Webster’s Dictionary defines “innovation” as “the introduction of something new, a new idea, method, or device”. They should add Psi-Ops to that descriptor, because from the moment this game was shown, it screamed innovation. With a concept that was perfect for videogames, it’s a wonder why no one capitalized on psychic abilities before. With a concept that is as original as it gets, psychic abilities in games are sure to be copied many times in the future, but I don’t see many of those games being as good or as fun as Psi-Ops.
The storyline in Psi-Ops is fairly cookie cutter sci-fi story, as it doesn’t seem very new or innovative, like the gameplay is. You play clichéd soldier, Nick Scryer who is taken captive by an Psi terrorist organization, only you don’t remember anything, or any of your powers. So, as an a soldier with no recolection of his past (similar to Derrick Cole in Breakdown) you must work to accomplish your goals, by pretty much killing every enemy you come across.
Had Psi-Ops lacked any of the psychic powers, it would’ve been the perfect clichéd third person shooter, but it’s a good thing that there are psychic powers. When you start, you have no psychic powers, and as you progress you gain them back one by one. Nick is stuck using just his gun for the early part of the game, which is your average run of the mill action game stuffed with card key puzzles in an industrial factory type setting. I personally found the shooting parts of the game to be pretty boring as the guns are weak and Nick is a poor shot. The weapons in the game are your average pistol, shotgun, and two types of machine guns. With such boring and uninspired gun battles, it’d take damn near a miracle to save this game, and that’s where the psi powers come in to save the day. You have the help of double agent Sara Blake, (who has an evil twin sister, Tonya, and any Mortal Kombat fan could see how their names resemble Sonya Blade) but she only is there in cutscenes.
The game is called Psi-Ops afterall, and of course you want the psi powers, because that’s what this game is all about. There are many psi powers in the game and here is a breakdown of each: telekinesis (TK, lift things with your mind), pyrokinesis (PK, ‘throw’ a wave of fire), remote viewing (RV, going "out-of-body" to see ahead), mind drain (MD, draining psi energy from enemies), aura view (AR, "seeing" elements that aren't visible in the real world) and mind control (MC, control enemies). You receive your first psi power about ten minutes into the game, which is telekinesis, and it’s easily my favorite. All of the powers have their specific uses, but telekinesis is the most useful and most fun. The game itself isn’t all that long, but its length depends on what kind of gamer you are. If you’re like me, and you tend to mess around with things, people, the environment, etc. then you’ll have a blast with this game. There are five different types of human foes; there are three different versions of soldiers, plus doctors and engineers. The soldier enemies are called meat puppets or MP’s for short, as they’re expendable forces taken over by mind control and thus completely subservient slaves. The three stages of the meat puppets are MP1s, MP2s, and MP3s, and the difficulty increases with each, for example, TK and PK do not work on the MP3s. Psi-Ops is a great and innovative adventure game as you progress, you’ll be enjoying the psi powers thoroughly, and just having fun, and then you get aura view. In a completely inane move by the developers, you are forced to put up with the aura view. The game does a complete 180 in the fun factor department, because of this. Aura view allows you to see in another dimension, which degrades you into doing completely asinine puzzles and fighting the ridiculously difficult and cheap aura beasts. Near the end of the game, you’re deduced down to sneaking around invisible mines, only visible in aura view, fighting aura beasts and MP3s, which makes the game more tedious and completely disregards what made the rest of the game fun. It’s a good thing that you get aura view so late in the game, because if you got it earlier, it’d just ruin the game entirely, so the developers were spared with this move.
One of the game’s main features that make it so much fun is how open ended it is, thanks to the wonderful Havok engine, which has been put to great use. It’s pretty much impossible to have the same experience twice. The sheer amount of ways to accomplish goals is amazing and only adds to the variation offered by this game. It’s so much fun to figure out different ways to accomplish missions or just mess with guys. For example, at one point you’ve just arrived at a point where you duck behind a wall and there are three enemies near you. You have many choices at this point, you can you TK an enemy to throw into other enemies, use MC and take out as many of them as you can, throw a giant ball into them, go in guns blazing, etc. Plus, Psi-Ops does environment interaction very well, which is everything including giant crushing machines, fans, incinerators, electrical fields, and more.
For some reason, the graphics in Psi-Ops are overlooked. I’ve read that many people just shrug them off for the most part. That’s not to say that Psi-Ops has bad graphics, quite the opposite actually. While the game does not have excellent graphics, they are no pushover in the graphics category. There is a lot of detail put into things, such as the character models, except oddly, their mouths only move when they talk in cutscenes (non in-game ones). The effects are also very well done, from the blue highlight in TK, to the fire PK, to the unique look of aura view, they all look very well done. The Havok engine is a great asset to this great looking game and surprisingly there is very little clipping and popup. The facial expressions shown by Nick also receive praise as they are well done and Nick’s forehead must be wrinkly by now as he’s pretty much always angry in cutscenes.
This game sports some great audio effects, especially when using (or abusing) your psi powers. Each of the psi powers has a unique sound which does a good job of reflecting the psi power. PK sounds just like sizzling fire, and the sound changes as the fire moves away from you, RV has a mystical/ghostly type sound to it, TK gives you a sense of great power, AV has a similar sound to RV, and they all fit very well. The voice work in Psi-Ops isn’t bad by any means either. The voice actors show proper emotion and fit their character roles quite well and provide believable work. The music does a fitting job of capturing the mood by changing the style and tempo, plus Midway has gotten the rock band Cold to put a song of theirs into the game, (make sure you listen in the elevator for it!) which is similar to when Midway got Adema for Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance. The sound effects are great as well, everything from explosions to gunshots all sound great, especially the explosions followed by the sound of a body you being flung against a wall. All in all, the sound effects are great, they add a lot of believability and immersion to the game. Had this game lacked the quality sound that it had, it would’ve been as dull as if it had lacked psychic abilities.
In a game like this, easy to learn, tight, responsive controls are a necessity, especially for TK, so it’s a good thing that Midway got them right. Controls are similar to your average FPS, and they all control very well. You may want to raise the sensitivity of the horizontal camera, so that you can control it faster, as there’s no camera reset button, and one isn’t really needed. The left trigger is the TK, button, and it’s easy to line up the reticule, pick up something and control it in midair and then proceed to throw it at your desired target.
Left thumbstick – Move (click to hug wall)
Right thumbstick - Look
Left trigger – Telekinesis
Right trigger – Shoot
A button – Jump/action
B button – Duck
X button – Melee
Y button – Lock on
White button – Pyrokinesis
Black button – Mind drain
Up on dpad – Mind control
Left on dpad – Remote viewing
Right on dpad – Aura view
Psi-Ops is not a long game, and the in game timer exemplifies that statement. When I beat the game, my time was around four hours, despite having spent six hours straight playing one day. The in game timer doesn’t reflect retries, just the straight amount of time spent beating the game, so for people like me, it should read over ten hours. There is a ton of stuff to unlock, which is unlocked by beating the game and collecting evil garden gnomes. You can unlock everything from an arcade mode (play through the game as fast as you can), to bonus missions, costumes and more. There is also a co-op mode, but it involves one person controlling the movement, actions and melee, while the other controls the shooting and psi powers, while it’s not original co-op, it sure is unique and interesting. Plus, in traditional Midway fashion there are a lot of videos for you to see, including an interesting making of.
If this game was a DVD, it’d be the three disc limited edition Criterion Collection one, thanks to so much replay value and extras. Psi-Ops plays great, and is incredibly fun and innovative, and is just a blast, aside from when you get the aura view. It looks pretty good, sounds great, and has spot on controls. This is easily one of the most replayable games ever, due to the sheer amount of fun the psi powers emanate. Psi-Ops is truly an innovator in gaming, and it will most certainly be copied, but who knows what Midway has up their sleeve for Psi-Ops 2 (which is definitely hinted at during the ending), and anyone looking for an original and incredibly fun game should definitely pick up Psi-Ops.