Psychonauts Review

PlayStation 2

January 29, 2006 by

Psychonauts Image

Psychonauts is one of those games that can be rather difficult to review. On one hand, you have a fantastically unique world that never ceases to entertain, while on the other hand you have a slightly disappointing gameplay execution that yields regular sections that are simply frustrating or boring to endure. Its a mixture of strengths and weaknesses that affects different groups of people greater, depending on whether the gameplay or storyline is the most important aspect to you. Regardless of Psychonauts downfalls, however, the game offers an interesting cast of characters set in creative worlds that you wont forget anytime soon.

Psychonauts follows the experiences of a young boy named Razputin; an energetic youngster who is just like every other 12-year-old apart from the fact that he has psychic powers. Ill-treated by those around him, Raz decides to run away from his home with the circus to a nearby summer camp that is designed specifically for psychic-gifted children. Here, a group of secretive psychic agents, known as the Psychonauts, are said to recruit apprentices to join their cause. This rumour is proven to be true when you are unexpectedly caught hiding in nearby bushes as one of the Psychonauts recruiters and head of the camp, Coach Oleander, is giving a speech to the assembled children. After Raz tries to persuade Coach Oleander to allow him to remain at the camp, Oleander and his two associates, Agent Nein, your typical secret agent, and Milla Vodello, an energetic dancing-obsessed lady, decide that it is best that they contact your parents and request that they come and pick you up.

Thankfully, things begin to look up the next day. While you await the arrival of your parents, you are given free roam of the camps grounds. This is where you take the controls and begin the platforming adventure of Psychonauts. Wandering around the camp will yield small secrets and also offer you the ability to talk with some of the camp members, which can often include some surprisingly humorous and well constructed conversations that can last anywhere between twenty seconds through to several minutes in length. The type of dialogue used hints to what you can expect to find throughout the game, as youll encounter a large variety of different personalities that are wonderfully weird yet often interesting.

Youll soon catch up to the fourth member of the Psychonauts team, Ford Cruller. This old fellow is the head of operations for the secret society in the area, who are focusing on investigating some odd disturbances in and around the camps grounds. As luck would have it, the worst begins to happen shortly after you meet Ford, as your fellow campers begin to turn into mindless, TV-obsessed zombies who aimlessly roam the camp. Figuring that they could use your help, Agent Nein begins to teach you the skills of being a Psychonaut; to actually delve into peoples minds and set problems right. But just as you were finishing your training, both Agent Nein and his party-girl sidekick, Milla Vodello, mysteriously go missing. And so begins your quest to locate the offender who is stealing peoples mind and retrieve them.

One of the most impressive features of Psychonauts is the range of different characters who you will meet, and the creative worlds that lay within their minds. In order to solve the mystery behind the brains being stolen, youll need to venture into the minds of various individuals that you meet and solve the problems within. Youll meet an underwater, monstrous creature who first tries to kill you, only to discover that you are not the enemy and then teaches you the history of how it once was an ordinary fish. Apparently, a crazed scientist had performed tests on it that now allowed him to control the large creature. To rid of the scientists control over the creature, you must delve into its mind, where you find yourself in a city filled with fish who considering you to be a large Godzilla-like creature as you go smashing through the citys skyscrapers. Since the creature has been brainwashed in the real world, the world within its mind carries a similar following, where an evil dictator is controlling the mindless residents and spreading propaganda to make the residents believe that he is the one true God. To put an end to this, youll need to plow your way through the city and eventually defeat the propagandist at the end, who continues to turn the resident fish against you through regular radio broadcasts that claim you are a bloodthirsty beast.

At another point in the game youll find yourself venturing through the mind of a troubled security guard, who is obsessed with a mysterious figure known as The Milkman. As the guard holds the key to a locked door that you must pass through in order to continue through the game, you need to enter the security guards mind and discover what troubles him so greatly. Youll enter a twisted, topsy-turvy world that replicates a typical American street in the 1970s, only that the streets are twisted at various angles and shifty FBI agents in black coats who are trying to fit into the streets light-coloured, relaxed theme. Youll see the agents attempting to act as street workers, holding red stop signs and muttering random clauses like we are street workers. Youll also see them doing various other tasks, such as pruning hedges and even acting as mourning widows with flowers in the nearby cemetery. Wherever you find the agents, a marked area surrounding them has been outlined, requiring you to locate the appropriate item in order to pass through that area. To pass through the FBI road workers, youll need to find a red stop sing that matches theres. If you attempt to do so without the appropriate item, youll be temporarily arrested and questioned on random, humorous subjects in a brief cutscene, before being returned to the start of the area.

The two above stages are only a handful of the various unique worlds that youll visit. The stages that you experience and the characters that you meet are the key areas in which Psychonats shines, as the creative and daring minds of the creators have ensured that these aspects are distinct in their own right. Unfortunately, a number of problems drag the final score down.

First, the gameplay feels remarkably uninspired. It plays like most other platforming titles; the controls and the feel of actually playing the game is surprisingly generic, feeling like many other platforming titles. The controls also suffer further during key platforming aspects, as Raz often refuses to grab onto a ledge quickly or the occasionally puzzling environments result in trial-and-error becoming a big part of the game. To put it simple, the cutscenes, cinematics and level designs are outstanding; actually playing as Raz isnt.

As you have psychic abilities, youll gain the ability to use a variety of different psychic moves as you proceed through the game. While youll have access to a pleasing variety of moves, they all feel rather generic. They are a collection of moves that youd expect to find in any old psychic game, which is rather disappointing considering the highly creative and unique game elements. Yes, the moves are successful in what they aim to do, however, we would have liked to have seen a collection of more creative, original abilities that suit the games unique world. Regardless of our wishful thinking, youll unlock around six different psychic abilities that will be used at various different portions of the game. Youll be able to make yourself invisible, shoot laserbeams from your eyes, set a person or creature on fire or hover around using a hovering ball. They are a solid collection of abilities, however, the uninspired gameplay prevents them from truly being enjoyed.

The developers have clearly gone for simple character and environment design, therefore, dont expect any outstanding visuals to greet you. Character models are generally good, with only the occasional blurry texture slightly dragging down the level of quality. The environments in which you will find yourself do offer a pleasing level of creativity and uniqueness, however, a bump in the detail level would have made the experience just that tad bit more enjoyable to view. Fortunately, the games voiceover work is of a higher quality level than the graphics. Each character offers exceptional voice work that perfectly fits their personality and appearance. The crazed mumble incoherently; the determined speak strongly, while the angered speak with fury.

After finishing the game and spending some time to ponder on the good and bad, you come away from the game with mixed feelings. Yes, youve just experienced a delightfully unique and full-of-character game that could be considered as a rare gem in todays gaming world. On the other hand, the execution of the controls and actually playing the game does feel rather bland, which ultimately drags down the positive aspects of the game. Its disappointing, as the potential to be a truly stellar title is there, but the game falls short due to a few bland gameplay elements.

Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.