based modes, but taps a new concept that other developers were either too conservative to tackle or simply didn't have the creativity to come up with in the first place. Mindjack is one of those precious few – a bold, original concept that also works. It's truly rare to see something so original emerge in the multiplayer space these days and whether you are playing with just a single person or a full room of six, this is a game that provides an intense battle of wits regardless.
: Third person shooter
: feelplus Inc.
: Square Enix
: Xbox 360
-Challenging, dynamic multiplayer.
-Inventive mix of co-op and versus.
-Tight, inspired art design.
-Weak single player AI.
-Boss fights underdeveloped.