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Psychonauts review

Excellent
AT A GLANCE
  • it's high calibre of writing
  • It's all about experimentation
  • every mindset is a uniquely funny and original platforming environment.
  • edge detection is slightly broken
  • can be incredibly frustrating
  • endless repetition of the tricky platform bits

If someone were to make a Games Developers' Hall of Fame, I would have one and only one nomination: Tim Schafer.

This man is responsible for so many great games. His ridiculously high calibre of writing, and passion for creating lucid and flawless adventures, has brought us wonders like Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango, and a contribution to the Monkey Island series. A proud statue indeed.

While many attempt to reinvent the adventure game for the short attention spans of the modern era, Schafer leaps toward the ludicrous: applying his unique principles to the platform game.

Playing as Razputin, a runaway child hiding in a summer camp for psychic children, events begin with classic Schafer-esque exploration of the environment. There's an extensive cast of eccentric children and adults to talk with, or perhaps discover what happens if you hit them or try to set them on fire. It's all about experimentation.

The campsite is full of stories about the various in-game characters, has a shop where you can buy bonus goodies, and changes as the game progresses. It's a wonderful place to explore but it's just the base camp for the jump into the main levels.

As a Psychonaut you can travel into the human psyche as an astronaut travels into space. Each level is a surreal trip through someone else's mind and their personality dictates the level design - the crazed conjurings of a twisted 'Nam vet, for instance.

The first brain-level is slightly shaky but, after that, every mindset is a uniquely funny, original and exquisitely-crafted platforming environment.

Schafer does comedy very, very well. We all know that funny is a painfully rare currency in games, but Schafer compares with comedy writers in any medium because he's aware that the best laughs are tempered with pathos.

Messing about in someone's head, you battle against their inner demons, unravel their fascinating backstory, and can cure their psychological disorders. Along the way you must find the character's 'emotional baggage' (weeping luggage), 'figments of the imagination' (floating shapes that reveal their personality), and memories locked up in safes.

One mind (belonging to an Agent Nein) is a painfully orderly cube which is plagued by little men who censor anything unusual. Find Nein's safes and the story of his mother's death is revealed.

Agent Vodello's safes conceal her trauma as the only survivor of a school fire. It only becomes more involving as you explore the childhood torment of a Hollywood actress, or the mind of a schizophrenic. It's not quite Spyro the Dragon.

Progress means extra psychic abilities that are used as devices to trigger entertaining comedy sequences. It's the replacement of, "Use fake barf on clock" with, "Use pyrokinesis on Milkman."

But the game has a major flaw: the edge detection is broken. Raz regularly falls huge distances when he should have gripped the ledge. It's incredibly frustrating because it means endless repetition of the tricky platform bits, and violent swearing.

It would take forever to write down everything I love about Psychonauts - every microscopic detail, every hidden guffaw-inducing gag, every moment of genuine emotion. Instead I have only this small moment to say: I implore you to play this game.

 

More Info

Release date: Jun 21 2005 - PS2
Apr 26 2005 - PC
Apr 19 2005 - Xbox (US)
Feb 10 2006 - PS2 (UK)
Available Platforms: iPad, iPhone, PS2, PC, Xbox
Genre: Action
Published by: Double Fine, Majesco
Developed by: Double Fine
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Cartoon Violence, Crude Humor, Language, Mild Violence
PEGI Rating:
12+

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