Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy

G. Christopher Williams

This sort of tired and hackneyed plotting and game play is exactly why the B-movie comparison must be made.

Publisher: Midway
Subtitle: The Mindgate Conspiracy
Price: $49.99
Multimedia: Psi-ops
Platforms: PlayStation2 (also on Xbox)
Number of players: 1
ESRB rating: Mature
Developer: Midway
US release date: 2007-07

Psi-Ops is a shooter.

While a writer hates to say this, having read through that first paragraph, you could stop reading this review now. Those four words pretty much sum up The Mindgate Conspiracy

If you play Psi-Ops, you will find that you can break crates. You will find copious amounts of explosive barrels. You will experience the thrill of exploring cube-like environments such as warehouses and factories. You will collect key cards to open doors. You will press large glowing buttons on consoles to open doors and operate machinery (said consoles will, of course, have no other operable control buttons than the giant glowing green one). You will pull switches, levers, pulleys, etc., etc., etc.

Get it? It's a shooter.

Games to my chagrin are so often compared to movies, yet, its games like these that really do find a parallel in film. That parallel is to B-movies. B-movies offer perhaps a few cheap gratuitous thrills, but largely, they offer a tacked on plot and a lot of ripped off ideas from better films to help us reach those "thrills". I'd like to believe that Psi-Ops similarities to other games in its genre are merely "homages" (from the very appearance of our hero, tough guy Nick Scryer, who has a strikingly similar mug to the bent-nosed hero of Escape from Castle Wolfenstein), but honestly the designers seemed to have no newer ideas than those based on a game from ten years ago.

For pity's sake, the game opens with Scryer in a cell; the door opens; and, armed with only a pistol to begin with, Scryer has to fight through a series of cloned Nazi... errr... paramilitary-type abductors, collecting bigger and better weapons and armor while kicking the crap out of defenseless crates along the way.

This sort of tired and hackneyed plotting and game play is exactly why the B-movie comparison must be made. B-movies merely rehash plot devices common to whatever genre it adheres to while tossing in some nudity, violence, and obscenity to keep the viewer interested. This is straight to video material.

The player here feels like a viewer too often as supposedly freeform gameplay provided by the game's hook -- psychic abilities -- really leads to linear gameplay, forcing you to solve problems with telekinesis, remote viewing, mind control, etc. as the designers envisioned you doing so, rather than allowing the player to find unique resolutions to problems. I can't tell you how often I was reminded of playing better games like Deus Ex or even Metal Gear Solid that would have allowed four or five resolutions to a problem, but I was forced into the cookie-cutter precognitive resolutions hinted at in the game's cut scenes.

But, to give the game (and maybe its film equivalent) some credit, the game does have some good cheap thrills mostly in the way of the violent antics and that come with its chief gimmick -- Nick's psychic prowess (and every good B-movie has gotta have a gimmick -- be it a giant snake or murderous tomatoes). The psychic gifts that Nick utilizes as he collects yet another key card or guns down yet another cookie-cutter goon are a fair amount of guilty fun. Using telekinesis to fling a guard from a tower or hijacking a trooper's body to gun down his buddies and then throwing said goon suicidally over the side of a tower are a real B-grade pleasure.

Also, the initial levels of warehouses and factories -- the same mazelike corridors you've seen and backtracked through in games like Wolfenstein and Doom -- do eventually give way to more interesting level design like the creepy corridors of the base of operations of an illusion generating psychic opponent. The second half of the game offers some clever misdirection and eerie atmosphere that for a brief moment leaves you actually caring a bit about what are otherwise characters written to type.

These moments are so visceral, though, and fleeting that they seem to highlight the lack of substance of the larger narrative of the game: a nonsensical plot concerning Scryer's quest to discover who he is, what power he possesses, what dark secrets haunt him, and what the hell all these paramilitary goons and shadow government types are doing to take over the world.

Games like this bother me because they encourage the notion that games are just for kids (despite its M-rating -- based seemingly on its head popping brain drains and random "edgy" dialogue peppered with obscenities like "bastards" and "kicking you in the nuts") or idiots (see my prior parenthetical remark). But at the same time, like a bad (good?) B-movie, sometimes the "mature" do need a few cheap thrills.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.