Published by Majesco
Distributed by THQ
Developed by Double Fine Productions
Release Date: Out Now
Psychonauts, an introduction.
If you bought one of the early Xbox titles and happened to view the demos that appeared on some of them, you'll have come across Psychonauts. It's surprising then the game has taken a long while to be released but for one reason or another (publisher changes etc.), the road to release has not been a smooth one. In many cases like this the end product is usually not that desirable. However, with Psychonauts there is no cause for concern as the game is a true classic and anyone who likes originality in their games should definitely rush out and pick up a copy.
What's the game about?
Born with special psychic powers, Razputin was destined for a life of frustration. His father forbid Raz to use his powers but Raz couldn't stand it any longer and decided to run away and train to become an international psychic secret agent. He ends up at the Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp, the home of the Psychonauts, where a variety of crazy characters and crazy challenges await. All is not well at Whispering Rock though and Raz will have to find out who is stealing brains. As Raz explores a variety of minds he will have to deal with emotional baggage (an enemy) and censors (another enemy) amongst other things. Raz will even have to collect figments of imagination in order to raise his PSI Cadet Rank. Psychonauts is a game like no other and essentially a game that no review can really do justice.
What's good about the game?
Whilst at its heart Psychonauts is a platform game, the whole flavour and progression of the game is just so different from other games we've seen. The game's real strength lies in its characters and story which are as unique as they are strange. From the very beginning the characters are interesting and don't feel like they've simply been derived from other game characters. You'll want to play through the game simply to see how the story all fits together and that in itself is a very good thing. The game has its fair share of humour too, which makes it even more interesting and enjoyable. Should Raz ever lose all of his mental health he'll simply be placed back at the nearest checkpoint (which is never too far away), so the game never really becomes frustrating. Sometimes Raz will be evicted from the mind he's in but it's not too much hassle to re-enter and continue with the task at hand. You can also save the game pretty much anywhere which is good to see.
As far as the platforming elements of the game are concerned, everything feels as it should do. The controls are fine and you'll jump and double jump your way around the various levels without any real difficulty. That said though the wacky and unique environments in which you'll play make the game feel very different from other platform games. The levels are based in the minds of others and as such you'll have to deal with all kinds of bizarre situations. No two levels are alike which really adds to the game's appeal. Raz has to collect a variety of objects and will also have to do his fair share of combat in the missions. As the game progresses Raz will acquire all kinds of psychic abilities such as Pyrokinesis, Telekinesis, Levitation and Confusion (which lets Raz temporarily scramble the thoughts of others). The abilities can be upgraded too, as Raz's PSI Cadet Rank improves.
What's not so good about the game?
You could argue that the game could have been longer. Assuming you just do what you have to, you're probably going to finish the game in around 15 hours (probably shorter if you're better at platform games than I am). A few more hours can be gleaned from the game if you like to explore between missions. There's no real reason to play through again once you're done, although I personally will do because the game is just so enjoyable. Otherwise there are no real complaints with the game.
How does it look?
The visuals in Psychonauts are really something else. Whilst I'm sure you could name quite a few Xbox games where the graphics are more technically impressive, you probably couldn't name many that are more visually appealing or any where the characters have as much charm. Each of the game's characters has a distinctive look ranging from the bobble (and goggle) headed Raz to the off-coloured Sasha Nein. The various enemies in the game look rather strange too. The various mental environments you'll play in during the game all look very different from each other and this helps to make each level feel fresh even though you're basically doing the same old platform game routine in each one of them. The cutscenes have been well done and I particularly like the View-Master style recollections (you'll move from one image to another via the L & R triggers) that help add depth to each of the characters. In short then the game has a lot of style. It's also worth mentioning that the load times are particularly slick and you're never left waiting around, which is excellent.
How deaf gamer friendly is the game?
Thankfully Psychonauts is subtitled but unfortunately enabling the subtitles isn't as straightforward as it should have been and it means that deaf gamers will miss out on the opening to the game. The process of enabling subtitles in Psychonauts is that you'll begin a new game (you can't alter the options beforehand), watch the introductory cutscenes and then pop into the options menu to enable the subtitles. Even if you then begin a new game you'll still have no subtitles. Thankfully though, you can watch all of these introductory cutscenes (as well as any of the other cutscenes) with subtitles by accessing the memories tab in Raz's journal so although you'll miss out on the content of the introductory cutscenes initially, you'll get to see exactly what's been said once you've enabled the subtitles and replayed them. Once the subtitles have been enabled, the game is completely fine for deaf gamers. Even the conversations that other characters are having, as you walk past them, are shown in text. The text is large and easy on the eyes. The text is placed on a dark overlay and the picture of the talking character is placed alongside the text to make it clear who is talking. Objectives are shown in text and you are notified in text when you have a new objective and when an objective has been completed. The game manual is also rather pleasing in that it informs you of all you need to know and is presented in a clear and uncluttered manner making it easy to find what you need.
This game has been out a while in the US and it's a game that for the most part has had glowing reviews. Having waited a long time to play Psychonauts, I was thrilled to see that the game lived up to my expectations and without a doubt it has to go down as one of the finest games on the console. It was disappointing to read recently about the poor sales of the game in the US and it's a shame such originality hasn't received the sales it deserves. All I can really say is thank goodness the game has appeared here in the UK because titles as original and as captivating as Psychonauts really don't come along that often and it's definitely a title we wouldn't hesitate to recommend.
Overall Game Rating: 9.3/10
Deaf Gamers Classification:
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Psychonauts has been late arriving on the Xbox here in Europe but it's a wait that's been well worth it. Easily one of the best games on the console and well worth the asking price.