It seems that there's a growing trend for studios trying to break down the wall between single-player and multiplayer gaming. 2K's Borderlands was the first title in recent memory to have a pop, allowing players to drop-in and out of each other's loot-obsessed romps. The thing is, Borderlands only supported a maximum of four players; it didn't really break down the wall, it only dented it with a small hammer. Then there's Brink, the as-yet released FPS title from Splash Damage, where the single-player campaign and multiplayer deathmatch are one and the same. We don't know how much damage that'll do yet, but it certainly talks a good game. It's like your lazy brother standing in the yard with a sledgehammer. "Oh yeah, I can knock that wall down!" he says. "But not until some point next year."
And now there's MindJack, the new third-person shooter from Square Enix and feelplus Inc. I'm not quite sure what MindJack would do to our metaphorical wall, but I bet it would do something pretty weird - like turning all the bricks into warm, sweaty cheese. At any rate, I certainly know what it's done to me: it's made me very confused. Strangely, I'm quite happy about this. In these innovation-wary times, mainstream oddities like this are comparatively rare.
Now, let me see if I can get this straight. As the game's gloriously cheesy E3 video explains, MindJack is set in the year 2031. The world's governments have apparently "lost their sovereignty" (i.e. they've gone down the toilet) due to the appearance of The Mindhackers - people who have the ability to possess pretty much any person or machine they desire. How they precisely do this isn't clear, but I think it involves the manipulation of some kind of Matrix-like super Internet and/or electronic ghosts (which, as we all know, are the best kind). The bottom line is that The Mindhackers can play with what they like. If they want to take your gran for a test drive, they will; if they decide to possess your blender at the exact moment you're loading it with papaya… well, let's just say that gloves won't feature highly in your winter wardrobe.
The future, as it turns out, is blue and shiny. Some kind of conspiracy is erupting, big evil corporations are to blame, and the only man who can save us is Jim Corbin - a clean-cut hero in the style typical of Japanese action titles (Western heroes, lest we forget, are ugly and balding). In feelplus' E3 demo, Jim and his nubile partner Rebecca are found at an airport, trading bullets with heavily-armoured soldiers. There's a cover-to-cover system, a recharging health mechanic, and a satisfying set of melee attacks when someone gets too close. So far, so generic - but here's the thing about MindJack: as you play, you have the ability to possess pretty much any NPC or enemy you can find. Not only that, but other players can "hack" into your game and also join in the corporeal-kidnap tomfoolery - either as a friend, or as a foe. (See? I hadn't forgotten about our wall. It just took me a while to explain.)
Here's how it works. At one moment you're Jim Corbin, a heroic Chris Redfield clone with a pistol in your hand. Someone starts shooting at you, but you don't fancy poking your head out of cover - so you jump out of your skin and start roaming the level as a sort of sci-fi spectre. At this point the action switches to a first-person perspective, distorted with a pronounced fish-eye lens effect. You float around the map, invisible and free from danger, until you find a suitable host - perhaps an enemy soldier. You assume control of your meat puppet, and suddenly you can make him run about and blast his buddies. When he gets killed, or when you get bored, you can possess someone else: a floating robot drone maybe, or a balding tourist in a Hawaiian shirt.