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Why Psychonauts is one of the greatest games ever made

Take, for instance, the fan-favorite mental world known as The Milkman Conspiracy. Inside the insane mind of paranoid security guard Boyd Cooper, you’ll find a warped, Escher-like vision of suburbia, populated by suspicious G-men and deadly girl scouts. Your mission, should you be able to wrap your head around it, is to find Boyd’s alter ego: The Milkman, who rains fiery destruction with Molotovs fashioned from bottles of two-percent. It's all an allegory for Boyd's repressed trauma of being a disgruntled arsonist--and it’s a level totally unlike anything you've encountered in any game, ever.

But all the creativity in the world wouldn’t make a poorly designed level fun to explore. Thank goodness that Psychonauts has great, familiar gameplay to back up all the originality. This is classic 3D platforming, and you’ll be comfortably jumping around, swinging from beams and shimmying up ladders in no time flat. It’s just challenging enough to keep platform game veterans engaged, while still being accessible for the less spatially inclined, thanks to painless restarts and infinite continues.

Enemy types are just as fascinating as the setting and subplot in each subconscious landscape. Do you ever get thoughts that you know are wrong, so you push them out of your mind? That’s the work of censors, bespectacled little men in suits that stamp out unwanted brain activity--including Raz's uninvited presence. That kind of intelligent, thoughtful design permeates every aspect of the game, where self-loathing over a lost love can logically be embodied by a rampaging bull in a neon, black-velvet world. Describing the psychedelic settings can only go so far; Tim Schafer and the talented team at Double Fine crafted the kind of imaginative world that just begs to be played for yourself.

Far too often, platforming games pad their content with a multitude of inane collectibles that accomplish little when you’ve found them all. But Psychonauts uses collectibles as a storytelling opportunity, weaving fascinating background lore into the doodads that some players may never even find. They’re ingeniously named, to boot--Mental Cobwebs, Emotional Baggage, and Figments of the imagination are cleverly hidden in nearly every nook and cranny. The pièce de résistance are the tricky-to-find Memory Vaults, which guard the darkest anguish and most cherished moments of the person whose mind you’re spelunking. These past experiences are presented in a nostalgic View-Master-style gallery, and the stories they tell may move you to tears using silent, still images alone.

It’s not hard to see how Psychonauts became such a beloved cult classic. The way it balances light-hearted humor, thought-provoking concepts, and rock-solid gameplay is so perfectly executed, so unforgettable, that many players will fall in love with the game during the first level. It's not unlike a movie masterpiece: No matter how many times you’ve seen it all the way to the end, you’re bound to discover something new with each additional playthrough. When you consider the fact that you can easily buy it on almost any platform, you have no excuse not to embark on its mesmerizing journey into the mind’s eye.

"Why _____ is one of the greatest games ever made" is a weekly feature that goes through GamesRadar's list of the 100 best games of all time and highlights different titles, explaining why they're on the list, what makes them so amazing, and why we love them so much.

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25 comments

  • bengalaxy - January 10, 2013 4:32 p.m.

    Totally agree. I played this game when it first came out and it's still some of the most sheer FUN I've ever had in my 30 years of computer gaming!
  • NOGIRLSIWANNAJETPACK - January 10, 2013 1:11 p.m.

    Correct answer? Because it is!
  • dcobs123 - January 9, 2013 5:42 p.m.

    The writing in this game was fantastic. The Milkman had nearly an infinite amount of lines and I just couldn't stop laughing.
  • Silverstone - January 9, 2013 5:41 p.m.

    Is it creepy that I read this article title and immediately thought "Lucas Sullivan"? I guess I need to play this game now.. Actually looks pretty amazing.
  • GR_LucasSullivan - January 10, 2013 11:44 a.m.

    Lolol I must admit I gush about this game whenever given the opportunity. But yeah--def go play it ASAP
  • zevolta - January 9, 2013 2:20 p.m.

    Ahhh yes...Psychonauts...Such a great and under appreciated game.
  • BladedFalcon - January 9, 2013 1:32 p.m.

    This is one of those games I unfortunately wasn't able to get when it came out. I really do wish you play it though... As far as I understand it, there isn't a PSN version though, bummer.
  • BladedFalcon - January 9, 2013 1:34 p.m.

    And yes, i saw the link and the end. And no, I don't have the means nor the will to play it on PC, so I won't. Don't ever bother mentioning it.
  • GR_LucasSullivan - January 9, 2013 1:53 p.m.

    That link is actually three links :) You can actually download it off PSN as a PS2 Classic--which I advise you do immediately!
  • BladedFalcon - January 9, 2013 2 p.m.

    wait- it IS available on PSN? o.O weird, I checked the PSN this monday, and I didn't see it >>; Okay, I will give it a double look again, thanks!
  • StrayGator - January 9, 2013 1:53 p.m.

    There is a PSN version, and there's nothing wrong with the windows version.
  • BladedFalcon - January 9, 2013 2:04 p.m.

    I know there isn't, I just don't like playing games on the PC. And yes, it seems i had missed the PSN version >>; no worries, that will be corrected ASAP!
  • keltar93 - January 9, 2013 1:25 p.m.

    The reason I love this game (apart from the solid platforming and hilarious sense of humor) is that it spits in the face of cliché platforming level design, delivering imaginative level after imaginative level. Also "I am a grieving widow"
  • louis-hideme - January 9, 2013 1:20 p.m.

    mkm
  • garnsr - January 9, 2013 1:19 p.m.

    Psychonauts is better than Inception. Inception seemed like it should have been a game, especially the end, but Psychonauts is a great game.
  • StrayGator - January 9, 2013 1:16 p.m.

    This game sucks and you all suck.

Showing 1-20 of 25 comments

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