What is it?
had to wait seven years for Tim Schafer to create a new game, and
this one went via Microsoft for a while, so no wondering about the
delay then. (Can anybody see a release date for Longhorn yet?) But
now, Majesco has released Double Fine Production's new opus.
it's a biggy! It's been hyped by some, especially those who remember
the early Monkey Island games, Grim Fandango (one of my personal
favourites) and Tim Schafer's other games. It's new; it's flashy;
it's weird; it's manic; it's Psychonauts! For the hard of hearing,
please oblige me by imagining big flashy graphics around the name.
game is a little off the beaten track for 'Boomers, I think. It's an
adventure, in that there's a lot of plot, plenty of puzzles and
loads of exploring. However, there's lots of action – running,
jumping, punching, blasting and flying. Not to mention the RPG
element of character development. This is what an action-adventure
hybrid should be like, in my (not very, I guess) humble opinion.
Is there a plot?
in contrast to many action games I've come across, there most
certainly is. Razputin has run away from his family, who're Circus
acrobats, to the Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp with one aim in
mind; to become a Psychonaut. A full-blown psychic warrior and
secret agent, just like his heroes, Sasha Nein and Milla Vodello,
who just happen to be trainers at the Summer Camp.
has to learn all the psychic skills on offer, venture into some of
the strangest minds in the psycho-verse, do battle with everything
from confusing rats, through catfish, lungfish and censors, all the
way up to mad butchers and evil, fire-juggling, acrobats. All the
while learning new skills to overcome some of the strangest puzzles
I've ever come across. For example, how on earth do you persuade
painting dogs to overcome their fear of a raging bull to advertise
the next fight of a completely self-centred matador? Look out for
the wrestlers – they bite!
liked the story in Psychonauts – somehow it manages to stay quite
logical and 'together', despite the twists and turns of the game
play, and the nonlinear way in which you can visit the different
places in the game. Some of the plot elements were predictable, but,
like all good short stories (let's not pretend this is War and
Peace, now shall we), there's a decent twist at the end.
How do you play?
Obviously, this is not a game that's suited to a point-n-click user
interface. Okay, so we've alienated a large chunk of the 'Boomers
audience, but wait, there's more. This game is has a mere 13 button
controls, not to mention that the camera is controlled by the mouse
– no wonder Majesco/Double Fine recommend a game-pad. The default
controls have you using your left hand for movement and two
selectable powers, plus jumping, 'psi-floating', and other controls
for interacting with objects and people. Then your right hand is on
the mouse controlling the camera (to which Raz's movement is
relative – 'forward' is in the direction the camera is pointing,
'left' towards screen left, and so on) and punching and the third
selectable power are on the right mouse-button.
inventory and skills list are accessed via the '[' and ']' keys, but
within those areas, individual items are selected using the
direction keys, or a pair of direction keys in a compass-like
fashion. Not the most immediately obvious inventory system, but it
there being 8 different powers and only three buttons to activate
them (by default, 'Q', 'E' and 'right click'), some of the puzzles
require you to think carefully about which powers you want available
to you on short notice.
There's lots of psi-powers, lots of items to find (including a
scavenger hunt subplot), brains to recover (and people to re-brain),
psi-cards and markers to achieve – some hidden in some remarkably
obscure places; and in all the minds there are figments –
translucent icons representing themes from the character of the mind
you're in, mental baggage and safes. Finding figments and psi-cards
is essential to the development of Raz's powers, whereas finding
baggage and safes just fill in backstory on the various characters
and add to the overall experience.
worlds are weird, wild, wacky and very colourful. They're detailed
and fun places to play in. When you're not dodging axe-wielding
butchers, fiery spiked juggling clubs, beefy censors and Dr Loboto
to this mix of graphical excellence is a sound track of enormous
extent. This game comes on 5 CDs and installs to take 3.6GB – the
sound effect archives take up almost 1GB of that. And I'm not
including the cutscene files in that either, because they take
another 1.5GB on their own! You might expect, with such a massive
amount of data that there's been some mix up, and a lot of
duplication, but no, as far as I can tell (in the several weeks it
has taken me to play this game), there is very little duplication of
resources. This game is huge! Not only that, but it has a remarkable
level of replayability – well there's another point in its favour
over almost any other adventure game!
think this entire game review should really be in this section! It
is clear that Double Fine and Majesco have put a great deal of
imagination and creative effort into this game, and it is replete
with ideas and challenges. Even the platforming elements of the game
don't seem like something from the 80s (when platform games
started), but then, perhaps that's down to the perspective warps and
gravity games that they've played. Ah, the benefits of playing a
game in a world as warped as Tim Schafer's mind!
Another novelty for me is to find that, without exception, the voice
acting is exceptional! And there are some little gems of
performances by Armin Shimerman (Quark, from Star Trek Deep Space 9)
and Dwight Shultz (Murdock, from the A-Team). See if you can spot
who they're voicing.
There were a few
occasions when the game crashed to the desktop, despite me having
installed the second patch available from psychonauts.com, but
because of the frequent auto-saves the game makes (every time a
'loading' screen appears), I lost very little progress.
most confusing thing for me was realising when Raz was in the 'real'
world, and when he was in the mental world of someone's mind.
Sometimes the 'real' world is sufficiently odd as to be confused
with the truly weird places in some of the character's minds. Just
wait until you see the world of the Milkman Conspiracy!! That's got
to be one of the most warped and wonderfully conceived game worlds
I've ever seen.
other oddity, for me, is the 'Teen' rating the game has been given.
Perhaps the game ratings people think it's not appropriate for under
13's to consider the insides of their own minds? On the other hand,
some of the story ideas are quite nightmare-ish. Including the giant
bunny-chasing butcher with a pair of bloody cleavers. Okay, so maybe
I was wrong... 'Teen' is the appropriate rating, though in reality
some under 13's will be fine with this game, and neither of my
daughters has had any Psychonauts-induced nightmares despite
watching me play much of the game, and playing the early parts of
the game themselves.
have to admit it, Psychonauts is a pretty amazing game. It has big
worlds, fun gameplay, a story that beats many traditional adventure
games, very good pacing, great graphics, sound, voice acting, and
almost flawless performance. Best of all, it has kept me occupied
for hours, not just battling with frustration over my inability to
perform some combination of obtuse moves, but with enjoying the
challenges, and wanting to find out what happens to Razputin and his
you've ever wanted to blast things, set things on fire, throw
things, levitate, see through other people's eyes, be invisible,
confuse your enemies, and deflect energy attacks, then this game is
Tim, it seems that adventure games ain't dead, you just helped them
move to another level!
What do you need to
Windows 98 SE/2000/XP.
GHz Pentium(R) III and AMD Athlon(tm)
MB of RAM
GeForce (tm) 3 or higher or ATI(R) Radeon 8500 or higher (except
GeForce 4 MX)
DirectX9.0c or higher (included on game disc)
DirectX(R) 9.0c or higher compatible sound card
Drive Space: 3.75 GB minimum hard drive space
CD-ROM: 16X or better
Controls: Windows-compatible keyboard and mouse
GHz Pentium(R) III and AMD Athlon(tm)
MB of RAM
MB GeForce FX 5600 or higher or ATI(R) Radeon 9600 or higher
DirectX(R) 9.0c or higher and EAX(R) 2.0 or higher compatible sound
Controls: Game Pad (optional)
used Win XP, AMD XP 2400+, 512 MB RAM, and ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 128
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