Tim Schafer is a legend at this point in the game design industry, bearing such brainchildren as The Secret of Monkey Island series, Day of the Tentacle and many more, and as the founder of Double Fine productions, brought us the unbelievable mindbending 3D platforming adventure that is Psychonauts.
It follows the adventures of young but talented psychic Rasputin as he seeks to become a fully qualified crimefighting Psychonaut agent before being returned from Whispering Rock summer camp home to his parents. The story is told through exploration of the minds of the troubled individuals you’ll meet along the way, and each area will further reveal the dastardly plot that threatens not just Raz and his newfound friends, but the rest of the world.
Given the aforementioned plot, the raw scope on offer to the developers in terms of environments was simply enormous, and they seized this opportunity with aplomb. Virtually anything your feeble non-psychic brain can imagine is on offer, from the warzone contained in the mind of General Oleander to the Catan-styled hopeless escapades of one Fred Bonaparte, there is so much imagination at work here it can be overwhelming at times.
Along the way you can collect mental projections called figments to level up your psychic powers and increase their potency or unlock new ones, and psitanium arrowheads to purchase new equipment. This is a rare and powerful element that increases the latent abilities of psychics, which has also given the local wildlife some interesting new hunting methods, because lord knows pyrokinetic cougars was something we needed. Blazing a path through the expansive worlds is nice and easy as the controls are very intuitive and responsive, and as you unlock more means of progression you’ll find very few invisible walls or annoying collision errors.
Of course it wouldn’t be a Tim Schafer game if it wasn’t legendarily funny. Everything from the background imagery to the voice acting, the writing is sublime, and characters react with very realistic levels of sarcasm and incredulity. It’s quite hard to explain, but I love that in such a strange world the characters still lack an internal suspension of disbelief. It’s just amazing.
The sound design is also excellent on the whole, never intrusive when background music is playing, and effects, while limited are extremely satisfying in their implementation. As I’ve said, vocal casting and performance is just about perfect, and I’m very happy to be able to say that the bulk of the crew is returning for the recently-announced sequel. One gripe I have is that the voices were a little quiet in the mix during some cutscenes, so just watch out for that.
I have very little issue in recommending this game to any fan of 3D platformers, as I genuinely think it stands up there with the very best of them. That said, the surreal settings and woeful sense of humour make it a very different experience, almost a little more grown up than the typical vibrant colour palettes and bouncy soundtracks we’re used to. Best of all, Double Fine studios are well aware of the success they’ve had due to Steam’s distribution platform, and this seems to be reflected in the ridiculous sales this game gets - I’ve seen it at 90% off multiple times, and so for 69 pence or about a dollar, it’s just ludicrous. Pick it up immediately.
Author: Ollie Burton
Ollie is a student at Newcastle University in the UK studying Cellular & Molecular Biology. In his spare time he operates this website, is an avid gaming & film fan and plays in a blues-rock band, as well as editing for the University's student newspaper, The Courier.