Release Date: June 14, 2004
Psi-Ops isn’t the best game I’ve ever played, or even the best third-person shooter. It is, however, one of the most open-ended, and has a broad sadistic streak that keeps me playing.
You play the part of Nick Scryer, an elite psionic operative for a federal agency codenamed Mindgate. When the game starts, Nick has been put in solitary confinement by the soldiers of the Movement, a terrorist organization comprised of renegade psychics and led by the General, a good old-fashioned megalomaniac. The Movement’s goal is to use their powers to gain access to an ancient alien artifact, and in so doing, become powerful enough to take over the world.
To get past the Movement’s telepaths, Nick’s been given drugs to block his memories and his powers. Over the course of the game, after he’s given the antidote, those powers will slowly return. Nick’s not the most powerful psion to come out of Mindgate, but he’s got more powers than most of them.
At the start of the game, you’ll find Psi-Ops to be an unremarkable shooter, with blah music, okay controls, a poorly-implemented stealth system, and graphics that are just above decent. If you stick it out, you’ll find that the further you go, the more fun Psi-Ops is.
It all comes down to doing horrible things to people with your amazing psychic abilities. If you try to rely on your guns, then Psi-Ops gets dull in a hurry, but once you start tormenting every poor bastard who so much as looks at you funny, Psi-Ops becomes entertaining in the sort of way that makes you ask hard questions about yourself.
In the first level, when all you have is telekinesis, you can knock someone’s teeth out by throwing a crate at them, or suspend them in mid-air while you shoot them to death, but that’s just the beginning. You can also slam enemy soldiers into walls, toss them over ledges, fry them on exposed wiring, slam a loose wall panel on their heads, fling them into a running ventilation fan, or, in one particularly memorable moment, chuck them into an open and working crematorium. Since the Movement has carelessly left volatile chemicals lying all over the place, you can also use giant explosive oil drums or oxygen tanks as makeshift grenades.
Let me put it this way. If there’s a way for someone to get minced in an industrial accident, you can make it happen to someone in Psi-Ops. All you need is a little forethought.
Your other powers are unlocked naturally as you progress through the game. Nick’s Mind Drain replenishes his psychic energy at the expense of whoever he’s using it on, and if you can catch a target unaware, you can make his head explode Scanners-style. Remote Viewing lets you peek through doors, and Aura View gives you clues, but Pyrokinesis and Mind Control are what will keep people playing this game.
Pyrokinesis is simple. You chuck fire at people, and then they burn up. It’s a classic for a reason. You can also use it to set fire to wooden targets, and the fire will then spread.
Mind Control enables you to possess other characters for as long as Nick’s psionic energy holds out. You simply step into their body and drive it around like a car, enabling you to turn other soldiers against their buddies, use distant targets to do your dirty work for you, or force a man to kill himself. (It’s not listed in the manual, but you can actually make your victims shoot themselves in the head. Hold down both thumbsticks for a few seconds. It’s expensive and takes time, but it leaves you with a warm feeling deep inside.)
Despite all of these powers, and the wide variety of tactical options they give you, Psi-Ops is still not an easy game. You tend to fight quite a few soldiers at once, in situations where they have all the cover, access to grenades, and frequent reinforcements. If you do some reconaissance before a fight, you can usually cut down the enemy’s numbers with Mind Control or a couple of telekinetic assassinations, but Nick can only handle one of these guys at a time.
Psi-Ops also is smart enough to use its themes to influence its scenarios, so you can go from a Hong Kong office building to a graveyard full of zombies without losing your suspension of disbelief. Most military-themed shooters make the mistake of throwing you into fights with wave after wave of identical mooks in olive green, in an endless procession of jungle ruins and industrial complexes, but Psi-Ops is an exception to that rule.
Its puzzles are also of a pleasantly natural sort, where they seem like problems you’d naturally encounter over the course of events, as opposed to the “put the golden scarab in the toaster to get the white statue” riddles you see in a lot of other games. You do have to hunt down quite a few keycards, but that only means that, oddly enough, you have to kill the next guy you see, and preferably via a method where you can recover the body.
Psi-Ops isn’t perfect, obviously. The psychic powers are amazingly useful – after the fifth stage or so, I barely used my guns at all – but they’re part of a package that includes an unpolished shooter and a really vague stab at trying to provide a stealth element. You can sneak around all you want in Psi-Ops, but the slightly murky graphics and unusually alert guards will torpedo that plan every time. (This is particularly irritating at the start of the third stage, where a spotlight’s beam will sometimes inexplicably penetrate hard cover. The next thing you know, you’re up to your ears in guards.)
The game could also use a few more guns, to round out the shooter action. A silenced sniper rifle, hand grenades, a heavy machine gun, or maybe flashbangs would all go a long way to make the action a bit more intense.
Finally, the controls are generally good, but the A button is set to handle both jumping and the generic action command, which means that you’ll be doing a lot of unplanned hopping. It makes Nick look like a complete idiot.
Those minor concerns aside, Psi-Ops is a fun, challenging game with a ton of unlockable extras. (That seems to be a theme with Midway these days, doesn’t it?) It’s definitely not for children and it’s not intended for those with a low threshold for frustration, but come on. Who doesn’t love making people’s heads explode?
Score : 8.4/10
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