Midway is an interesting company. Known largely for the Mortal Kombat franchise, and the rich arcade heritage that preceded it, including such classic titles as Narc, Robotron, and Paperboy, it’s seen some trouble in trying to recapture the glory of its early days.
Midway have never completely disappeared from the gaming landscape, but its presence and influence has been somewhat modest in recent years, in part due to lackluster games and poor updates to some of its more famous titles. The company appears to be returning to its former self, however, as it’s enjoying something of a creative renaissance. First they had a hit through their new spin on the survival horror genre with The Suffering, and now they’re trying to reinvent the action game with Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy.
Who Am I?
Psi-Ops is a polished action title; from the moment it loads, it seems well developed. In fact, once the introductory cinematic sequence begins, players will be left with little doubt that this game has enjoyed a productive and lavish development cycle. The movie exhibits both wonderful animation and a slightly cartoon-like quality that’s a refreshing change from the photo-realism a great deal of games seem to strive for in their cinematics. The intro movie serves its purpose well and provides an interesting look at the game’s characters and story. The basic premise of Psi-Ops places you in the shoes of Nick Scryer – Mindgate’s number-one agent. He’s given the task of infiltrating a menacing organization known simply as ?The Movement’. A fearsome terrorist group, The Movement is also known to house several very powerful people, who, as fate would have it, are gifted with terrible psychic powers. To successfully gain access to The Movement, Mindgate temporarily subdue Nick’s own ?psi’ powers and his memory, so that he may penetrate their ranks without raising suspicion, or alerting the group to his own abilities.
The Power Of The Mind
Once the game begins, you could be forgiven for thinking that Psi-Ops is yet another third-person run-and-gun type game. While the first few minutes create that illusion, the awakening of Nick’s formerly dormant psi power shows that the game is not all it appears to be. Despite initially seeming that Nick will have to rely on traditional weapons such as pistols, assault rifles and shotguns, the player will soon discover the first of Nick’s psi powers: telekinesis, or TK as the game refers to it. Although there are several powers to be reawakened, TK proves to be the one most used throughout the game, and it’s one of the reasons that Psi-Ops is so enjoyably original. When using telekinesis, the game utilizes the Havok physics engine to imbue almost everything within the game’s environment with mass and weight. Items and NPCs can be picked up and thrown around. In fact, any element you think should be open for manipulation can be, and it lends a great sense of freedom to the game. Will you try to jump the large gap in the demolished floor, or should you stand on a broken piece of concrete and simply float over it? Generally speaking, the choice is yours. The use of TK is extensive, and you can integrate it well into combat. Items can be thrown at NPCs, they can also be thrown into environmental hazards, and all of it is great fun.
However, using mental attributes is physically expensive, and your psi power will need to be regenerated. Initially, psi power is replenished through traditional vials, but further into the game you will gain Mind Drain – a dual-purpose technique. When an NPC is killed, a small amount of psi power may be reclaimed from them (unless they’ve been beheaded, which proves to be a nice touch). While this is helpful, the value of the technique really becomes apparent when you catch an enemy unawares. Sneaking up behind one of the game’s numerous foes, you can stealthily initiate a mind drain and, besides regaining far more energy than that of the dead, the sheer power of the procedure will literally destroy the unlucky recipient’s mind. As well as a visually satisfying exploding head, it also has great value as an offensive tactic. Other skills you’ll rediscover include, Pyrokinesis, the ability to create and wield fire, and Mind Control, which allows you to possess an enemy character and embark on a damage-free rampage (providing your position isn’t discovered while controlling the weak-willed subject). The remaining mental powers consist of Remote Viewing, which allows you to visually check out rooms before physically entering them, and Aura View, which grants the ability to see things existing outside of Nick’s visual range.
See No Evil
Graphically, Psi-Ops is very consistent. The character models are all drawn and animated extremely well, and the addition of rag doll physics certainly adds another dimension to the game. Unlike lesser titles, the bodies always fall and contort in an authentic manner; there are no physically impossible death animations to be seen here. Likewise, the environments are equally as good, and they’ve been lovingly created to allow for maximum fun while using your psi powers – especially TK. Indeed, it’s difficult to resist the urge to throw NPCs from balconies, into fans, and onto electrical cables. What’s on show in Psi-Ops is sure to be emulated in other games very soon; high praise indeed.
Hear No Evil
The in-game sound is also well realized; the voiceovers are good, although somewhat understated. This is beneficial to the overall atmosphere seeing as, with most science fiction, it would have been all too easy to fall foul of the overly dramatic. The audio effects are solid; not at all out of place, and everything sounds as you’d expect – from the crack of gunfire to the cacophony of a smashed marble statue. In fact, the music seems to take a back seat to the rest of the sound, mainly consisting of oppressive militaristic anthems and unobtrusive, almost elusive, stealth-like tunes.
All That?And This Too
Replay value is relatively high. There are various modes of play to be unlocked, and many different player skins to make that secondary, or even tertiary trip through the game a little more enjoyable. The skins, though largely comprised of in-game character models, can sometimes throw up a pleasant surprise – including a familiar face from the Mortal Kombat series. There are also a nice amount of cheats to be found that will alter various aspects of the gameplay. All of them are worthy inclusions, and help to extend the life of this already enjoyable game. Psi-Ops is undoubtedly an exciting title that will likely spawn a wonderful new franchise.
The inspired use of mental control and advanced rag doll physics has elevated an interesting title to an entirely new level. Midway is to be commended for what it has contributed to the action genre, as most gameplay elements in Psi-Ops are more polished than those found in a lot of its peers. Action fans looking for an engrossing action game with cool new elements should definitely check out Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy. While this game will probably not convert those gamers who don’t like action games, anybody else will more than likely find it to be a thoroughly enjoyable new experience.