Tim Schafer is a name most of you probably don't know, but chances are you've played one of his very whacked out games. He is an icon that's not an icon, meaning he isn't as recognisable as creators such as Sid Meier or Gabe Newell, he just goes about his work. That work was almost stopped by Microsoft when they decided to can a publishing deal, and they would be regretting that now, because not only is the game now available on the PS2 console, but it's also one of the most surprising titles of the year.
Psychonauts tells the story of a young psychic child named Rasputin. He is punished by his parents for his ability to control people's minds and is seen as an outcast, much like the other kids who attend a secret government camp to enhance their minds and make them Psychonauts. The only thing is Rasputin wasn't invited, and broke in so has to complete his training before his parents show up as they won't let him participate in the training. This is where you come in and after a fairly lengthy tutorial mission, the game begins.
Psychonauts is played from a third person perspective but this is where the similarities to most other games end. It is a game which relies on style rather than substance with the storyline making you want to play more, even if it's 3:00am in the morning. You just want to know what whacked out cut scene is coming next from the crazy Schafer. At the base level the game is repetitive but is challenging and fans of platformers on the PS2 have yet another game to own. The PS2 is continuing its dominance of the genre, and Microsoft in this case has no one to blame but themselves.
What really makes this game good is the clever way Schafer has exploited many of the sayings people use to discuss their thoughts and how their brain works. For instance, during the game you will run into 'emotional baggage' and this baggage requires a tag to disappear. The first time you come across it a rather hilarious cut scene will play, and it is small things like this which make Psychonauts what it is. The game is also far from linear, with a wide open game world to explore, and in turn, discover more levels, but as expected there are points where you need items to progress further on the map. It can, if you wish, turn into a collect-athon, but generally the game does not require you to pick up too many objects just to get to the next level.
The enemies are an interesting lot but most of the time you will find that the environment is the true enemy, with large gaps to jump, spikes to avoid and other obstacles placed on each level. As you progress throughout the game your psychic level increases allowing you to gain new abilities until you finally become a psyconaut, which occurs towards the end. The game mainly is focusing on action/adventure, however there is a small amount of RPG elements in that if you spend the time to do it, you can build up your character to a high level in the early stages of the game.
In many ways you can see that this title was meant to be on the original Xbox, and that the PS2 is not the games native SKU. The game maintains a framerate which is playable but at times can seem washed out and grainy. Whether this was intended (and considering it happens throughout the game) is unknown because in some ways it enhances the atmosphere - having graphics too sharp and crisp in a game about screwing with your mind would fail to engross you as much in our opinion.
One of the biggest downsides to Psychonauts is the lack of multiplayer. In a game which seems to be screaming out for multiple characters to play through, it's hard to believe that Majesco decided that it didn't need multiplayer. It would have enhanced the game greatly, and it would have pushed our score even higher.
Psychonauts is a game that will probably come and go without much fanfare unfortunately. People are crying out for new styles of gameplay, which Psychonauts delivers, but we have a feeling that even if we tell you to go out and buy or at least try, most people will find themselves tempted by a more mainstream title, which is a shame.
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