Psychonauts Reader Review
In days of yore...
LucasArse were a well respected company putting out some of the greatest games on the PC. Back when point and click adventure games reigned supreme, and static backdrops of lush and colourful loveliness graced many a rickety old SVGA CRT, titles like Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango were the stuff of legends. If you're as old and bald as me, they still are well revered but since the advent of 3D sandbox free-roaming gubbins, adventure games have become rather passe'...
Until now. Tim Schafer, imaginative powerhouse behind the aforementioned titles has been beavering away in a lofty castle somewhere developing another magnum opus, hereafter known as Psychonauts.
I first encountered the game via some odd looking pre-production drawings in a Computer Art book. They showed a lone figure staring at a vast twisted network of streets and roads arcing off at impossible angles into the sky (later, this drawing would form the basis of the design of the game's "Milkman" level - I won't spoil it for you by giving you the skinny on it, but it's one of the games many golden moments of sheer joy).
All went quiet for a while until several of my American friends started muttering about the release of Psychonauts last year on their side of the pond. I checked out the screenshots, but held off from importing the game figuring I'd wait for a UK PAL release on the Xbox...
Now it's here, and has it been worth the wait? Oh blimey yes, and now by the medium of keyboard and text I intend to tell you why...
Merely dismissing Psychonauts as "just another 3D platform / hub game" is to do it a gross injustice. Sure, it does have platform elements, sure it does have a centralised hub location which you return to again and again in search of your next quest or level, but there is more in there than that. Tim Schafer's imagination is left to run riot, and the perfect partnership of a superb art team ensures that Psychonauts stands out from the crop of samey old titles we've been treated to for years, and does something different.
Our hero Rasputin, or Raz for short (one z, this bloke isn't 7ft tall and black) infiltrates psychic summer camp in order to gain enough merit badges to become a fully fledged psychonaut, able to wage war in the twilight zone of the troubled minds of the world. Raz unfortunately falls foul of an overbearing parent issue, and has a mere two days to clear up the strange conspiracies and troubles raging throughout the camp before his parents turn up in their clapped out Ford Mondeo and cart him off to a life of drudgery, trimming the toenails of the local cat population.
Raz is a boy with a mission. Just as things are looking peachy, the object of his affection, Lilli, is kidnapped and his task becomes a quest to free the girl, save the universe and pop home in time for crumpets and blancmange.
As a hub game, you walk around and gather clues, pestering the camp's tutors for jobs and quests which must be completed so you can earn those merit badges, and get ever closer to freeing Lilli. Psychic powers are yours for the earning, everything from telekinesis and pyrokinesis to levitation and invisibility, useful tools in the psychic arsenal. Each and every little vignette within the game is beautifully realised, and personal favourites (aside from the aforementioned Milkman level) include the black velvet art of the bullfighter quest, and the stupendous disco club level run by one of the tutors.
It's by no means perfect (game of the year or not, EGers) and sometimes the platforming mechanics can drive you bat-crazy. In common with most hub games, it's also not always clear what you have to do to proceed through the quests. These are minor niggles though and it's been a long time since this particularly grizzled, cynical and hardened gamer has found anything that has made him stay up till 3 am on a school night just to see what happens next.
Grab Psychonauts, if you have even a remote interest in games that are anything but run of the mill. Enjoy it too, although it does get slightly frustrating later on it's still worthy of completion and a place in your collection.
Oh and if you see Tim, tell him if he doesn't do a sequel to Grim Fandango I'm coming round with the box of soapy frogs and the diving costume with the bottom cut out...
8 / 10