Game Review: Psychonauts

by Pat Johnson

Of all the games that I have played this year, Psychonauts is the most difficult to classify. In some ways it is easy: it's a platformer with some RPG leveling aspects. Its story involves a good boy who must confront various evils. However, when you start breaking down the game into more specific areas, you will find that Psychonauts is truly something special. For example, when the game first loads up, you may find yourself staring at a giant brain, waiting for a menu to appear so you can choose 'new game' and get on with the business of playing. But there is no simple menu, instead the main character (named Rasputin, shorted to the much cooler, Raz) stands on top of the brain, waiting to be run around to the far side where a there is a pair of doors, one for "new game" and the other for 'load game.' Odd, clever, and unique: these three words are likely to pop up in any discussion involving this game.

The style of the game is like a warped Saturday morning cartoon, with big heads and thin scrawny limbs for the character and wild vibrant environments for each level. Visually the game experiments constantly, primarily because the core storyline of the game involves jumping into people's brains and helping them defeat their personal demons. So every level has a different theme and style. When you hop into the crazy Mexican artist's mind, everything is black velvet with a neon (almost Tron-like) color scheme. However, when you jump into the psychotic postal worker, you wander around a suburbia populated with government spies impersonating normal people. "I am a sewer worker. My job is very important. I keep the sewers working. There is nothing suspicious going on. Have you seen the milkman?" From the scared landscape of a war vet to a failed actress who is haunted by an evil critic, the game keeps you engrossed by always surprising you. Across the board, the writing (both story and dialogue) is better than most sitcoms. There are even a few nearly guaranteed laughs (which is a real rarity for games).

The camera can be a serious foe at times and is likely to lead to a bloody tongue where you bite down hard because you keep getting run over by the black velvet bull, or falling off the circus big top made of meat. The game will frustrate you plenty, but the goods generally crush the bads. It's wacky, funny, clever, unique, odd and most importantly fun to play. It may not be an owner, but there is a part of me that is tempted to rent it for a second time. That fact alone is something of a rarity.

8 straightjackets (out of 11)