Articles/Game Reviews/PC/Psychonauts (2005)

Psychonauts is a unique game that places you in the shoes of a young man named Raz. Raz has psychic abilities and is attending a summer camp with fellow psychic children to undergo training and become a Psychonaut. It was initially released for the Xbox, but later ported to Windows and Playstation 2. Unfortunately it sold poorly, despite high acclaim and devoted fans.

The game is a platformer and requires you to make some difficult sequences of jumps to complete it. As the game progresses, you gain various psychic abilities, such as levitation on a ball that you can roll on and bounce on, psychokinesis, invisibility, pyrokinesis, clairvoyance, and confusion. As you progress your skills will also improve in potency. Although it is primarily a platformer, you also have to solve puzzles to move throughout the game, such as one level that requires you to use various disguises to avoid detection.

There are a number of items to collect throughout the game. For example, you must collect arrowheads around the camp to purchase items from the camp store. There are also "figments", which are 2d images floating about every level, and when you collect them they increase your Psi Ranking. Finally, there are luggage tags that you can give to emotional baggage within the levels to unlock special slideshows that give you insight into a character's personality.

The game begins with you exploring the camp and entering the mind of one of the camp instructors for training. After that, you continue entering the minds of other people, such as fellow campers and staff members and eventually some lunatics at the nearby asylum. Soon you discover that children's brains are being stolen by a mad doctor at the nearby asylum and it is your job to recover them and save the day. Each time you enter a person's mind, you enter a unique level and this is where the brilliance of the game really shines.

Many of the levels feature unique playing styles. On the first level, the training boot camp, it is military theming throughout. On another level, you enter the mind of a conspiracy theorist and have to evade detection by agents using various disguises. On another level, you are placed in a colorful Spanish street and must evade a giant bull that runs between the buildings periodically. Yet another level allows you to participate in a Psi Ball race inside of a giant night club. I cannot do justice to the level design with words, it is something you must experience to fully appreciate it. One of my favorite levels makes you a giant and you must fight off tiny tanks, helicopters, and soldiers as you climb buildings and make your way around the miniature city.

One of the things that I liked about the game is that you are allowed to revisit each of the levels to hunt down remaining figments and emotional baggage. Getting 100% completion is a challenge and requires you to find every last figment, many of which are very hard to reach. However, 100% completion is not required to beat the game.

Combat in the various levels requires that you use your psychic abilities to attack your enemies. Each level usually has a boss at the end, some of which are rather hard to beat. Once you beat a boss you finish the level and can progress and if you return to the level the boss will no longer be there so you are free to explore.

The graphics in the game are cartoony, but suit the game well. The artists did an excellent job of creating the atmosphere of the various levels and clearly made it a labor of love. The game features a number of cutscenes, all of which are well directed and add a lot to the storyline.

The voice acting is similarly excellent. Each character has a unique personality and you can engage in conversation with every NPC in the game. There is also a great soundtrack and array of sound effects to complement the gameplay and graphics.

My final thoughts on the game are that it is one of my favorites and I really wish it had gotten the recognition and sales that it deserved. The people who made the game are brilliant and I would love to see their work continue. This game is an epic interactive work of art and one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences you can have. If you have a chance to play this game, you owe it to yourself to do so!