This is a guest post by Mike Leaño, a freelance writer, aspiring evil genius, and founder of Console Gamer, an independent video game blog.
It was a trap! The moment you stepped inside the small chamber, its thick glass door slammed shut behind you and a translucent mist started filling the area. After whiffing the haze and realising it was poison, you try to break the glass with your thick-heeled boot but it doesn’t give.
As you pound away at the door, an enemy foot soldier appears on the other side and gloats at your imminent death. You stand back and unload an entire clip of your machine gun at your obstacle, but nothing happens.
An epiphany finally hits you; mustering every ounce of your will, you lift your foe off his feet using the power of your psyche and smash him forcefully against the entrance. It cracks.
You slam him again; this time, the glass shatters.
Range of useful powers
The scene I just described is one of the many highlights of Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, 2004 action game that puts you in control of Nick Scryer, a psi-operative with impressive abilities like:
- Moving objects with his mind.
- Controlling enemy soldiers.
- Viewing nearby rooms without physically entering it.
- Generating flame with a wave of his arms.
What’s particularly impressive about Psi-Ops is how well these psionic abilities are implemented throughout the entire game. All the powers are useful in many different situations, and don’t feel like they’re just tacked on.
The handiest of these powers is telekinesis, which lets you lift most objects and hurl them around. You can fling crates, metal boxes, explosive barrels, various debris, and my personal favourite–henchmen.
Mind control is helpful even outside the puzzles that require it. Controlling an armed henchman is a great way to take many enemies down without them realising it, provided that you’ve hidden Scryer’s body.
Remote viewing lets you scout adjacent rooms in case there are enemies lying in wait, while pyrokinesis lets you easily set enemies ablaze and start explosive chain reactions without using up ammunition.
Psi-Ops vs similar games
To this day, I don’t think any other game that provides similar abilities have done it better. Titles such as Second Sight and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed may let you throw objects around or zap foes, but Psi-Ops outshines them in execution. Here’s why:
- Each power in Psi-Ops is assigned to its own button. The control scheme in Second Sight, on the other hand, requires players to switch between powers.
- There’s never a point when Psi-Ops felt repetitive and/or easy. One of the problems with The Force Unleashed is that the combat eventually becomes monotonous.
Psi-Ops avoids tedium by adding interesting limitations to the psionic powers; the most notable among these is a power meter that doesn’t regenerate. To replenish it, you’d have to either consume psi elixirs and psi vials (which come in limited quantities) or perform mind drain on your enemies, which is another useful power
Psi-Ops lets you dispatch foes in many ways
Telekinesis may be effective against regular foot soldiers, but later enemies still shoot you even after you’ve lifted them off their feet. Remote viewing and pyrokinesis have a maximum range. Mind drain works best on living targets but they have to be unaware or stunned. You can use mind drain on slain enemies, but they yield lesser psi energy.
Another factor that puts Psi-Ops head and shoulders above similar games is its creative gameplay and level design. Remember the scenario I described earlier? It’s just one of the obstacles you have to deal with in the early levels. Throughout the game, you’ll also face imaginative activities such as:
- Learning the passcode for a locked door by remote-viewing through another locked door.
- Traversing a wide chasm by standing on a concrete block and levitating it across.
- Lifting metal boxes and using them as a shield to protect you from gun turrets.
Because of the variety it offers in terms of challenges and abilities, Psi-Ops never feels repetitive. In fact, the game is more engaging than prettier, more recent titles.
If there is one area in Psi-Ops that truly disappoints, it’s the absence of a sequel even after a decade. Can you imagine a significantly prettier and shinier Psi-Ops 2 for the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One? Or perhaps a follow-up that takes advantage of the Wii U’s motion controls?
Unfortunately, Psi-Ops publisher Midway Games filed for bankruptcy in Delaware last 2009 so the odds of us seeing a Nick Scryer comeback is awfully slim.
This, however, should keep us from seeing a similar game of the same (or better) calibre. Remember, Psi-Ops is outstanding not because of its generic characters or cheesy story, but because of its well-implemented powers, imaginative level design, and varied gameplay.
In the hands of a talented developer, the concept refined by Psi-Ops can be made even better. If there’s anyone out there who has the means, please make it happen.