Release Date: May 25, 2004
Midway has always been a big player in the third party arena, supporting all consoles with good quality titles. In the last generation of consoles, Midway struck it big by porting its great arcade lineup of titles to the home consoles. Back then, their lineup basically consisted of MK, the San Francisco Rush series, and their arcade sports titles. Topping things off, their arcade sports titles lacked the depth and replayablity of other sports titles. Midway realized this with the current generation of consoles and started to make big changes. They started pumping more features into their sports lineup, which now has as much depth and replay value as the sim-based sports titles out there while still keeping that classic Midway arcade edge. They have also really started to branch out into totally new game genres and have been building an impressive software lineup. The latest is Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, and it might possibly be the freshest take on the action/adventure genre seen in years!
Psi-Ops puts you in the role of Nick Scryer, an elite U.S. Psi-operative soldier and all around badass that must take down "The Movement," a terrorist group that is trying to overthrow the world order. Not exactly the deepest story ever seen in a video game, but it is pretty interesting nevertheless, thanks in part to over 45 minutes of high-quality FMV that help move it along. What really sets this game apart from other standard action/adventure games is the use of the Psi powers and the effect they have on the overall game design. Nick, being the Psi soldier that he is, has powerful mind powers of which he can make use. Overall, there are six of the special Psi powers at his disposal: telekinesis, pyrokinesis, mind control, remote viewing, mind drain and aura view. Each of these Psi powers has a important use in the game (and sometimes more than just one!).
Telekinesis allows you to pick up almost any object or person in the game and move, throw or smash them into anything in any direction. Pyrokinesis is Nick's ability to launch a wall of fire that ignites everything in its path, organic or otherwise. Mind control is probably the coolest of the powers, as it lets you take control of enemies' bodies and use them as lab rats to solve puzzles without putting yourself at risk or to simply walk up to other unsuspecting enemies and open fire on them. Remote viewing takes the standard peeking-around-walls feature one step further and actually lets you go out of your body and walk through closed doors to see what is behind them, as well as around stairs and hallways that lie ahead to get the head's up on where the enemies are before you make your way to them.
The mind drain is Nick’s way of replenishing his Psi meter, and it's also a neat way to kill enemies. Any dead enemies that still have their heads intact can be drained of any remaining Psi energy, and it's not a problem if the enemy is still alive, as Nick can also suck out their Psi energy, which will kill them in the process. :) Aura view is a lot like the night vision and thermal goggles in Splinter Cell, as it allows you to see things that are not visible to the naked eye. While all of these Psi powers are a blast to use to take out enemies, Nick also has access to a traditional arsenal of weapons such as hand guns, machine guns, sniper rifles, flamethrowers and of course the good ol' 'nades! Nick's main weapon of choice is his mind, but these traditional weapons also play key roles in the game, and in some cases, are far better choices than any of his Psi powers.
In the build we played, we were allowed to go through two missions in one of the levels and mess around in the Psi practice room (a big room filled with all kinds of objects and spawning enemies). The two missions were pretty short but gave us a good idea of how the finial game will play out. The level design, from a visual perspective, was nothing amazing, but from a game play perspective was completely marvelous. The placement of objects throughout the levels was really fantastic, to the point where you often found yourself with many different ways to go about taking out the enemies. That seems to be one of the main themes of this game, as there are usually a few different ways to get the job done, but those who use their heads and think things through will often find themselves rewarded. The easiest way of doing something might not always be the most logical.
The pacing throughout the levels was very well done, even in this early build. The action was fast-paced and intense, as the AI is quite smart and will take cover behind objects and hold down positions. There was also a fair amount of sneaking around and stealth too. Midway has also done a great job in balancing out the use of your Psi powers and standard weapons: you utilize your Psi powers the most, but there are many times during which your standard guns are more useful, like sniping targets that are pinned down behind boxes. Also, a cool feature is the ability to combine your Psi powers and standard weapons for some really cool kills. One of my favorites is using telekinesis to levitate an enemy, and while he is helpless in midair, pull out my machine gun and pump a few rounds into him! Making all of this possible is the control system used in the game. This game is a breeze to control, and to make things even easier you have the ability to customize them and change the sensitivity settings on the joysticks. The controls themselves are set up in such a way that you have access to both your Psi powers as well as your standard weapons at all times. Switching between the two on the fly is a piece of cake and works well.
The graphics in the Xbox version of Psi-Ops are nothing amazing, especially when compared to similar Xbox titles like Splinter Cell. The game's lighting is nicely done and is at times, pretty to look at, but is nowhere near the level of Splinter Cell (then again, not many games are). The levels we played were not the most eye-catching by design, but they were all nicely textured. There were also some cool effects here and there, like light reflecting off of a pool of water. All of the character models were pretty detailed, with a good number of polygons and were not blocky at all. The fire and explosion effects were very well done and looked fantastic, easily ranking up there with some of the better looking ones we have seen.
While the graphics are pretty good, the physics is where it's at! Midway has licensed out the Havok physics engine for use in Psi-Ops, and this game really makes excellent use of it! For those of you who are not up on Havok, this is the same physics engine that this "little" title called Half-Life 2 uses. It is a very advanced engine that not only allows for realistic ragdoll effects but also simulates the weight and type of material of all of the objects that can be affected in some way or other in the game. Wooden objects will act like wood, and metallic objects will act like and respond like metal. The effects of this in-game are nothing short of stunning. The first time you pick up an enemy and smash his body into a box, breaking it into many pieces while the guy's body goes flopping realistically across the floor and then lying limp is a sight to behold. That is only one of the less complex effects of this powerful physics engine. We have already done a lot of the same type of physics effects that have been seen in Half-Life 2, so there should be no doubt about how good these physics really are.
It's been a while since I have been this excited about an action/adventure game. From what we played so far, Psi-Ops is shaping up to be a totally fresh take on this tried-and-tested genre, and we welcome it with open arms! While there is plenty of fast-paced action to be had, the blend of strategy and stealth really helps to set it apart from the standard action games out there. While the levels are structurally very linear, the actual game play is totally non-linear and lets the player decide what they want to do. Psi-Ops is shaping up to be the killer app that the somewhat stale action/adventure genre needed!
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