Psychic soldiers seem to be conspicuously absent from modern gaming. In fact, I can think of only a small few, and even then the hero isn’t outwardly stated to be psychic. It kind of surprises me, because growing up, I thought that the coolest ability you could have was telekinesis (or psychokinesis, as it’s sometimes called) – the ability to move objects using only your mind. This week, I dive into a mentalist two-for-one: sixth generation titles Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy and Second Sight.
Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, developed by Midway Games, hit shelves in June 2004 while Second Sight, by Free Radical Design (you may know them from the TimeSplitters franchise) came out just three months later. Despite being made by two completely different developers, the games were remarkably similar to each other. In both games, players take control of a soldier with remarkable psychic powers and uses them to eventually uncover a long-hidden secret. Each game eventually has the player slinging psi around as a true master of the mentalist martial arts, using conventional weaponry only as a back-up to tossing an enemy off a building or hurling them into a concrete wall.
With that as background, let’s go into the story. Psi-Ops is pretty uninventive; you play as Nick Scryer (subtle, huh?), a psychically-gifted soldier in the Mindgate organization, who tries to stop his former leaders from giving themselves godlike powers. Most of the story is pretty standard fare – the big bad evil genius is a power-mad general who wants to take over the world, there’s a pyrokinetic who’s also a pyromaniac (shocker), and the aged, oriental master of mind control is mildly psychotic.
Second Sight, on the other hand, has a far more interesting plot. It begins with John Vaatic, waking up beaten and broken in the isolation ward of a hospital with no memory of the past six months, now armed with inexplicable psychic powers. The game ventures into even stranger territories as it turns out that John can send his consciousness six months into the past and change the present. As he tracks down the members of a team of commandos, all of whom were saved by Vaatic’s time-traveling abilities, he’s continually hunted by the very people who sent him and his former teammates on a mission to hunt down a mad scientist six months prior. It all builds up to one heck of a plot twist (which I won’t spoil here) that I couldn’t possibly have seen coming.
But enough about story, let’s talk gameplay. In Psi-Ops, the meat of the gameplay is blending gunplay with psionics, using both to rip your way through armies of soldiers. The combat is extremely inventive and a bit horrific at times; one ability given by one of the secret characters (a master of mind control) is to take over an enemy’s mind and force him to commit suicide. Yes, Psi-Ops is an action game from start to finish, and even when the game tries to pigeonhole you into stealth, it’s entirely possible to just run through the levels while burning enemies alive with pyrokinesis.
Second Sight, on the other hand, is actually far more stealth oriented. While Scryer is armed with telekinesis, mind drain, pyrokinesis, and mind control, Vaatic has a far more subtle series of powers, including healing, invisibility, and projection. Sneakiness is far more important in Second Sight, since unlike Scryer, Vaatic can’t just toss one enemy off a building while blasting another with fire.
Was one better than the other? It really depends on your preferred play style. Second Sight definitely had a far better story, but Psi-Ops had some seriously fun and inventive gameplay. That said, Second Sight required a lot of finesse, and it was immensely satisfying to see the end of a level after carefully maneuvering through a level without getting spotted. If you ever get the chance, check them out. Both were released on the Playstation 2 and Xbox (Second Sight also made it to the Gamecube), and though they’re tough to find online, each has a version for PC as well.