This week, Zero Punctuation makes its opinion on MindJack very very clear.
Do you want to hear something totally unbelievable? Some people say they have difficulty telling whether I recommend a game or not. I know, what morons! Yes, I exaggerate every slightest negative feature regardless of overall quality, but how else would developers learn? It's like Chinese parenting, but less nightmarish. I'll usually give a bit of a general summary towards the end, but I guess people might have trouble concentrating that long when they're mesmerized by the sexy jiggle of the fat rolls on a passing close relative. So in the name of keeping things nice and clear for you touchy sods, let me be as unambiguous as possible in this critique: MindJack is fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking, bad, bad, bad, bad. Don't, don't, don't, don't, play it. And if you'd kindly tell your cousin to go throw on a fucking bathrobe, I will tell you why.
MindJack - as in, "Don't mind Jack, he was kicked in the head by a horse and that's why he drools everywhere" - is the story of a bloke counterintuitively named Jim, although they don't tell you his name until several hours in. The game starts with Meathead A stalking some lady through an airport for no adequately-disclosed reason, but he's talking to Meathead B with a headset, so I guess it's legit. After seeing the lady meet up with someone we'll call Meathead C, Meathead B instructs Meathead A to not interfere, whereupon Meathead A runs up and socks Meathead C in the jaw. Might want to get your audio equipment checked out there, lads.
We're never really given context for this. Not long afterwards, when the lady starts demonstrating the ability to hack door locks, Meathead A gets strangely taken aback, considering this is the first thing they teach you at video game support character school, and cries: "Just who the hell are you, lady?" Which I thought quite apposite, although I would have extended the question to every motherfucker in the plot thus far.
Anyway, armed police storm the place, and I've no idea why that happens, either. One suspects they were simply conjured from the ether when the game realized that gameplay had been going on for about ten minutes and the plot wasn't going to get us anywhere any time soon. Meathead A and Vagina Owner then have to go on the run, because if this is the kind of society that calls in the army for a single assault charge, then gunning them all down is definitely not going to earn you the Victoria Cross.
It's rare to find a game so blisteringly-appalling in its every slightest aspect. It looks like shit. In this day and age, looking like shit is something you really have to work hard at. This is Square Enix, who have built an entire company around making things look their worst for many years, but usually they do that by dressing people like they escaped from some kind of rainbow circus in the future, not by, you know, just looking like shit. The main character's hair looks like someone glued a 3D Magic Eye picture to the back of his head, and the aforesaid lady character I estimate to be around sixty-five years old. The environments are gray, linear, loveless combat areas furnished only by chest-high walls like soul-crushing cubicle farms for administrative midgets. And even for video games, the voice acting is appalling, which is like being the ugliest bloke at the Andrew Lloyd Webber look-alike contest. When characters converse, I'm all but certain that the actors recorded their lines in different rooms, probably different days, and perhaps on different planes of existence.
As you may have already extrapolated, MindJack is a linear, third-person, cover-based shooter. Woah, leave some innovation for the rest of us, da Vinci! Cover-based shooting is a little dry and overdone, even if it's perfectly executed, and the only way to perfectly execute MindJack would be with a lethal injection. Once you've persuaded little Jimmy Meathead to take cover rather than perform roly-polies in front of the chosen wall, he has a terrible habit of firing into it. And at one point, I couldn't see where I was shooting because the ammo counter on the side of the gun was in the way. Can't see the killing for my gun, how philosophical. Not that the enemy side has the advantage. Whatever void the soldiers were conjured from, it doesn't have a good education system. Sitting around in cover is no life for an NPC with big ambitions; they want to see the world. They're constantly moving out of cover, walking slowly around in the open, getting stuck in a wall, and jiggling around like a Muppet on nitrous oxide. Shooting them feels like I'm ruining someone's zoo exhibit.
Perhaps that's why they take away all your weapons between every fucking level - to make it fairer. If the game's feeling generous, then you start each level picking up a couple of assault rifles the janitor left lying around. But at all other times you're stuck with the starting pistol, which is the worst gun in the history of warfare, because it only works when you recite the 83rd psalm between every shot.
But a game can't just have cover-based shooting, surely, Yahtzee? Well, no. MindJack bases itself around a practice counter-intuitively called "mind hacking." You can convert enemies to your side in battle, but given the A.I. issues mentioned above this is like commandeering the short bus. More often than not, my new friends would immediately attempt to sprint to his armed former comrades and start kicking them in the shins.
The other big thing is that you can actually astrally project yourself and take over the bodies of allies and civilians, but while possessing a bystander to flank the enemy sounds like a clever strategy, you can outflank the enemy just as well by waiting for them to get distracted by a shiny object. Weirdly, Meaty Jim becomes A.I. controlled himself while you're out of his body, so you'll want to get back quickly before he attempts to stop bullets with the bridge of his nose, but it does raise the question of whether the player character is actually Jim or some unseen puppet master. At one point, another character brings up mindhacking and Jim says, "What's that?", rather than, "You mean the thing I've done about sixty times today alone?". So this may be the twist they're leading up to. I wouldn't know - didn't finish it. I couldn't figure out how to get past a giant robot boss late in the game, 'cause I fired ten thousand rockets into it and then I was out of ideas. So I guess MindJack defeated me. I hope the victory feels satisfying from the bottom of my wastepaper basket.
Finally, there is multiplayer. The big boast is that MindJack seamlessly marries the warring cousins of single-player and multiplayer together at last. How it works is you can join - or hack into, if you will - someone else's single-player session and take control of the nondescript enemy soldiers, the intention being to attempt to stop the host player from getting any further in the game. Depending on your perspective, this is either a legitimized form of griefing or a heart-swellingly self-sacrificing act of kindness. I dunno, maybe single players would rather just play by themselves without a bunch of yobbos crashing in and messing up the place, and maybe the multiplayers would rather have some kind of identity beyond Crashing Yobbos 3 and 4. There's often a very good reason why unique ideas have never been tried before. No one's ever made a space capsule out of fudge, but you wouldn't do it, 'cause all you'd get out of it is a bunch of very delicious astronauts.
- A different kind of hack: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Maybe marketing thought a masturbation reference in the title would move more units
- Not that 65-year-olds can't have full, rich and active lives