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Psychonauts (Windows)

87
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
4.0
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Shazbut (158)
Written on  :  Dec 13, 2005
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.67 Stars4.67 Stars4.67 Stars4.67 Stars4.67 Stars

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Summary

Very creative. Very well made. Very good.

The Good

I would like to take this opportunity to rather untactfully point out that I'd already considered Tim Schafer to be Lucasarts' brightest talent before he made 'Grim Fandango'. 'Full Throttle' was one of the best adventures the company produced, so why everybody forgot it and heaped their praise instead on a game about a dog and rabbit solving mysteries is a mystery to me. 'Psychonauts' is perhaps his most creative offering yet, and everybody has forgotten it already. Haven't you? Yes, I'm talking to you!

You wouldn't have forgotten it if you've played it, but apparently nobody has. I even had to get the game on import because it hasn't been released in Britain. Madness. Sorry if I sound bitter, because normally I wouldn't buy a hyper-colour PC platformer with a child protagonist either. But 'Psychonauts' is so cool, you just have to own it.

Firstly, and primarily, it's perhaps the most imaginative thing ever (with the possible exception of "Katamari Damacy"). Schafer's games always suggested that his head was so swimming with ideas that it needed to express them in order to stop it exploding in the night and covering his bedroom walls with bits of crazy characters, strange plot-lines, and whacked-out situations. Fortunately (for his health), he decided to make a game where you go inside people's minds, which gives him a lot of room to be creative. Every mind is a separate world. Different characters, different places, different times, different everything. The ideas are rampant. You get hit with something new and interesting almost every 10 minutes. It's like nothing you've played before and, with the exception of one moment which I will come to later, you won't ever get bored. Wonderful.

One of the potential pitfalls in creating a game so diverse is that it will require immense effort to make each world rise above the average and actually feel distinct and fun by itself, regardless of how different it is from the other worlds. Double Fine have leaped over this problem. The work gone into each level is stunning. They don't just look and sound different but they "feel" different. This attention to detail shines through everywhere. About half-way through the game, you gain an ability which allows you to see yourself through the eyes of another person. Use this power on Gloria, a once-famous actress, and she sees you as a walking autograph-book and pen. Use it on the girl who fancies you, and you see yourself as a Romeo figure holding a rose and smiling. Once you get it, you can go back to any level you've played and use it on any character you find just to see how they see you. It's an ability that barely has to be used in the game if you don't want to. If you take the effort to explore, you'll see just how much work they've put in. This is just an example. The love that has been poured into 'Psychonauts' is unbelievable. Normally I admire dedication to your art, but in this case, I think Double Fine probably ought to spend a little more time with their families. The divorce rate is high enough.

The characters are fantastic. Bobby Zilch is one of the best characters in the history of gaming. Know how much screen time he has in the whole of 'Psychonauts'? About 3 minutes.

The voice acting is as good as it gets.

The score is by Peter McConnell.

It's not really a platformer.

It's occasionally ball-achingly funny. When's the last time you laughed out loud playing a game? The characters you see in the 15th screenshot were responsible for tears of laughter hitting my keyboard.

It's occasionally very dark. There are a couple of secret rooms in some of the levels that shed a lot of light on certain characters. Some of them are so unfunny and unexpected that they'll make your jaw drop to the floor. You never know what to expect in "Psychonauts", not for a minute. They're constantly throwing curve-balls at you.

The animation is top-drawer. When was the last time in a game that a character's physical movements intentionally caused you to laugh?

In fact, everything that I don't mention in the next section has been done well. It was pointless of me to try and isolate separate parts (the graphics, the music, the script, the acting...). It's all first rate. Schafer clearly doesn't mess around...

The Bad

...except with the controls and the level of difficulty.

Some reviews of this game have stated that it's "unplayable" without a joypad. This is ludicrous, natch, but the game is slighted with camera difficulties simply because it's in 3 sodding dimensions. Since the dawn of 3D gaming, getting and keeping the right viewpoint on the action has been a consistent pain and maybe always will be. Still, "Psychonauts" is no worse than any other third-person game except with the boss fights.

The problem is that the bosses are huge and as such, require you to run away from them most of the time. So, given that, where should the camera go? It's a difficult question. Put it behind the hero and you can't see the enemy. Put it in front of the hero and you can see him and the enemy, but you're running into the camera. The developers chose the latter option, which is the wiser choice, but it still doesn't play well. It's far too awkward.

The only other mild snag is that the game is almost never a proper challenge. Nothing special there I suppose, since gaming is now mainstream and all games are dead easy. They may come with harder difficulty settings but that doesn't usually work because the games aren't really designed to be played on "Impossible". Psychonauts won't ever tax you. Sure, you'll lose some lives occasionally and have to replay sections a few times, but you won't shout expletives. (Until you come to the very last level, which is actually a bit tricky. Consequently, you'll hate it, because you'll be fumbling over the keyboard like a drunk, looking skyward, and shaking your fist as you remember the golden days when games were fair and only made in two dimensions.)

Finally, as I mentioned much earlier, there is only point in the game that will bore you. You have to collect shards out of the ground with a divining rod. You do this by running around and tapping "F" a lot. It's horrible and will make your blood pressure rise. Thank God you don't have to do it for very long.

The Bottom Line

Just because one of the world's greatest game designers can't overcome the Everest-sized hurdle of making a non-first-person game set in a 3D environment accessible and enjoyably difficult, doesn't mean "Psychonauts" isn't a game that everyone should own. It's one of the best of the year and perhaps the best ever of it's type for PC.