You could dismiss PSI-Ops as just another shooter to toss into the Xbox library, and if it weren't for the one big element that differentiates itself from other shooters, PSI-Ops would be just that. But PSI-Ops does something different that other action/shooters really doesn't do, and that is the use of psychic powers. No, you don't deal tarot cards of death or shove knives through their love lines, more like move objects through telekenisis, set things on fire, take over other people's bodies and make heads explode through mind draining. That kind of psychic power.
PSI-Ops is a suprisingly good game that will probably have the misfortune of not finding a big audience, since it was released in June of 2004 (no real big games come out during summer), and really didn't get that much fanfare. While the shooting and action elements are relatively standard, the psychic abillities really do bring something different to the table. That's not saying all is perfect with this game. There are some level design problems, [with] areas where you will wander around looking for the next objective. Also, the save points can put you into some pretty dicey situations, notably when you're low on health and you begin/restart each time with that [low] amount. Then there's the fact that the game is pretty short. My overall finishing time was barely under 6 hours, but with the numerous deaths and retries, it's more closer to 8 hours. Still, that's kind of short. And the ending kind of leaves a hole open in the story.
The gameplay involves you playing as Nick Scryer, a man who has awakened from an experiment from the military that involves using psychic powers as a weapon. Along the way, he's trying to remember what the hell went on as well as remember how to use his psychic abillities. You'll acquire/remember psychic abillities along the way throughout the game, with the first couple being telekinesis and mind drain. You'll use those two abillities the most, as telekinesis enables you to move objects and enemies and toss them around. Mind drain is the most convienent way of replenishing the energy used for using the psychic power, and if you're able sneak up on an enemy, you can make their head explode like a firecracker in a watermellon. Soon, you can acquire abillities such as remote viewieng, which lets you leave your body and go through doors to see what's on the other side. There's also pyrokinesis, which let you set things on fire. Aural view is given later in the game, and it's only real use is to see certain creatures and mines. Finally, you have a power that allows you to possess other people.
Like I mentioned before, this game is an action shooter, so there are guns to pick up as well. Similar to Halo, you're only granted to carry two guns at a time, and I don't ever remember being able to change the pistol at all. The variety of weapons is a bit scarce, with a selection limited to a few machine guns and a shotgun or two. But, you can combine using your psychic powers with your firearms to take enemies down. For example, you can lift an enemy using telekinesis and shoot them mid-air. One problem with the use of guns, however is that you run out of ammuntion at the worst possible time, and the pickups become scarce. It's even worse when you're low on ammo AND low on psychic energy. That's one of the biggest problems in the game and it happens more often than it should.
Visually, PSI-Ops looks pretty good for a multiplatform title. The environments are clean, and the textures are fairly sharp. The character model for Nick is well-done (as well as other main characters), and has nice detail (creepy-ass blue eyes, though). There's a pretty liberal use of ragdoll physics in this game as well, and it's kind of a good thing to see, especially when you can flail bodies at will. There's not a lot to say about the visuals that's bad, except for maybe the camera every once in a while (but even that's fairly workable). Audio-wise, you've got some decent voice acting, sound effects and music. Lacks Dolby Digital support like many Midway titles do.
Despite the short length and a couple "sticky situations" too many, PSI-Ops is definitley worth a look. The psychic powers are fun to play around with, be it tossing an enemy like a toy or making enemies commit suicide off of high ledges, and works well enough and used often enough to not be considered a gimmicky element. If you're looking for a different take on the action/shooter genre, PSI-Ops is well worth playing.