The Double-A Team is a new feature series honouring the unpretentious, mid-budget, gimmicky commercial action games that no-one seems to make any more.
Last week, Graeme took a sekond look at Dark Sektor. Today we're setting the world ablaze with Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy.
Midway Games. It couldn't have been more perfect, could it? Never 'Fullway Games' or 'All The Way Games', but a publisher seemingly destined to a Double-A legacy in namesake. And one of its greatest gifts is Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, a game which celebrates walls and floors, railings and barrels, fans and boxes.
To the uninitiated, Psi-Ops is a third-person action game where you control a bloke with psionic powers, and you use these powers to yank people off the ground and set them ablaze. Admittedly, my memory of the game is both hazy, and paradoxically, very specific. Having played the legendary Psi-Ops demo many years ago, I can clearly recall gorging on the opening mission over and over again. A timer would tick down, and I'd have just fifteen minutes to jog through the game's grey confines, tap into Psychic Man's mind powers and chuck enemies around. When I finally encountered the full game, I kind of missed that timer.
I can't remember much of the actual Mindgate Conspiracy itself, but when I played Psi-Ops I was more than happy to bump into large crates, industrial fans and my favourite crackling furnace. In many ways, I crafted my own amusing tales with the help of these silent objects, and weirdly, it gave them personality - life, even. A healthy relationship is a two-way gig, you give something and they give something back. I flung them bodies, they responded with a deep thunk, long hiss or resounding clang.
Enter a room and you're presented with an army of allies, all these objects which you've come to know and respect. This is where you'll actually morph into Psychic Man himself, a puppeteer in tune with his surroundings, a concrete whisperer who plots fiendish things with man-made companions. He's great at hoisting red-eyed fellas into the air and thudding them into walls. He's a precision shot when it comes to the 'Crate Clatter' technique. A quick flick of the wrist, and that's another guard wrapped around a railing. Ah yes, the familiar squelch of a head popping like a melon. Objects sated, friendships reaffirmed. Guns? pffft, no need for those.
Midway positions these objects and enemies in such a way that you'll never tire of retreading the same path. This penchant for interior design makes Psi-Ops a touch Hitman-esque. Sure, its levels aren't a patch on Paris, but it's similar in the way it presents before you a platter of nibbles at every corner turn and gives you the freedom to take a bite out of whichever treat you fancy. The payoff here is more immediate, though. And anybody is a target. Where every Hitman level is a long bake in the oven which eventually produces a glorious loaf (of death), Psi-Ops is a packet of blueberries, each one tossed in the air, plopped into your mouth and burst between your teeth; encounters are swift, messy and moreish.
It's easy to forgive Psi-Ops' murky palette and dodgy voice-acting when one can derive so much joy from scanning an environment and spotting new, darkly comedic ways of dropping your enemies. In my bitesize play sessions, it never once got boring. This game was my first experience of a proper physics engine too, where things weren't all fixed in place or indestructible. At the time, it felt like a real step forwards. It still does.
Apparently there was meant to be a follow up to Psi-Ops. A big "To be continued" message flashed up in the game's final moments, all of which I've just learned from a quick search online as it's long since disappeared from my memory. (All this forgetting: maybe that's the Mindgate Conspiracy?) In one way it's sad that we may never get the chance to control Nick Scryer (so that's his name!) again, but in another, maybe it isn't.
I don't really want another Psi-Ops, because then I can't interrupt conversations about games which have superpowers in them. I can't say, "Yeah but have you played Psi-Ops, though?!" a little too aggressively, confident that it's the definitive telekinetic experience. Looking back on this fever dream, it's clear the game was one big advert for the Havok Engine at the time. But boy was it a good one.
Let's also take a second to highlight Midway's collaboration with nu-metal band Cold which produced Psi-Ops' extraordinary theme song, 'With My Mind'. If you're not acquainted with this angsty anthem, then please do yourself a favour and have a listen. Nobody else could have been capable of this. Only Midway.