Take a cover-based, third-person shooter, set it in a shiny sci-fi world, toss in the ability to highjack the minds of allies and enemies, and you've got Mindjack, and ambitious but flawed run-and-gunner from Square-Enix. Evocative of geek-favourites like TRON, The Matrix and even Inception, Mindjack boasts an appealing concept, but underwhelming production values and unpolished gameplay severely limit its potential.
As a lame, dialogue-spewing secret agent, players are thrown into a conspiracy-riddled story pitting them against swarms of generic enemies in equally generic environments. While trading fire with these me-too menaces, you're able to snap into cover, dive-roll, vault and melee attack. Most of the time these mechanics work as expected, but every so often a fun-siphoning flaw pulls you from the action.
The worst offenders are seemingly secure cover spots, which leave you standing upright in a hot lead storm. But shooting from behind cover can also be frustrating, especially when you realise you've just emptied an entire clip into an invisible obstacle.
The protagonist's special abilities are more engaging, like his Gears of War-like roadie run and the ability to use foes as human shields. The real draw, though, is the brain-hacking power mentioned in the game's title. By messing with the minds of the enemies, you're able to take control of their bodies directly or send them off on their own like brain-washed minions. Additionally, you can pull these tricks on allies, innocent civilians, combat drones, and even heat-packing primates.
While it's highly gratifying to witness a cowering flight attendant transform into your own personal terminator, the mechanic's implementation is too clumsy to make a real table-turning difference during intense firefights. Taking direct control of others requires a brief out-of-body experience that's both disorienting and tedious, and drones have often used their ammunition by the time you enter their metallic husks, essentially making you less of a threat than one of those Roomba vacuum cleaners.
Your best bet is to build a small army by remotely hacking minds and letting the AI-controlled traders do their thing. Sure, they're often downed before drawing a breath, but at least they serve as an effective flanking distraction while they last.
Mindjack also takes its brain-hacking hook online, allowing players to enter each others' campaigns as one of the faceless adversaries. It's an interesting, if underdeveloped idea, that seamlessly blurs the line between solo and multiplayer. Unfortunately, aside from the initial adrenaline spike that hits every time you notice one of the dumb-as-dirt AI has been possessed by a strategically thinking human, the feature isn't much fun.
The campaign is already brimming with bullet-sponge baddies, so adding a handful of griefing humans to the mix only serves to extend the already tiresome clear-a-room combat. Even worse, if you're taken out by one of these online campaign-cripplers, you're often sent back to a checkpoint you passed fifteen minutes ago.
Bugs or no, Mindjack is a much better game when played offline - thankfully, you can switch off the default online option. Still, that's not saying much. With its defining features only partially living up to their potential, Mindjack is reduced to a barely average third-person shooter. It won't blow any minds, but you'll have some modest fun hacking until genre giants Uncharted and Gears of War deliver their next entries later this year.
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