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Psychonauts Review

publisher: Majesco
developer: Double Fine Productions
genre: Action Adventure

PIII 1000, 256MB RAM, 4.5GB HDD, 64MB video card
ESRB rating: T

release date: Apr 19, 05
» All About Psychonauts on ActionTrip

May 13, 2005
Branka "Nikerym" Todorovic

I've often been told by different people about their desire to read another person's mind. Personally, I never felt the urge to discover what's going on in people's heads, being quite satisfied with the regular quantity of stupidity I am bombarded with on a daily basis. It never left me wishing for more. However, I found the prospect of wandering through my own mind very appealing (People like visiting places they have never been to before, I have heard. -Ed.). It would be nice to take a stroll, pull a few strings here and there, and switch a few buttons off... Just to see how the things are working, that is. Well, that's exactly what Tim Schafer's Psychonauts focus on (apart from the brain thievery). The new game from the author of Grim Fandango offers an interesting, funny, and unorthodox view of all the complex machinations that take place inside a person's brain, allowing you to experience both pleasant and terrifying things through the game's main character, Razputin.

Razputin (or Raz as he's often called) is a bug-like kid who wears big goggles and whose life ambition's to become a psychonaut. Think of it as an astronaut, only this time the exploration takes place in the twisted space located inside people's heads, popularly known as the brain. However, Raz's family isn't delighted with the prospect of their kid becoming a psychic, so he flees home and escapes into the campus dedicated to 'gifted' kids. He wants to get a chance to learn how to use his gifts, but things aren't that simple. Soon he will learn the kids in the campus are all suffering from the same nightmare, and may I say it is one hell of a nightmare. It features a creature that steals kids' brains, plucking them out (in its own words) like a 'rotten tooth.' What is even more terrible is the fact the nightmare proves to be true in the waking world, so Raz sets out to discover the truth. In the meantime, he will have to take courses, which will teach him to use and master his psychic abilities. Of course, he will also have to fight his own inner demons, which have been nurtured by the fact his father is going to pick him up the next day and take him back home... this is why he has a limited amount of time to accomplish his goal.

The game begins with the training mission to teach you the basics, and it's mostly concentrated on explaining Raz's moves and acrobatics. The game controls are very simple and functional, and incredibly easy to master. Being able to perform certain moves and reach hidden or otherwise unreachable areas is the key to discovering valuable items, as well as to solving different puzzles. The game offers a combination of fast action and clever puzzles that require some careful planning. Just as there are instances where you'll be required to react fast and be very precise with what you're doing, there are also moments when you'll have to explore the environment carefully and plan a strategy step by step in order to obtain the required object. The game requires a lot of manual skill, but Raz's movement control is integrated in an excellent manner so your efforts end up being fun and not frustrating. Even failing to perform an action and repeating it several times does not result in gritting your teeth or shaking the monitor violently, as you learn to appreciate your environment in order to figure out the possible way to reach a certain area. The process of performing acrobatics rarely gets tiresome. That was my case at least. (So now you know. Apart from enjoying shooting people, I also like to fuck around with their brain. I admit it. (That's the first step to recovery. -Ed.)

The only problem with the entire scenario may lie with the camera - although it is easily controlled, it sometimes tends to get stuck behind an object, thus blocking the view and making it impossible to perform an action. It is rather difficult to jump off the cliff and take a tumble in the air if you cannot see what you're doing, thanks to the rock behind your back. This is where the first-person view comes in handy, allowing you to adjust yourself in the desired position and then try your luck.

The game environments are designed superbly in every sense of the word. Not only do the levels look great, with colorfully designed textures and many interesting details, but they also present an entertaining playfield where your abilities will be put to test. While most puzzles are quite obvious and aren't particularly difficult to solve, some require a lot of figuring out and trying out different paths in the search of the right one. Almost every puzzle has an air of novelty - each one of them is unique in its own right and puts you in a different situation.

While we're still on the topic of the visuals, I must add that the game looks amazing, which doesn't mean you won't be meeting with blocky and some low-res textures. I meant that in the sense of art design, which is superb. Every character and level has been given a unique note that makes them intriguing and special. All characters are designed in a manner that caused me to have an immediate sympathetic connection with them. The characters also have been nicely animated and the cleverly written dialogue is often hilarious thanks in part to the cute voiceovers.

What makes Raz's exploits even more enjoyable is the fact that he moves in a very colorful world with tons of interesting details for the player to pay attention to. There's also the quirky humor the game is tinted with, and some of the characters' comments nearly made me laugh my head off. (And spill my brain, if I had one.) Psychonauts is full of clever one-liners, as well of some funny and quite absurd situations. Some memorable moments include Raz peeking into Dogan's ear and discovering the kid has an impressive hole where the brain was, allowing him to see through Dogan's head. Another one is in Sasha Nein's Shooting Gallery, where Sasha tries to explain the basics of marksmanship to Raz. After telling him there are things that are so abhorrent we wish them dead the moment we lay our eyes on them, he envisions loud, colorful lamps in the '70 style, allowing Raz to practice shooting on them. Some puzzles include humor as well, such as the entire 'emotional baggage' thing where you have to pair baggage with their labels. Sounds silly, and it really is. But when you stumble on the sobbing luggage for the first time and take a look into its big, sad eyes, it takes on a whole new dimension.

The main principle of the game is traveling to the virtual world and back, learning how to control your fears, emotions and impulses. However, the virtual world is not without its dangers - if you do not have enough energy and emotional health to fight your way out, you will be kicked into the real world again. Though Raz cannot be killed 'for real' in the virtual world, he is put under a lot of strain as he's got only a little time left to uncover the mystery of the 'brain thievery' and fulfill his dream of becoming a psychonaut. In order to do that, he will have to use the resources of both worlds by solving puzzles and collecting items.

One of the key resources in the game are Arrowheads (or something like that), which can be collected all around the campus. Revisiting an area creates new Arrowheads, so this means its supplies are unlimited. Arrowheads serve for buying new items, such as PSI Cores and Cobweb Dusters, as well as some more fancy stuff. PSI Cores are one of the basic items you'll need to purchase, as their combining with Psychic Cards results in creating new powers. Cards are found scattered throughout the levels and you can collect them by successfully solving puzzles. Another thing you'll be collecting are figments that you'll need to level up. There is also the Scavenger Hunt, which allows you to collect a set of different objects carefully placed (and sometimes hidden) over the game's large levels.

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9.1   Excellent

Just about everything; well, just about;

Overall, the game is less challenging than it should've been; some low-res textures and blocky objects, camera gets stuck occasionally.


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