The Best Games You’ve Never Played – Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy
Arguably one of Midway’s best games, Psi-Ops: the Mindgate Conspiracy was the story of Nick Scryer, a psi-operative trying to uncover a secret plot to destroy the world while uncovering his memories at the same time. With gameplay based on various psychic powers and good ol’ fashions guns ‘n’ bullets, and a pretty good twist-laden story, this was a game that kept me enticed for hours.
The game starts like the sequel to a Metroid game: Nick Scryer is a psychic with six psychic powers, but he can’t use them yet because his mind has been wiped. You see, Nick’s an agent of Mindgate who has allowed his mind to be wiped and his face to be reconstructed, to infiltrate a terrorist organization named the Movement (and their mind controlled army of Meat Puppets), on the basis that another undercover operative would meet him on the inside and recover his mind. Problem is, the people running the Movement are the same psychic operatives Nick once called his comrades–the same, in fact, who trained Nick how to use the six psychic abilities he has access to, one of which they are each masters of.
But despite the mental clean slate, he was found and captured, and we begin the game with Nick finding freedom from the suspicious double agent Sara, who at times seems to not be who she seems to be. As the game continues, Nick begins finding psychic artifacts that have a huge connection to world history–especially its wars–and with each defeated psi-operative and each new artifact found comes the memories Nick needs to remember his past and use his various psychic abilities.
Each regained memory comes with a humor-tinged flashback where Nick is trained by his shit-talking former partner Barrett (who sports a different hairdo with each flashback) and has to undergo a set of trials to complete the sequence. These thankfully never break the flow of the game, and often give players all the time they need to become as proficient at the use of their powers.
Overall, it’s a lot of the usual “terrorist conpiracy to take over the world” stuff (though through a psychic-themed lens) but the game actually does a great job of giving us an great voice acting, great dialogue, and an entertaining and engaging story to go along with fantastic gameplay.
And speaking of gameplay…
Midway loves violence, and this is a good thing. Gameplay is split between typical your run-and-gun action-shooter fare, and a bit of stealth: but with the fairly aggressive A.I., the latter–along with smart ways to use your six psychic powers–is the more attractive option. Psi-Ops gives you one slot for a large gun, one slot for your silenced pistol, and six offensive and support powers to choose from. There’s Telekinesis (TK), Remote Viewing (RV), Mind Drain (MD), Mind Control (MC), Pyrokinesis (PK), and Aura View (AV). What Psi-Ops does right in its level design is give you time to learn the limits and variety of each power, and then give you the chance to play the game as you want. Psi-Ops is all about giving you options.
Take, for instance, a handful of soldiers standing in an open area a few dozen feet from you. If Nick had all of his powers available, he would first use his Remote Viewing to see where they are, study their patterns, and then prepare his attack. He could run up and take cover behind some sturdy crates and try to kill them with bullets alone, assuming the enemy doesn’t just run up on him and kill him quick. He could stay back a little and use his TK to pick up the crate and slam it into a few of them first, and then finish off the rest. He could find an explosive and send that their way, then finish off the rest. He could wait for an enemy to walk off and MD that enemy’s head until it explodes, also recharging psychic energy for his psi-meter.
He could use MC and make an enemy attack the others, forcing them to retaliate with force, as long as they don’t find his body and kill him while his mind isn’t in it (and if he gets them all, Nick could finish off his mind controlled victim with a special Midway secret that allowed you to make the soldier shoot his own head off). He could pick up an enemy directly and toss him at the others, and then bash them against the wall until dead. He could torch a sturdy crate and send it their way. He could torch an enemy and throw him at the others. He could stand on a crate or lid and “PK Surf” his way over them, using the surface as a mid-air cover while he picked them off one by one. Or he could simply pick a soldier up, hold him in mid-air, and shoot him down easy.
All this and more was Psi-Op’s bread and butter: giving you the freedom and versatility to handle dozens of different situations and enemy types (some that are resistant to your abilities, some that are psi-creatures invisible to all your senses but your Aura View) and letting you do as you please. Experimentation was not a luxury, but a necessity: and it was fun as hell.
Boss Battles were where all you learned came together, forcing you to go toe-to-toe with a former comrade/now enemy who was a master of one of your psi-disciplines. The only advantage Nick has is his variety, using six minor abilities and all their combinations against one massive use of one particular power. But don’t think it’ll be easy: you still have to get your ass moving and exploit every advantage when someone like Barrett is throwing entire gasoline trucks at your face.
This was a superb action game made for hardcore gamers, but it didn’t end there.
Just in case the single player wasn’t enough, Psi-Ops gave players a full Training Mode where they could go through any story mode training, or drop Nick into a Training Arena where he could practice manipulating objects like Wrecking Balls, explosives, and blocks, either alone, or against hordes of enemy types. This was one of my favorite modes, and I made the mistake one time of pressing all of the dozen or so enemy types, unleashing hell on Earth for Nick. If anyone wanted an idea of how it would be to survive the X-Men’s Danger Room, this was it.
Besides that were unlockable challenges that ranged from straight-forward to tricky to bizarre fun. Most missions revolved around manipulating your psi-powers in different ways to solve puzzles or tackle objectives, and much of Midway’s humor could be glimpsed in these random challenges (like the psychadelic painted walls in one… I think there was a clown too).
There were even unlockable skins for replaying the story mode, most being defeated enemies, but Mortal Kombat’s very own Scorpion makes a cameo here in the way of a very awesome skin that made me proud to set enemies on fire (plus, he could resist shouting “GET OVER HERE!” when using TK to yank an enemy your way?).
There was a 2-player mode, too, but it was just two players controlling Nick in the story mode, with the first player controlling the movement, gunning, and view, and the second controlling the psychic powers. While this was an interesting test in patience and perhaps a trial in forcing players to think as one (the psychic theme being played a little too far) I would have prefer special VS or Co-Op missions where players worked together or against each other directly or for objectives. But with the powerful gameplay components and wonderful use of the Havok 2.0 gameplay engine’s ragdoll physics, this game packed quite a lot on one disc for it’s generation.
Just writing about this game again makes me want to buy a new PS2 and whip out the Psi-Ops copy that I’ve held onto for all these years–it’s seriously that good. If any game needs to be re-released as a HD downloadable, it’s this game, and it’s unfortunate Midway went bankrupt, because I’m not sure who this franchise to be belongs to anymore (perhaps Mortal Kombat’s new owner, WB Games?). When it came out, it had the bad timing of being released when bigger names were coming out, and despite all of the good reviews, it got lost in the shuffle.
With Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conpiracy ending with a “To be continued”, this definitely would be a great game to bring to the current (or next) generation with the same amount of story and hardcore gameplay players loved about it the first time. If you get a chance to play it, do yourself a favor and don’t pass it up.