Mindjack Hands-On: Three Ways to Play

We take a closer look at how upcoming shooter Mindjack allows players to tailor the gameplay experience.

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Mind control is an alluring concept. It has been the subject of artistic exploration for decades; a partial fulfillment of our inexplicable desire to know what it’s like to think and feel like someone else. While science fiction, film, music, and the visual arts have all helped bring to life the countless possibilities and scenarios of our collective imaginations, it's really video games that have allowed us to take control of these ideas and put them into practice in a virtual space. We had a chance to explore the concept further during a recent hands-on session with Square Enix's upcoming title Mindjack at Ubisoft's offices in Sydney.

Mindjack is not the first game that allows players to take over the bodies of non-player characters. However, it is the first that tailors its experience around the involvement of other human players, throwing unpredictability and human error into the mix. At its core, this is a third-person shooter with a basic cover mechanic and a sci-fi storyline that revolves around a federal agent and a woman the agent has been assigned to protect. The game is set 30 years in the future, when governments have mastered the technology of mind hacking, allowing its federal agents to "jump" into the minds of other humans, animals, and smart machines. The interesting thing about Mindjack is that you have a few options regarding the kind of experience you want out of it.

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The first option is to play the game as you would any other third-person shooter, with AI-controlled NPCs and without employing the mind-hacking abilities that your two characters have during combat (it is still necessary to use hacking at certain points in the story to progress; however, it is not compulsory during combat). So, it is possible to play through the 15 to 20 hours of gameplay and only use the game's central mechanic when absolutely necessary--if that is what you want.

The second option is to play through the game employing the hacking abilities but not going online. This means that your character will be able to take control of other NPCs, as well as animals and machines. You will also have the option of turning defeated enemies into "mindslaves" in the first five seconds after a kill, a move that permanently converts enemies to allies in the game. To turn on the hacking mode, you must press both thumbsticks at the same time; this pauses the gameplay and allows you to scroll through the "host" options using the right trigger. Your host option will include any NPCs that happen to be around, including your partner; various machines, such as self-detonating robots that you can control to explode in the middle of a large group of enemies; flying gun turrets; mobile shields; and on some occasions, animals. While we didn’t actually get to witness the latter option in our demo, we understand the cool thing about controlling animals is that you can crawl into small spaces, be more agile, and throw your own feces at enemies if you so wish (not guaranteed). It is also important to note that NPCs will automatically become equipped with a weapon when you jump into their bodies, meaning you can continue the fight from a better vantage point. As it’s no doubt clear by now, the whole point of the hacking ability is to allow you to gain the upper hand during combat. Smart players will position their main character under cover and then hack into various hosts closer to the action (the main character’s body becomes AI controlled once you decide to go wandering off). Once enemies are down, the mindslave option allows you to convert them to your side, thus making it increasingly easier to win a fight.

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The third--and in our opinion, the most interesting--option is to play the game online and allow other players to infiltrate your single-player campaign as either enemies or allies. For this, you have two options: Play through a level and accept human hackers into your game (up to four human players per game) or go hacking into someone else’s game. The most interesting thing about the former option is that while you play through normally and employ the hacking ability, you won’t know if the hosts you’re hacking into are AI controlled or human controlled. This also works for the enemies: when you are employing the latter option and hacking into other people's games online, you have the option of playing co-op with them or against them. Of course, human-controlled enemies are a lot tougher to deal with than AI-controlled ones, which is where Mindjack becomes really fascinating. Is that dude who just won’t die an AI enemy or some punk 14-year-old kid from Brazil? And is he going to blow your head off if you get any closer? Adding to the confusion is the fact that you cannot, at any stage, let your main characters die. If they are wounded while you’re outside their body, you only have a limited amount of time to return and heal them.

With its ability to introduce the element of surprise and tailor its gameplay and difficulty according to an individual player’s gaming habits, Mindjack promises to be an interesting experience, either online or off. The game is due out on February 10.

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