Somebody Check my Brain

It’s hard to deny that shooters of both the first- and third-person varieties are the biggest pillars of the PS3 and Xbox 360. They’re what sell systems, and there was no shortage of sequels to the most popular franchises at E3 2010. Halo: Reach, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Gears of War 3, Killzone 3, and the list just keeps going. Even newcomers like Bulletstorm and Vanquish managed to steal some of the spotlight. With all of these heavy hitters on display, it was all too easy for an under-hyped game to fall through the cracks. And while Square Enix’s Mindjack may seem like just another cover-based third-person shooter at first glance, there’s a bit more going on here than a Japanese developer trying to get in on the western shooter craze.

Mindjack is being developed by feelplus, whose other game was the Xbox 360 exclusive Lost Odyssey. The studio looks to do for third-person shooters what their last game did for turn-based RPGs: take an otherwise stale formula and spice it up with some fresh wrappings. There will be lots of familiar cover-based gunplay, but the change-up is the ability to jump into and take control of anyone around you. While story details are scant, the trailers indicate that a Bluetooth-like earpiece grants you the power to take over your enemies’ or even innocent civilians’ minds, giving you a myriad of strategic options on any battlefield. If you’re surrounded by foes, jump into one and outflank them. If the enemy is bringing in bigger guns, use them for yourself without even having to kill the previous owner! There also appear to be robots you can hack into and control in the same fashion, complete with on-board weapons.

Set in the year 2031, it seems that the world’s governments are collapsing with the discovery of mind hacking. Those wielding the power are apparently trying to take over, so we have a futuristic rebellion on our hands. Most of the action takes place in the streets of a sprawling silver city littered with chest-high walls with which to take cover behind and shoot from. Since anyone can become your enemy, expect plenty of backstabbing and betrayal throughout the story. The very clean and bright color scheme reminds me of the other upcoming Japanese shooter Vanquish, and I must say it is a welcome change from the usual muddy browns we’re used to in third-person shooters.

You might be thinking that with Platinum Games’ Vanquish coming up in the fourth quarter of 2010, there isn’t enough room in the line-up for two Japanese developed shooters. Hell, you might be right. But while Platinum looks to channel the over-the-top speed and insanity of Bayonetta into a sci-fi bullet fest, they certainly aren’t trying to appeal to the core western FPS fan with their complete lack of co-operative or even competitive multiplayer modes. Mindjack, on the other hand, will take an interesting approach to multiplayer that may strike a chord with fans of last year’s sleeper hit Demon’s Souls. Players can choose to jump into other people’s campaigns and join the members of their squad, or jump into the minds of the enemy. With up to six players allowed in a single game, that makes for either six-player co-op to blow through the campaign, or five-player ganking crews making one guy’s life miserable. While Demon’s Souls was always online as long as your PS3 was, and anyone could jump into your game to kill you at any time, this will be an optional setting in Mindjack. You can choose to only allow friends to join your game, or keep the tension level high by letting anyone jack in. Imagine that looming threat from the Matrix films where anyone could suddenly become an Agent and jump you, but in a game. Sounds like a great hook to me.

Sure, maybe this is just another attempt for Square Enix to try and tap into western audiences. We’ve been seeing this a lot lately from Japanese developers, with mixed results. The core gunplay doesn’t look too inspired, and the cheesy narrated trailers aren’t helping any. We’ve seen the possession mechanic before with games like Geist, in which case the gunplay took a back seat to the ghost-play. Hopefully by starting with a tried and tested cover-based shooting system, feelplus can build a unique multiplayer experience. If so, let’s hope it doesn’t get lost in the deluge of bigger shooters coming this fall. With a release window of October 2010, I for one am plenty excited to get Mindjack’d.







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