The Escapist Game Circle: Psychonauts

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The Escapist Game Circle: Psychonauts

Due to popular demand, we're going to give a sort of poetry circle / book club thing a try. Vishnu help us.

The game for August is Psychonauts, the wacky, but surprisingly deep platformer by Doublefine. This one got a lot of critical acclaim, but tanked at retail. Which means its right up our alley.

Check out Lara Crigger's fantastic article on the game.

Read Full Article

Don't check out my article just yet everybody - at least not until you've gotten past "The Milkman Conspiracy"; oh noes with the spoiler doom! :D

Also, may I make a recommendation? From personal experience, play this game on the PC and not the PS2. The PS2 port is mindbogglingly horrendous. I thought about quitting the game entirely, it was that bad. The PC version, however, is fabulous, especially with a gamepad (I can't speak for the Xbox one.)

Anyway, this is a great idea, Russ. I definitely needed an excuse to play this game again.

I consider this game to be one of the finest implementations of gameplay as narrative element. Good pick for the inaugural entry in what is sure to be a long and contentious trend.

The Xbox version is sublime. I highly recommend it.

I've got the PC version. It's been sitting on my desk unopened for over half a year. I probably won't have time to play it this month, but I'll at least install it in honor of the Escapist Game Circle.

I have the PS2 version that I got halfway through and never picked up again (until now). As much as I liked it, I never understood why everyone went on and on about it. Now it makes a little more sense.

I read the article back when it first ran, but luckily I think I've forgotten the spoiler(s).

I put about an hour into the game yesterday. So far it's Zelda, gameplay-wise, but I'll be curious to see if that changes. The voice acting is great.

You know I'm not sure I would have called it zelda. To me it has more of a banjo-kazooie sort of feel, very typical platformer. The characters in this game are fantastic, but I'd forgotten how much I truly detest collecting stuff.

Banjo-kawhat? ...platformers aren't exactly my thing, so I probably don't have my lineage correct. The first game that came to mind when I was playing Psychonauts was Wind Waker, though, especially when I noticed that in the first dungeo-- er, mind -- I had three little brains right where the three little hearts would have been in a Zelda game.

I'm not big on collecting stuff either. I'm hoping to get through the game with a bare minimum of that.

Great, this will give me an excuse to finally pick this game up. GoGamer has the PC version for $10, so I guess that's what I'll go with.

Only perfectionists really need to collect, sort, or crack everything in each level. As I recall, they're in no way necessary. Some are helpful if you need to level a little, but not necessary.

Yeah but thats the problem. I tend to be the sort of person that must get everything that I see. I'm not going to go hunting for one last item because my stat sheet doesn't say 100%, but if I see a hard to reach figment I'm likely to waste 10 minutes trying to get it and then end up bored and frustrated. The worst is when I know I only need to collect a few more things to level up and get the next ability and then I'll start to go looking for them and waste even more time, when I'd rather be solving puzzles and progressing the storyline.

This is why I don't play MMO's

I worked my butt off to get 100% in several levels, certain that this would lead me to some great unlockable boon. But no. That was vastly disappointing, I have to admit. Still, the game is so darn good, it's easy to forgive that minor irritation.

Milkman Conspiracy and Black Velvetopia are my personal favorite levels, though the whole thing is just plain brilliant. Also, Raz is voiced by the same guy who does Invader Zim.

The cool thing about reaching 100% collection in this game is that you're rewarded with greater insight into the characters that populate the game. There are some pivotal narrative moments tied to the collection quests. Not ones that further the plot, but certainly ones which enrich your emotional experience.

I typically don't shoot for 100% completion of the collection quests in games, but I found the Psychonauts quest 'rewards' to be worth it.

CorvusE:
I typically don't shoot for 100% completion of the collection quests in games, but I found the Psychonauts quest 'rewards' to be worth it.

Agreed. There are few games in which I'll make the effort, but this was one of them. It's almost akin t reading every book in ever shop in Morrowind, but with a lot less reading, and more jumping around, invading other people's minds.

Plus, the sound of slurping arrowheads out of the ground is so satisfying, I don't know how anyone can not walk around for hours filling their pockets with as many as they can find.

Cordelia:
Milkman Conspiracy and Black Velvetopia are my personal favorite levels, though the whole thing is just plain brilliant. Also, Raz is voiced by the same guy who does Invader Zim.

I knew he sounded familiar! That's awesome.

CorvusE:
The cool thing about reaching 100% collection in this game is that you're rewarded with greater insight into the characters that populate the game. There are some pivotal narrative moments tied to the collection quests. Not ones that further the plot, but certainly ones which enrich your emotional experience.

Aw, crap. I was hoping it would just be ability power-ups or something else that I could safely ignore, but I'm a sucker for character/narrative depth. We'll see how it goes, I guess -- I'm planning to play a bit more tonight before I leave for a weekend in Montreal later this week.

What are the specs for the PC version? And do you need a gamepad?

Doublefine Purchase/Specs Page

From the site:
1.1 MINIMUM SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

Supported OS: Windows 98 SE/2000/XP(only)
Processor: 1.0 GHz Pentium(R)III and AMD Athlon(tm)
RAM: 256 MB of RAM
Video Card: 64 MB GeForce (tm)3 or higher or ATI(R) Radeon 8500 or higher except GeForce 4 MX and Go) with Pixel Shader 1.0 support
Sound Card: DirectX(R)9.0c or higher compatible sound card
DirectX(R)version: 9.0c or higher (included on game disc)
Hard Drive Space: 3.75 GB minimum hard drive space
CD-ROM: 16X or better
Controls: Windows-compatible keyboard and mouse

1.2 RECOMMENDED SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

Supported OS: Windows 2000/XP
Processor: 2.0 GHz Pentium(R)IV and AMD Athlon(tm)
RAM: 512 MB of RAM
Video Card: 128 MB GeForce FX 5600 or higher or ATI(R)Radeon 9600 or higher
Sound Card: DirectX(R)9.0c or higher and EAX(R)2.0 or higher compatible sound card
Controls: Game Pad(optional)

From personal experience, I've used a keyboard (WASD) and a trackball, to great effect. At no point, thankfully, did I feel like I was playing a console game tacked into a PC setup.

CantFaketheFunk:
What are the specs for the PC version? And do you need a gamepad?

Dude, aren't you our intern? This is the kind of thing I'd ask you to find for us.

Touche.

Don't feel bad CantFaketheFunk; knowing the right question is half the battle!

Of course, knowing how to answer the question is the other half... but 1 out of 2 ain't bad?

So, umm, Russ... since I found it for you, do I get to be an intern?

CorvusE:
The cool thing about reaching 100% collection in this game is that you're rewarded with greater insight into the characters that populate the game. There are some pivotal narrative moments tied to the collection quests. Not ones that further the plot, but certainly ones which enrich your emotional experience.

Ok so you've convinced me to head back and try and get the baggage and cobwebs and stuff. But can someone please ease my mind and tell me there is no worthwhile reason to collect each and every figment. I hate those things!!

I'm loving the game. But I had to take a break, the milkman conspiracy's constantly changing perspective is making me queasy.

Goofonian:

Ok so you've convinced me to head back and try and get the baggage and cobwebs and stuff. But can someone please ease my mind and tell me there is no worthwhile reason to collect each and every figment. I hate those things!!

I'll clarify a couple of things as to what you get from collecting the various items throughout the game. **There are no direct spoilers here, but if you prefer to discover for yourself what the items do you should stop reading.**

Vaults: Perhaps the most interesting thing to "collect". You'll be rewarded with several images which describes the characters memories and gives you a lot of fascinating background information.

Emotional baggage: When you've collected all the emotional baggage available in a given level you will get access to an additional series of images, similar to those you can watch after opening the vaults. These images are usually character and design sketches associated with that level.

Mental Cobwebs: The Cobwebs can be returned to For Cruller's Sanctuary and traded for PSI Cards (1 cobweb = 1 PSI Card), the only reason to collect _all_ of them would be to reach PSI Cadet Rank 100.

Figments: These items helps you to gain PSI Cadet Ranks, the only reason to collect _all_ of them would be to reach PSI Cadet Rank 100.

PSI Cadet Rank 100: If you manage to reach this rank you will be rewarded with a short film clip at the end of the game. Don't despair if you're not willing to subject yourself to endless hours of jumping to reach this rank though ;) If you own the PC-version you can view this clip even if you don't reach rank 100 through some "fixing", and the clip is (at least it was) available on the net.

The interesting information and the deeper involvement in the game that you get from collecting all this is not so much through the direct rewards given to you, as it is from what you might discover and experience in your search for these items.

You know, there was one PSI card that I could see, but never figure out how to get to...drove me batty, that did. It was at the top of a flagpole in the camp by the lake.

Anyone else hate the dance party level?

Cordelia:
You know, there was one PSI card that I could see, but never figure out how to get to...drove me batty, that did. It was at the top of a flagpole in the camp by the lake.

Anyone else hate the dance party level?

I'm aware that other people hate that level, but I loved it.

Full disclosure: I've played this game at least three times through. And it took me until about halfway through the second time to really get the feel of the hoverball.

I know you're in a hurry to make things happen when you're at the front end of the game, but I'd recommend hovering around the campground a bit collecting psicards before you get too far. The game requires a handy bit of acrobatics and a little practice doesn't hurt.

Geoffrey42:
So, umm, Russ... since I found it for you, do I get to be an intern?

Fortunately for everyone involved, I don't make these decisions.

Russ Pitts:
I'm aware that other people hate that level, but I loved it.

Full disclosure: I've played this game at least three times through. And it took me until about halfway through the second time to really get the feel of the hoverball.

I know you're in a hurry to make things happen when you're at the front end of the game, but I'd recommend hovering around the campground a bit collecting psicards before you get too far. The game requires a handy bit of acrobatics and a little practice doesn't hurt.

Actually, I tried snagging it well into the game (right around the time of the Lungfish), so I was pretty comfortable with the controls at that point. I don't think it was a matter of physically being able to do what needed to be done (control-wise) but rather that I just couldn't see the situation properly to know what I needed to do. Perhaps if I played through it again, I'd have an "a-ha!" moment. (At which point, a rotoscoped pop band from the 80s would undoubtedly jump out of the game.)

Perhaps, but I never had any trouble wit that level, so I can't honestly say what would or wouldn't make it easier. But that raises one of the most interesting aspects of this game: the levels are so different, that that even if you completely can't "get" one of them, the next is sure to be pleasing in some way.

Does anyone else find the controls in this game to be a little sloppy? Or is that just the dodgy PS2 port that I've been playing?

Just finished the game last night and found the last level to be some of the most frustrating, poorly designed "platforming" I've ever played. Mostly because on many many occasions, Raz just wouldn't respond to my button presses and I'd end up falling to my doom and having to start again. That and the camera has a nasty habit of going behind things so I couldn't see what I was doing.

Goofonian:
Does anyone else find the controls in this game to be a little sloppy? Or is that just the dodgy PS2 port that I've been playing?

Just finished the game last night and found the last level to be some of the most frustrating, poorly designed "platforming" I've ever played. Mostly because on many many occasions, Raz just wouldn't respond to my button presses and I'd end up falling to my doom and having to start again. That and the camera has a nasty habit of going behind things so I couldn't see what I was doing.

As I understand it, the PS2 port is most likely to blame for the sloppiness you're experiencing. The Xbox and PC controls are quite tight and responsive.

And yes, that last level was created by Satan himself. Or rather (as the developers have acknowledged) a designer up against a deadline who assumed that the amount of playtesting they were able to perform in the time alloted was "enough." He was wrong. That last level is complete shit.

And yet, it fails, for me anyway, to overshadow the brilliance of the rest of the game. I only finished it once, in the three times I played the game. The first time I just couldn't bring myself to self flagellate any longer. The second time I finished it to prove that I could, and the third, I just didn't care enough.

Russ Pitts:
And yet, it fails, for me anyway, to overshadow the brilliance of the rest of the game. I only finished it once, in the three times I played the game. The first time I just couldn't bring myself to self flagellate any longer. The second time I finished it to prove that I could, and the third, I just didn't care enough.

After the soul crushing experience that was the ending, I figured I'd be done with the game and move onto the next in my pile of unfinished titles. Yet I find myself with a strange urge to put it back in and start again. I get the feeling that I'll be able to appreciate the early game a lot more now that I'm familiar with the characters and the setting. And I suppose it couldnt hurt to play through the milkman conspiracy a couple more times :)

Agreed. The last level is a complete nightmare and utterly unfun. It's a mark of the game's overall brilliance that such an exercise in frustration fails to dim my intense affection for the title. I'll still Psychonauts' praises to who'll ever listen...I just warn about the ending.

In related news, Tim Schaffer is speaking at GDC this year. Has there been any news on what the Psychonauts team has been doing lately?

Unlike almost everyone I've encountered and everyone here, I actually really liked that last level. It's the only time Psychonauts felt like an actual platformer to me - as in, twitchy, reflex-based gameplay - rather than a traditional adventure game (a label which I by no means use pejoratively). I'd even argue that the increase in difficulty and switch to reflex-based gameplay makes tremendous sense in context, considering the theme of the level and how it pertains to Rasputin.

But most of all, I think that the images (and bosses) you encounter in that level are some of the most surrealistically frightening I've ever come across in any media, ever. I'm a former vegetarian, and that last level made me s*** my pants. Jesus.

While I definitely can see where the criticism comes from, I think had the rest of Psychonauts played more like a traditional platformer, we probably wouldn't have seen as negative a reaction toward that level as there is. Certainly the gameplay was no more difficult than you might find in the latter stages of Jak & Daxter or Prince of Persia: SoT. But since the rest of the game felt so much like an adventure game, there wasn't enough build-up to it, and the final level seemed to come out of left field.

Oooh! I'm so excited about replaying this game now. I'll have to go get it reinstalled right now. :)

Oh, and yes, Goofonian, I can confirm that the final level is ten times harder on the sucky PS2 port than on the PC version. The sticky controls that had been plaguing you all game (I'm sure you REALLY noticed them in Waterloo-world, especially if you tried to get all the Fragments) really come to a head in that final level. But it makes the PC version much easier to play in comparison. :)

The big issue with the last level (for me, at least) is that it's an escort mission. Give me a whole series of tricky jumps, fine, rain hellfire down upon my head, throw a whole squadron of bad guys my way, I don't care...but doing all of that and making it an escort mission, too? Ugh. The dodgy camera sure didn't help matters.

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