Psychonauts

Version played: PC

The critically acclaimed writer and games designer Tim Schafer boasts an impressive resume of games including Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, and the Monkey Island series, but one special title stood out and still stands today as a fantastic example of unique and fun gameplay combined with engaging and funny storytelling.

Released on most platforms in Europe in 2006 Psychonauts gained a huge cult following and was praised by critics but suffered with poor sales.  It has since been re-released and made available at GOG.com and Steam to an embracing reception.

In Psychonauts you take on the role of Raz, a young psychic who has broken convention and run away from the circus to become a ‘Psycadet’ or a ‘Psychonaut-in-training’.

Raz and his 'friend'

Events take place in Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp, which is really a cover for a top-secret government training facility.  As Raz you use your psychic powers to enter the minds of others and help them overcome the fears of their past.

The camp in which the story unfurls is fully explorable by our hero and acts as a hub to the main ‘action’ levels encountered throughout the games.  As the story develops in the camp, events later move into its surrounding areas, including a huge lake which is home to a giant lungfish and the disused insane asylum at the other side of the lake.

In order to enter the games ‘levels’ our hero uses a small door which he throws onto the heads of others to enter their minds.  Each of these levels is a beautifully designed and quirky masterpiece which reflects that characters fears, memories and personality.  For example the opening level is in the mind of a camp trainer and greatly resembles a war zone, a later stage is set in the mind of an insane security guard and the stage is full of hidden cameras and shady characters which are representative of his paranoia.

The Lungfish, pure horror

Each stage has its own unique flare and gameplay style, where some stages play like a 3D platformer; others require strategy and planning or exploration and problem solving in order to progress.

Enemies include the residents of these twisted worlds and annoyances called censors who exist to remove Raz from the character’s mind.  Each level ends with a huge boss battle which always requires a level of puzzle solving and experimentation in order to defeat the final lug.

Boss fights require creativity to win

A fantastic part of this game is the character development, throughout the game Raz can increase his Psi Ranking, and with each level of development Raz gains a new power, these include pyrokinesis, levitation, & psiblast to name a few, as Raz’s  ranking goes up the player can also develop these abilities making them more powerful.

Psi ranking can be increased by finishing action stages, exploring the world or by seeking out collectables in action stages.  In the character’s minds Raz encounters figments of their imaginations which can be collected to help improve his ranking.  Discovering luggage tags and reuniting them with their matching ‘emotional baggage’ will also help Raz gain ranks.

Psychonauts which is often hailed as one of the greatest games ever made truly is a unique and fun gaming experience.  If you have yet to play it, I strongly recommend getting hold of it immediately from either GOG.com or on Steam.  You will love its demented character’s and twisted world as well as its wholly enjoyable gameplay.  The story is genuinely hilarious and is incredibly engaging.  I found myself laughing out loud at some of the dialog and puns and some of the visual gags throughout the game are fantastic.

Making cows float with Napoleon is not the strangest aspect of this game

Psychonauts is an addictive experience and I was playing nothing else whilst I was focused on it.  Today very little of it has dated, the graphics are as colourful and cartoony as ever, the gameplay is still fresh and original and I look forward to the next mystery release from these developers.

Psychonauts you have earned yourself a mental 95.

Benjamin Coren

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