Suffice it to say that, by the end, an answer is provided. Mindjack is well written not because it presents us with a movie-like experience or touching moments (it doesn't), but because it tells a story only games could tell, with a late revelation proving the point nicely. To make its story work, Mindjack has to play dumb until then.
Still, even without that symbiotic plot development, the gameplay is compelling on its own terms. Each battle you face typically takes place in a large open area or room decorated with plenty of cover spots. Dozens of enemies will attack, also from behind cover, and before long Jim and Rebecca will find themselves under pressure.
Early on, you'll find yourself playing Mindjack just like any other shooter, killing enemies from safe vantage without much trouble. You'll even start to use mind hack a little, converting soldiers to your side whenever they become injured. You can convert up to five at once, but the ability can only be used within ten metres of the target, so you need to get close enough to fire it off. It's immensely satisfying.
After a while, the difficulty ramps up a little. Enemies start doing a better job of surrounding Jim and Rebecca and ammo becomes an issue. Suddenly, you find yourself taking necessary chances – running from behind cover to get within mind-hacking distance of a fallen enemy, knowing that he will draw attention, allowing you to gather much-needed ammo from a dropped gun.
Then, things get even more hectic. Hacking becomes a life-saver, as enemies threaten to overwhelm you. New threats like snipers, heavy weapons and vehicles appear. You find yourself thinking about the 'possession' ability, wondering how a nearby civilian or robot could help you to catch the enemy unawares. But leaving Jim's body (by pressing both analog sticks and becoming a spirit-like 'wanderer') means trusting the AI to control both him and Rebecca. Do you take that chance? Especially as possessed NPCs die all too easily.
About halfway through Mindjack's ten-hour run, after considerable adjustment to some awkward controls, you suddenly find yourself squarely in the zone, popping off headshots for extra experience points (used to customise Jim), followed by an efficient mind hack to draw fire, followed by a run to cover, topped off by the possession of a nearby NPC. You don't need to do all that, but you want to.
That's not to say Mindjack is without problems. It's plagued with them. The graphics are PS2-standard, the environments are drab and repetitive, the hand-to-hand combat seems to be broken, the button for picking up ammo is inexplicably the same as for mind hacking, the cover system is beyond fiddly, the AI can be plain thick. To make matters worse, the drop-in, drop-out online gameplay (in which opposing players become the enemy FIA agents) is something of a ghost town at present.
Yet none of that managed to affect my enjoyment of the game. In fact, by the time I finished Mindjack, I was already thinking about playing through again, on a higher difficulty, searching for an alternative ending.
Stood alongside Gears of War, Uncharted or Vanquish, Mindjack looks and plays positively bad. But wait until it drops in price and then consider giving it a shot. If you can look past the lack of polish and horrible graphics, there's a compelling and unique take on cover-based shooters here, along with an interesting lesson on how games deal with plot. It's a rewarding little game, if you can hack it.
6 / 10