With the Gears of War and Uncharted franchises setting supremely high standards for cover-based third-person shooters, other developers must go out of their minds trying to think of new ways to stand out from the crowd. And thus Japanese developer feelplus has done exactly that; it's built a cover-based shooter that allows you to literally go out of your mind and take control of enemies and other NPCs in order to give you the advantage during a firefight. Mindjack is not merely a third-person shooter, but a third, fourth, fifth, umpteenth person shooter, which sounds cool on paper – it's just a shame that an extremely poor implementation of the concept results in your disembodied mind shuffling clumsily back and forth between available hosts like the producers of The Tonight Show.
Set in the not-too-distant-but-still-vaguely-futuristic-sounding year of 2031, Mindjack features a C-grade sci-fi plot revolving around the crumbling of world governments and the rise of evil corporations, in an era in which jacking into other people's minds is somehow possible (though never clearly explained). You play Jim, a special agent who alongside female protagonist Rebecca must shoot waves of faceless soldiers in corridors populated with crates and motorcycles from the movie Tron, as you attempt to infiltrate the headquarters of the nefarious NERKAS corporation. Okay, so this synopsis may sound a bit nebulous, but that's mainly because what little narrative exists is presented via hazy flashbacks and cutscenes featuring some of the worst voice acting in recent memory – the actors seriously deliver their lines as though they're reading them off the bottom row of an eye chart. So let's skip the story and get to the shooting.
At its core, Mindjack resembles an awkward facsimile of Gears of War. You can roadie-run, snap to cover, blindfire, dive roll and so on, but it's just nowhere near as refined as Epic's flagship shooter, and frustrations abound: invisible edges extend out beyond pieces of cover so that you're often shooting into it rather than around it, grenade-throwing is limp and inaccurate and melee attacks lack impact.
But Mindjack isn't just a straight up shooter; it has a few extra tricks up its sleeve. Firstly is the ability to "mindslave" an enemy. After you bring an enemy to their knees you get a brief window before they expire in which to revitalize them and turn them against their fellow foes. This applies to not only human soldiers but also machines such as the flying BioShock-style sentry bots, and even the demented gun-strapped chimps that appear on a handful of occasions throughout the game.
Once you've got an enemy on your side you can either rely on it to cause a diversion while you flank other enemies in the area, or "mindjack" it and control it firsthand. By clicking both thumbsticks in you leave your body and drift around like a ghost before re-entering another, but this is where Mindjack really comes unstuck. Whereas a similar setup in the last-gen FPS Battlefield 2: Modern Combat had you zipping between soldiers in a slick and near-instant manner, in Mindjack the process is far too slow and disorientating – you can cycle through available bodies with the shoulder buttons but the close-up camera angle used gives little clue as to where exactly each body is in the environment, and in the midst of a firefight this only serves to stoke the flames of frustration.
Meanwhile, boss fights are completely counter-intuitive. Forget about established methods of killing a boss in videogames – such as studying their movement patterns and identifying their weak spots – the trick to killing the bulk of Mindjack's bosses is to attack everyone except for the boss, leaving the big fella to die from boredom and/or loneliness. At one point towards the end of the game we spent over an hour firing what seemed like hundreds of rockets into a towering mech to no avail, before getting exasperated and mopping up the remaining ground troops instead, at which point the mech spontaneously exploded in a cutscene. This method is repeated soon after for a pair of twin mechs. It's frustrating and completely farcical: you don't feel satisfied for toppling a boss, you're just left feeling utterly bewildered.
Mindjack's only notable feature is its six-player online mode, which allows other players to jump into your campaign and either fight alongside or against you, like a bunch of Agent Smiths from The Matrix. The story and levels remain the same, but the game effectively turns into a rolling deathmatch of sorts.
On the one hand it's cool because human players are always going to be a more unpredictable adversary than AI, but on the other hand you'll likely die a lot more as a result of the extra challenge, meaning that not only will you have to endure Mindjack's already drawn out firefights, but you'll potentially have to endure each of them multiple times over. No thanks.
More development missteps abound. You can grab an enemy and use them as human shield, but you can't execute them – your only option is to wait for them to die, or to release them and try and shoot them before they shoot you. The game annoyingly strips you back to a pistol at the start of each level for no apparent reason. The checkpoint system is wildly inconsistent, sometimes forcing you to replay up to a half hour of gameplay after you die. The AI sucks. And presumably due to the "always online" multiplayer feature you can't ever pause the game. You can, on the other hand, turn it off.