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Playing mind games with 'Psi-Ops'

By Sid Lipsey
CNN Headline News

In Midway's "Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy," you use telekinetic powers to get the drop on the bad guys.
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(CNN) -- Here's a scenario familiar to gamers: While fighting evil in your favorite action game, you stumble upon a nest of bad guys. You're packing more weapons than Rambo on moving day, but you're frozen with indecision as you frantically try to determine which one to use:

"I could blast away with my trusty machine gun."

Or ...

"I could lob a grenade."

Or ...

"I could use my Rapid-Fire Rocket Propelled Death Cannon, which is clunky, inaccurate and usually causes an explosion that incinerates me along with the bad guys. But that 'KA-BOOOOOM!!!!!!' sound is so freakin' cool!"

Imagine if you will, another more unconventional option:

"I could use my powers of telekinesis to pick up Bad Guy No. 1 and throw him against a wall. Then I could take over the mind of Bad Guy No. 2 and have him shoot Bad Guys Nos. 3, 4, 5 and then himself -- all while I'm safely crouched behind cover."

That paranormal option is available in Midway's "Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy" (for Xbox and PlayStation2). This game puts a player in the combat boots of Nick Scryer, a soldier with parapsychological (or "Psi") powers. Telekinesis and mind control are only two of them; Nick accumulates enough Psi abilities throughout the game to make Professor Xavier of "X-Men" jealous.

Nick also carries more traditional weapons, such as a pistol, flamethrower and machine gun. The ease with which a player can switch between weapons, maneuver a character and control a half-dozen Psi powers is one of this game's best features (as are the graphics and realistic interactive environments).

But don't rely too much on firepower. The game's limited target-lock capability can make shootouts with multiple hostiles tricky. Plus, "Psi-Ops" lacks a "dive/evade" function; the game's makers reluctantly sacrificed it to simplify the controller layout.

"We just ran out of buttons," says Midway's Brian Eddy.

"Psi-Ops" isn't just a bunch of head games; it's a fully-armed third-person shooter. Just don't overdo it.

That makes it harder to escape and return fire. If you try to just shoot your way out of a heavy firefight without using at least some of your powers, you'll get beaten like an L.A. Laker in Detroit.

But chances are you won't even notice that small limitation. Telekinetically throwing around bad guys, taking over minds and "remote viewing" into the next room can provide an immensely giddy rush.

And there's the "Mind Drain" move, where you sneak up on a bad guy and drain his life energy until he ... well, what happens next is too gruesome to describe. Eddy calls that particular phenomenon a tribute to the '80s sci-fi/horror flick "Scanners." And what -- excuse the pun -- a "mind-blowingly" icky tribute it is.

Mind-blowing is a good way to describe "Psi-Ops," one of the more uniquely entertaining games to come along in a while. Problem is, with all the available powers and firearms, "Psi-Ops" could present an even more daunting version of the "choose-your-weapon" quandary. If that happens to you, remember: You can always just go in shootin'. Psi powers are cool and all. But to paraphrase the Beatles, happiness is a warm machine gun.

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