Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy

Gamestyle Archive Intro: hard to believe this review is over 10 years old debuting in the summer of 2004. I do remember this game fondly as it was a fun experience with a different slant than all of the other combat based games that were swamping the formats. I ask myself now, have games evolved much in the meantime? Frankly not much.

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In the rush to deliver the first extra sensory video game of the summer, Midway has beaten Free Radical to land the first blow. For now the promising Second Sight, will have to be just that; but is Psi-Ops (formerly known as ESPionage) a justified knockout or nothing more than a minor scratch?

Last year’s vogue was rag doll physics, and this was exploited fully by both the Splinter Cell and Hitman series to name but two. The infamous Half Life 2 footage has shown what is possible with a special weapon, but what if the main character had a unique physic ability to control and manoeuvre objects? What gaming possibilities could such a feature create? The answer forms the core experience of The Mindgate Conspiracy thanks to the Havoc physics engine. You take the role of Nick Scryer, a Psi-Operative who is captured by The Movement – a terrorist organisation that uses mind control techniques. Unknown to his captors, Nick’s abilities have not been removed, but rather lie dormant, awaiting reactivation. Aided by a provocative double agent, escaping from captivity is only the beginning of the fight against The Movement. It’s a journey of discover for Nick, as his powers slowly return to him and old friends turn out to be anything but friendly.

The story for what it is will not win any nominations for originality or execution. However it merely acts as an introduction and sideshow, for what becomes a flying ballet of boxes, bodies and photocopiers – yes, potentially anything can become a lethal weapon. A new maxim for a new age: if moves, throw it. This skill of lifting objects is known as telekinesis, but Nick is much more than a weight lifter – he can become the puppeteer through the ability to mind control opponents – and other skills besides. At first The Mindgate Conspiracy comes across very much like Freedom Fighters, with the emphasis on plenty of opponents, action and overriding sense of fun. Then as the special abilities are returned to your arsenal, you can really begin to play with the dynamics and experiment. Take for instance a crowded courtyard. That sniper above could be a victim of mind control, turning on his opponents and picking them off one by one.

Like many releases, crates and boxes litter the environments of the game, but these can be lifted and thrown across in a game of soldier bowling. And at the end of the day you can still rely on your gun, but exploring the options offered by the special abilities is what makes The Mindgate Conspiracy wonderful to play, and sets it apart from the rest. Often the bane of most releases, the puzzles have been carefully pieced together, and require the player to cast aside those overused guns, and actually think. Thankfully these are spaced out in such a way that highlights the solid design of the game. Even the abilities are restored piece by piece, slowly introducing the player to their range of possibilities. This game has been put together efficiently, and with a degree of skill rarely seen in such third person blasters. Considering that you have two means of attack (normal combat and physic abilities) the control system could have become a total shambles. However the layout and execution is intuitive, and really allows you to command Nick with authority. The shining example is that after a few minute with the flashback-training missions, you will be running headlong into environments, using objects and taking on The Movement without a second thought.

Visually the game is extremely slick, with brief loading times, above average textures and a good exponent of lighting. While the environments you find yourself in lack any real imagination (and are taken from a grotty and grungy palate) this is certainly one of the most appealing releases recently seen on the Playstation 2. Yet this is not a total thoroughbred, as there are issues with the game. The initial negative is the butch voice acting, which is nothing but original. A surprise when you actually open up some of the extras, and see how much work has gone into designing the game. The co-operative mode is anything but, as a friend can control the physic abilities of Nick, while you run around playing soldier. It’s not what Gamestyle would call a proper co-operative mode, and it is unfortunate that a proper multi-player option could not have been included.

The length may be an issue to some, but while it lasts The Mindgate Conspiracy is immensely enjoyable, and in retrospect ideally pitched. Midway has included a raft of hidden extras for those who enjoy opening up such options. The value of these is debateable, but the incentive is there to play again, and examine environments a little more closely second time around. Midway is very much a publisher in ascendancy, after several poor years it is emerging from the shadows with some quality titles, and Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy is yet another example.

Gamestyle Score: 7/10

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