Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy

Review

posted 6/25/2004 by Charlie Sinhaseni
other articles by Charlie Sinhaseni
One Page Platforms: PS2
Contrary to what we'd like to believe, video games have become an integral part of popular culture. This means that it's not immune to the pitfalls and perils that come with pop culture as well, including the idea of trends. A few years back all of the developers were falling in love with lens flares, then it was water effects and cel-shaded graphics. If 2004 will be remembered for something it will be the introduction of realistic physics mechanics as an integral part of gaming, and helping to usher in that trend is Midway's Psi-Ops, a highly entertaining action game that features a great gimmick, but manages to succeed on the basis of its own merits.

Mindgate is the government’s name for the agency that utilizes psychic abilities. You’ll play as Nick Scryer, a loyal solider whose memory has been wiped out from the start. As you progress you’ll learn more about yourself and the agency through in-game cinematics and dialogues between the characters. With the reintroduction of the Metal Gear Solid franchise there has been a renewed interest in plotlines for action games. Midway took that into account and developed a gripping story that’s full of twists and turns. It’s not Hollywood material but it’s compelling enough to keep you glued in the seats from start to finish. Even still, the game can’t manage to avoid many of the clichés of the action genre. You’re cast as the badass with a heart of gold who was betrayed by his friends and left for dead. There’s the requisite huge black guy, the skinny guy with the glasses and even the rogue general who is bent on world domination. Midway even went to the action cliché well and made sure to include ties to Nazi Germany and China as the source of the game’s threats. Aside from one particularly nauseating sequence (which seems to be lifted from the dream sequences in Max Payne 2) the game moves along quite nicely through the use of intriguing dialogue and decent pacing.

Psi Ops looks and feels like a traditional third-person action/adventure title but it has one distinguishing element that separates it from the rest. The introduction of psychic abilities takes everything we’ve known about the genre and turns it upside down on its head, with some excellent results as well. Throughout the game you’ll encounter a pretty robust arsenal of firearms but the main attraction here are the powers. Right from the start you’re given the game’s most unique and amusing ability, telekinesis. Made possible thanks to the inclusion of Havok’s physics system, you can pick up almost everything that isn’t anchored down and hurl it wherever you’d like. You can hurl crates, tables, stone lions, explosive canisters and other objects at your foes. Hell, you can even pick up your enemies and toss them against walls, complete with impressive rag doll physics. Aside from the offensive element this power plays a crucial role in the puzzle solving process as well. From time-to-time you’ll be called upon to reach high ledges that are beyond your character’s leaping ability. To reach the ledge you’ll have to construct a makeshift staircase out of whatever crates or objects that are sitting around. This might all sound tedious but the manner in which this power is integrated makes it the most fun and unique gameplay element we’ve seen thus far from the year 2004.
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