With the various Final Fantasy spin-offs and the Mana and SaGa titles, it's not surprising that Square Enix is pretty much synonymous with Japanese style RPGs. Square Enix has often dabbled in other genres, though. When they were known as Squaresoft, they would publish the super-realistic fighting title Bushido Blade and the side-scrolling Einhander. While they didn't pay off with long-lasting franchises, they're still pretty well-respected in some circles. Because of the desire to develop games that can appeal to both Western and Eastern audiences, Square Enix has started to look at some other genres. Developed by FeelPlus, Mindjack is one of the company's attempts at making a shooter that works for audiences from all countries, and it's a rather interesting one.
Mindjack is based on a pretty simple idea. It's set roughly 30 years in the future, when an evil group is trying to take over the world by using advanced robotics technology. Naturally, you have to stop them. You play as Jim Corbin, a guy with the power to take over the bodies of other people. At any time, he can leave the body he is in and take over another, giving him a new lease on life and turning a potential foe into a powerful asset. This isn't limited to living beings, either; you can also take over nonliving things, like robot mechs. During our brief demo, we saw him take over humans and floating security robots. Halfway through the demo, a giant ape covered in cybernetics appeared, but he seemed immune to hacking, at least for the moment. It didn't seem as if it would stay that way for long, though.
Once you're in a body, the gameplay is a fairly traditional third-person shooter. It's built heavily around finding cover and using that cover to your advantage. The controls and gameplay were exactly what we expect from any modern third-person shooter on the market, right down to the regenerating health and overly familiar stable of weapons. The mechanics felt fairly solid, albeit a tad stiff in places. Considering this was an early pre-alpha build, there is plenty of room for things to be cleaned up and polished. At first glance, the only really unique thing was that you have the ability to leave your current body as an ethereal blue cloud and float toward other potential mindjacking targets. This can have interesting implications for the cover system, since you can get behind enemies by mindjacking someone in a different position. As we mentioned, you're not limited to humans, so taking control of a floating security robot offers you greater firepower at the cost of versatility.
Mindjack features an RPG-like leveling system. By defeating enemies or assisting allies, you'll gain experience points, and if you gain enough, you'll eventually level up. Square Enix was pretty mum on what exactly leveling will do, except provide improved health and new abilities, such as forcing other mindjackers out of the body that they're currently controlling. Until we know more about the leveling system, it's difficult to tell how big an impact it will have on the overall gameplay. These levels will be important, though, since they play into the game's multiplayer aspect.
What really makes Mindjack stand out is how it is going to handle multiplayer. The best way to describe it is as Demon's Souls as a third-person shooter. While someone is playing as Jim, he or she is the host. Other players can join in online as Blue Hackers to help Jim by hijacking enemies' bodies. Blue Hackers retain abilities that they earned in their own games and can be a great boon. You can have up to two sidekicks at any time, effectively turning the tide of battle against the enemies. You aren't required to play with other people, but it's a really neat idea to allow it.
However, not all hackers are friendly. Just as a Blue Hacker can join your game and help, a Red Hacker can join and make your life more difficult. Red Hackers can take over enemies, and their stats are determined by the enemies they mindjack. This basically means that other players can hop in and start making your life a living hell. At the moment, up to three different Red Hackers can break into your game at once, which sounds like a tremendous challenge. It's bad enough that you're dealing with the usual AI opponents, but having human ingenuity on the other side could be downright fatal. The developers have almost mentioned that they're considering as many as five Red Hackers at once. Since the game only supports a total of six players, a five-versus-one match would only be for the most masochistic of players.
The basic idea behind Mindjack's co-op mechanics was inspired by the fact that Japanese players seem to prefer co-op gameplay, while American players seem to favor competitive gameplay. In order to find a game that works for all audiences, the best idea was to find one that combined the two unique ideas into one. As such, Mindjack can't really be described as just co-op or just competitive. It's still technically a single-player game, but that's one more akin to Perfect Dark's Counter Agent mode than anything we've seen from recent shooters. While it's not absolutely required to play Mindjack in competitive mode, it seems like the game would lose quite a lot if you didn't.
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