21 - Final Words About Psychonauts

Psychonauts should have been a graphic adventure game.

I don’t mean for that to sound like a pejorative because I really enjoyed a lot of the characters and the thought that went into designing the concepts that dictated the levels. The problem is that the gameplay was bad. The camera controls were off, jumping felt floaty, and the depth of objects relative to Raz was very hard to determine. Considering most of the game mechanics are based around the platforming genre that these problems infest, the game play was very annoying and difficult as tougher challenges were introduced.

On the other hand, the elegance and cerebral nature or the minds/levels that were represented in game show consistent strokes of genius. If I were telling Raz where to go via point and click puzzles and combining senseless items, I would have been much less frustrated about what was happening in the Meat Circus or in Waterloo World. I went into many of these concepts in depth during each update regarding the levels, but I would like to just touch on a few that were really important to me as I was playing.

Translating Crazy

Each level had something unique to say about the mental state of the owner and was executed very well in theory. One of my favorites was the Milkman Conspiracy. Even though I am not a paranoid schizophrenic, I would like to think that I understand a little bit about what it is like to experience an altered sense of reality. While depressed, I had a crushing sense that the world was abstract and that I could sense the meaning of things as a concept, but was unable to experience them in an interface with myself. This emptiness is the best way that I can describe the state because it does not “look” different from what you see every day, but the perception is vastly shifted to something malevolent. Everybody is out to make YOU angry and the world IS an evil place, even if something good happens to you. I liked how the Milkman Conspiracy addressed this by turning the concepts of a standard life and filling it with the reality of what a paranoid schizophrenic would suspect: cameras everywhere, danger, secret agents, and an entire conspiracy just to put you down. This was a great way of abstracting the feelings while maintaining a compelling setting with the twisting street and colorful scenery.

Another one of my favorite levels is Waterloo World, even though actually playing it is painful. The metaphor for dealing with mental illness and another personality is sublime: playing a game against yourself yet you are the same person. Constantly maneuvering around and avoiding certain situations that you know will lead to terrible outcomes and trying to avoid losing is an everyday battle that I used to deal with and others still suffer from. I know all too well how it feels to endure and how it usually ends up being a dead end of sitting in your house and avoiding everything; to prevent even playing the game so to speak.  Tim Schafer, once again, has a lofty thought and concept that is hidden beneath terrible and tedious platforming.

What I think Overall

Psychonauts was fun to think about and explore, but it is not fun to play. There is nothing done here mechanically that is not done better in a more competent platformer. I know games like Jak & Dexter and Ratchet & Clank are supposed to be good so you can start there if you are looking for a similar gameplay experience. What Psychonauts does have going for it is the analytical part of the story and a concept that can only come from keen insight and imagination. The deftness with which Schafer is able to personify and abstract these complicated conditions and feelings is astounding. Unfortunately, this is not enough to make it stick around as an action platforming game. If the game were an adventure, I can see being able to dig into the world, appreciate it, and interject more humor than was possible in this form. Was this done because adventure games were dead at the time? Maybe. Was the game designed this way because consolers wouldn’t be into it otherwise? Probably.

The recent rebirth of adventure games such as the new Sam and Maxes, Monkey Islands, and the more recent Walking Deads is a really new thing and long overdue. If Psychonauts had come out today, I am almost positive that it would have taken that form and been much better experience and even more beloved. Having said that, I think it is OK, but will leave it in the “never touch this again” pile and just think about what the concept of the game meant to me. A comparatively complex narrative structure and lofty thoughts just do not work in this console port and it is a shame because there is a great game buried in the bits and pieces that comprise it.

I give the game three out of five dinguses for the design and effort, but the game play just drags it down completely. It is worth playing so grab it on a Steam, GoG, or Humble Bundle sale if you can.

What’s Next?

[29 means Unreal.]

Well, the next game has been randomly chosen and it is Unreal Gold! I am excited about this because I love first person shooters and have played a good amount of Unreal Tournament in college. (Even though my real love was Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Enemy Territory) I think the Gold edition contains the original campaign as well as the expansion titled Return to Na Pali. I haven’t decided if I will complete both, but if the original goes quickly, I may just do it. I am hoping this one will be fast and furious as I consider myself to be pretty good at FPSs and able to power through pretty well. Keep a look out and I have a few other surprises I may toss in too. I just got recording working so I can track my progress through some of the more interesting levels and maybe provide a tour of what were revolutionary graphics and environments.

That’s about it for this update. Follow my Twitter account (@backlogkiller) for tweets while I am playing and feel free to read the other posts and respond to them if you have any thoughts. Also feel free to leave any Psychonauts postings because I feel like my comments are pretty caustic and am open to second opinions.

I have also updated the games list with a few new entries such as Legend of Grimrock and Quest for Glory 1-5 so check that out, too.

--Backlog Killer