Review: Playing mind games with 'Psychonauts'
By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service
From the twisted mind of Tim Schafer, the creator of such classic PC games as "Grim Fandango," "Day of the Tentacle" and "Full Throttle," comes his latest blockbuster, "Psychonauts."
Nearly four years in the making, this action-adventure hybrid takes place at a retreat for kids with psychic abilities. While these prepubescent paranormals are training to become psychonauts -- secret spies who rely on their extraordinary abilities -- a mysterious scientist is abducting students so he can steal their brains and use their collective psychic power to take over the world.
Gamers play as "Raz" (Rasputin), a pint-sized camper who stumbles upon this scheme and vows to use his newly acquired powers to stop it. But first he has to go through a two-hour, three-stage mandatory "boot camp," that serves as a fun way to learn the game.
In the first stage, coach Morceau "Morry" Oleander is a drill sergeant who teaches basic maneuvers such as jumping, climbing, swinging, punching and interacting with other characters.
In the second tutorial stage, Raz learns how to collect Figments of Imagination (used to upgrade his cadet rank) and break open Memories (which look like piggy banks) in search for valuable clues.
The third and final training stage -- handled by a famous super agent, Sasha Nein, and the Brazilian instructor, Milla Vodello -- teaches how to perfect psychic abilities, such as pyrokinesis (fire-starting), telekinesis (pick up and throw objects without touching them), invisibility and confusion to scramble the minds of others.
All of the PSI powers must be studied one by one; as Raz ranks up, some of his powers will be upgraded, such as invisibility that lasts twice as long or pyro attacks that now end in an explosive blast, detonating everything around the target.
The 13 single-player levels take place throughout the huge campgrounds and in the minds of various characters, including the eventual task of entering Raz's nemesis' brain to destroy his malevolent plans at their source.
Wildly imaginative characters and surreal worlds complement the ingenious premise and humorous dialogue. At times, the game is downright strange, such as Raz grabbing a thought bubble and pulling it down over his body to protect him, or riding it like a skateboard. When inside someone's head, he can piece together someone's Emotional Baggage for bonuses, or suck up someone's Mental Cobwebs with the purchase of a Cobweb Duster in the camp store.
"Psychonauts" also features many minigames with increasing levels of difficulty and side-quests such as an enjoyable scavenger hunt and card-collecting challenge.
Xbox and PC gamers who are bored with sequels or titles based on movies and TV shows will find "Psychonauts" a fun and highly unique adventure.
Computer uses can download a free game demo at www.psychonauts.com. The game is rated "T" for Teen.
"Psychonauts" for Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation 2 retails for $49.99 and $29.99 for PC version.
The PlayStation 2 version of the game will be out in June.