We’re just a month into 2011 and already we have an early contender for worst game of the year. That game is Mindjack. It’s unfortunate too because Mindjack presents an interesting concept. It’s just that everything else about this sci-fi cover-based third-person shooter is an absolute mess.
That interesting concept is Mind Slaving and Mind Hacking. If you wound an enemy enough without killing him, you can use Mind Slave to convert him into an ally. You can assemble a mini-army this way, but Mind Slaving uses up Mind Power energy so you have to be mindful of how much energy you have available considering that same energy is used to heal the two main protagonists as well.
At any time during a firefight you can Mind Hack one of your allies and gain control of that character. This is where it gets interesting because once you’ve Mind Slaved an enemy, you can then Mind Hack that enemy and take control of them. Mind Hacking allows you to take control of all sorts of enemy characters, including a myriad different robots. You can also Mind Hack innocent civilians and use them to flank the enemy. The concept becomes even more intriguing when you throw multiplayer into the mix. If you leave your server open, up to five other players can enter your campaign and either join you as an ally or oppose you as an enemy, Mind Hacking into available characters.
It’s all down hill from there, though. The story is riddled with plot holes and inconsistencies. The dialogue gets lost in translation. At one point a character is heard saying, “I don’t know what is happen,” instead of “I don’t know what is happening.” Didn’t anyone proofread the script, or did the voice actor screw up the line and nobody noticed until it was too late? Speaking of voice acting, it’s terrible. There’s no emotion or conviction in any of the spoken dialogue. The rest of the sound design is equally poor. The soundtrack is forgettable and the sound effect used for Mind Hacking is one of the most annoying effects ever. It’s the most important effect of the game; you think they’d make sure it’s the coolest sounding. The visuals don’t fair any better. Mindjack looks like a HD version of a last-generation game. The environments are barren and repetitive, and the character animations are stiff and floaty.
Enemies in the game are pure bullet sponges. You’re wasting your time if you shoot anybody other than in the head. Even common foot soldiers take upwards of 20 bullets to the chest before they drop to a knee. The worst offenders are the enemies that walk around in what look like space suits. I shot one of these guys in the head eight times with a rocket launcher and he didn’t go down. I grew tired of running back and forth to the ammo rack so I eventually switched to my pistol and took him down. Eight rockets to the face like a champ. The rockets might as well be NERF as it takes at least two rockets to the head to kill just about every enemy in the game.
As if that’s not bad enough, later in the game there’s a boss fight against a human who is wearing absolutely no armor. It took upwards of 300 bullets before I finally took this man down. What came next nearly caused me to throw my controller through my TV set. A cutscene…showing him holding his side…like he’d been shot once in the abdomen…a flesh wound at best…WTF! Then he escapes. Seriously, what was the point of that entire encounter? Nobody dies in this game. There’s a character that appears at the beginning of the game whose neck you literally snap like a twig. Miraculous he returns in the walk-off scene and not only is he alive and breathing, he’s not even upset at you. So many things don’t make sense in this game, like how every civilian – even though they’re cowering in the corner – is packing heat; a pistol, a shotgun or an assault rifle, whipping it out as soon as you Mind Hack them.
If enemies weren’t bullet sponges, the shortcomings of the AI would be even more glaring. Your female partner is smart enough to heal you when need be, but that’s about all she’s good for. She doesn’t Mind Slave defeated enemies and she has a tendency to stand out in the open taking gunfire, rather than ducking behind cover. Why is this a problem? Because Mind Hacking into another character takes a good 5 seconds from extraction to insertion, and if the two protagonists are defeated during that time the game is over. Trust me, that’ll happen. Enemy AI is equally inept. Occasionally they use cover effectively, but most of the time they too stand out in the open. Sometimes they run from point A to point B and back again, over and over, never firing a single shot. There’s a good tactic.
Some of the boss battles are poorly designed in that you can’t beat the boss character without using a weapon that one of his minions is carrying. So you have to kill that minion, take his weapon and fire it at the boss. When you run out of ammo, you have to wait for another group of minions to spawn so you can get your hands on more ammo (unless there’s an ammo rack present). A few of the boss battles last too long simply because you have to sit around waiting for more enemies to spawn. There’s one boss battle against a neural-controlled gorilla that’s divided into four stages. First you fight foot soldiers, then the gorilla itself, then a bunch of monkeys, then the gorilla again accompanied by even more foot soldiers. If you fail the battle during the fourth stage, you have to re-do all four stages. Really? No checkpoint system for multi-stage boss fights?
What else. The roadie run…er, dash button is the same button as the cover button and so it’s not uncommon to enter cover when you mean to dash, and vice versa. There’s a melee attack button but it rarely works. I can’t tell you how many times I stood next to an enemy pressing that button and having nothing happen. You can throw grenades, but they’re mostly useless. You can never tell where your toss is going to land and unless it’s literally at the feet of an enemy, it won’t do any damage. Flash grenades are completely pointless. Never once was an enemy impaired by the blast.
Even the aforementioned Mind Slaving and Mind Hacking mechanics are better in theory than they work in practice. Remember the space suit dude who ate my rockets for breakfast, or the menacing gorilla from that boss fight? They both seemed like powerful enemies, but as soon as you Mind Hack them they turn into weaklings. It must have taken me 400 bullets to take that gorilla down. When I was controlling him, he went down real quick.
On top of it all, Mindjack suffers from short-term memory. Each of the game’s levels is made up of several scenes, with a scene lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes. The problem is, at the end of each scene you lose all of your weapons and ammunition, and are forced to start the next scene with only a pistol. Move from an outdoor environment to an indoor environment by literally walking through the front door; you can expect to lose all your gear. Travel from the ground floor to a higher floor using an elevator; you can expect to lose all your gear. Trigger a 10-second cutscene that doesn’t even result in your character moving an inch; you can still expect to lose all your gear. When you clear a room of enemies, there’s no point searching for weapons and ammo before you move on to the next area because you’re just going to lose them anyway.
Short scenes can be a pain in multiplayer. At the beginning of each scene, players other than the host have to “wander” around, looking for allies or enemies to take control of. There are always plenty of enemies to choose from, but in some scenes ally players have to wait for the host to Mind Slave an enemy because there are no civilians or robots nearby. There are even instances where moving objects in the environment can cause those in “Wanderer Mode” to get stuck. Mindjack includes a leveling system that allows you to unlock “Rules” and “Arts” to customize multiplayer as you earn experience points. I’m not sure the ability to balance out the teams should come at such a high level though. Last but not least, there’s no in-game chat support. If you want to strategize with the players on your team, you’ll have to create a party chat.
I’m beating a dead horse at this point. The bottom line is the more I played Mindjack, the more I wanted to stop playing Mindjack. I made it through to the end, but it wasn’t without a lot of head-scratching, hair-pulling, and obscenity-laced tirades. I truly hope this was a good learning experience for the development team. It takes more than an interesting idea to make a decent game.