It's all in your mind.
What do Scott Baio, Sissy Spacek and Mark Hamill have in common aside from some really questionable hairstyles?
But despite its status as a sci-fi staple, telekinesis hasn't gotten much play in the gaming world. It's too bad, really, since there's a wealth of brilliant gameplay ideas that could emerge from the proper use of mind power.
For some examples, just take a look at what Midway is doing with their upcoming Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy for the Xbox and PS2, a game whose seemingly simple exterior might very well hide the biggest sleeper hit of the year.
The premise, at least, contains few surprises. You're Psi-soldier Nick Scryer, an operative gifted with superior psychic abilities. A terrorist organization known as The Movement is out to dominate the world – as nefarious organizations are prone to do – and it's up to you and your gigantic brain to stop them.
While the plot might not be rocket science, the gameplay is explosive. In addition to a full payload of guns and ammo, the headstrong Nick has access to five very handy mental powers: Telekinesis, Pyrokinesis, Mind Control, Mind Drain and Remote Viewing.
The big star here is Telekinesis (TK), or the ability to move objects with your mind. Psi-Ops takes this literally, allowing you to move any object in the game world that isn't nailed down. This spills into a treasure trove of awesome gameplay features that I had the pleasure to experience first hand with a playable demo.
Let's take a fairly standard third-person action scenario: you're standing in a big room, whose only exit is guarded by two evil military types, each holding a loaded gun. The room is otherwise empty aside from a few boxes or crates. So what do you do?
Well, you could whip out your machine gun and get involved in a typical shootout, but that's old hat. So instead, you use TK to pick up a crate and hurl it at an enemy. Or you pick up an enemy and hurl him into a crate. Or you pick up the other enemy, hurl him into the first enemy, then drop a crate on both of 'em. Hmmm, come to think of it, you could hurl a crate at one enemy, pick up the other one, hold him in the air for a few seconds and use that machine gun after all! It's like being Darth Vader without that annoying wheeze.
The functional uses of TK go beyond just hurling bodies around for fun. In one of the game's more visceral treats, you can stand on an object, lift it with your mind, and effectively 'surf' around the game world. It's a handy way to get past a gap in the floor or to just avoid some enemies altogether by floating over their heads.
The other abilities are a little less thrilling but equally effective. Pyrokinesis lets you set things on fire, which has obvious merits when dealing with guys pointing guns in your face. Mind Control enables you to take over an enemy's mind and cause all sorts of mischief, from gunning down his buddies to forcing him into a giant blender (rumor has it the developers are even working out a 'manual suicide' move where you can force the enemy to literally blow his own head off, if you can believe it). Mind Drain sucks the electrons right out of an enemy's head (useful for replenishing your psychic energy or as a stealth kill tactic), while Remote Viewing allows you project yourself past locked doors and walls to get an idea of what lies ahead.
You really get a sense of the game's multiple-solution gameplay when you start combining your psychic powers and standard weapons. You could use Pyrokinesis to torch a bad guy, then pick him up and hurl him like a gas tank at some baddies across the room. Enemy molitov! You could Mind Control a guard, use him to shoot his friend in the head, then use Telekinesis to pick up the dead guy's gun from across the room, float it back to you, and enact some revenge for the slain enemy by killing the guy you initially Mind Controlled…with his dead buddy's gun. The possibilities might not be endless, but they're pretty close, and this is really what levitates Psi-Ops head and shoulders above the scores of ubiquitous third-person action games out there.
Actually, the game engine has a lot to do with that as well. Psi-Ops uses a modified version of the Havoc 2 engine, the same one that's used in killer apps like Max Payne 2 and even Half-Life 2 (Valve's Source engine incorporates plenty of Havoc 2). Expect incredibly realistic physics, including awesome ragdoll animations for enemies and objects that behave as they would in real life. Just don't expect to hop right in and start surfing through the game world on top of a barrel.
But do expect to be blown away by this seemingly straightforward game. Coupling an impressive engine with the ability to manipulate the environment should lead to a unique gameplay experience, something we see all too rarely here at GR. Keep your mind's eye open for Psi-Ops this June.