Throughout the course of Psychonauts, most of the psychic powers wielded by our hero Raz serve a clear, practical, video-game-y purpose. Levitation lets him cruise around levels and slow his descent during jumps, Pyrokinesis sets pesky enemies on fire, Shield creates a mentally projected barrier to protect him from harm, and so on. All of these abilities are naturally woven into your repertoire, given how helpful they are for traversal and combat. But there's one power that doesn't seem to have much general use: Clairvoyance, the ability to simply see through the eyes of others. It doesn't allow for mind-control, or blind enemies to your presence like the Invisibility power - all it does it let you see from someone else's perspective. Lean in close as I let you in on a little secret: it's actually the greatest ability in the entire game.
Clairvoyance acts as the key to a sequence of straightforward puzzles in the legendary Milkman Conspiracies level, where you must trick a series of trenchcoat-clad G-Men into thinking you're an ordinary, not-at-all-suspicious citizen strolling through this subconscious suburbia. By psychically sharing the G-Men's vision, you can confirm that your single item of disguise is working, whether they see you as a gardener with a watering can, a construction worker with a stop sign, a plumber with a plunger - you get the idea. By activating Clairvoyance, you switch to a hazy first-person perspective from the target's point of view, and Raz's usual character model is replaced by a charming 2D caricature of whatever the beholder believes you to be. It's a cool, simple effect that makes for a clever bit of level design, and is then never required again to progress through any of the other mindscapes.
What the game never explicitly tells you is that, from the moment you learn it, Clairvoyance can be used anywhere, anytime, and on almost anything. And here's the kicker, which still floors me to this day: nearly every NPC in the entire game sees you differently. Main characters. Side characters with a handful of lines. Bosses. Minor enemies you only encounter in a single level. Multiple personalities inside an old coot's brain. Squirrels. Even some collectibles and inanimate objects. They're all ripe for Clairvoyance viewing, each perceiving Raz in a unique, often hilarious way. And in many cases, this allows for some of the most lovably brilliant character development I've ever witnessed in entertainment, games or otherwise.
The insight provided by peering at yourself through others' eyes is intoxicating. Lili, your fellow camper and hard-to-impress love interest, reveals her secret crush by viewing Raz as a rose-bearing Prince Charming. Your mentors, Sasha Nein and Milla Vodello, have two distinct, equally adorable views of you: Sasha sees Raz as a younger version of himself, while Milla views him as an impossibly cute baby (so no, she's not flirting with you - she's just being friendly). Other campers simply see you as a reflection of their own interests, like a jock in full football padding, or a giant ear ready to listen to anything they have to say. One of my personal favorites is the perspective of the villainous theater critic Jasper, who sees Raz as nothing more than one and half stars (presumably out of five).
These Clairvoyance visions are small and simple compared to the rest of the game's grand designs; a single image that does nothing to further your progress or directly benefit your power level. But they say more about the characters and convey more humorous moments and thought-provoking observations than some games’ entire collections of cutscenes put together. Think about it for a second: there are imaginary characters in people's minds whose internal, private views can elucidate the inner workings of the actual person who conjured them into existence. You can find all of the Clairvoyance images online, but I made a point to play through Psychonauts for a third time just to see every last Clairvoyance vision for myself, and it was magical. Even if Clairvoyance seemingly does nothing, it means everything to diehard Psychonauts fans. And if there's any justice in the world, Clairvoyance will be back in a big way for Psychonauts 2 (opens in new tab).