Welcome to First Braining. Psychonauts is a platform game released on both console and PC a few years ago. I bought the game on GoG not long ago and finally had the chance to play it. Psychonauts is the story of Rasputin, aka Raz, who wants to join the Psychonauts, a group of special agents with psychic powers. The game’s cartoony design fits the story really well and allows players to explore several fashionable themes, most of which are related to the human mind. It also tackles daddy issues.
Ah, those daddy issues. Our beleaguered protagonist Raz is rife with them, and drags us along with him as we play with his POV. Raz thinks his dad does not like him because he’s pushing him to become a circus acrobat and try to keep him away from the Psychonauts training camp. So Raz runs away and joins the special summer camp for kids with special powers. In this camp we get to meet quite a few interesting characters, explore the minds of a few of them (including the resident of an asylum) and discover a nefarious plot that needs to be stopped.
Through the game’s story we get to explore various areas, each with their own theme and plot. There are two types of areas: mind or real world. In both the player will have different optional collectibles to find to advance through levels and a group of different objects required by the plot. By gaining levels, the player gets access to new abilities, but can only use 3 at the same time using pre-defined keys (“E”, “Q” or the right mouse button). Some of these abilities are much more useful then others and their usage depends on the level you are. In my opinion, this makes them feel more gimmicky than fun to use. Most of the game consists of one jumping from platform to platform and defeating a boss at the end of a level. The platform is well done, but some of the boss fights are frustrating, I have seen much better in other games.
The PC controls are not that great, since the game was designed for with console controllers in mind, the clunky adaptation to PC mouse/keyboard controls makes some encounters simply frustrating as opposed to engaging. For example, when using the “area lock-on” during a boss fight, Raz couldn’t move far enough away from the boss to avoid injury. At one point, without warning, that “˜S’ began acting like the “A” or “D” keys and would move Raz sideways, bringing him closer to the boss and usually get damaged. Another annoying thing is the latency between moving and “acting”. If you have been running around then click one of the action keys, Raz might not perform the action and you will need to reclick the button at least once and your momentum is lost. This makes timing attacks and combos quite frustrating. Finally, one of Raz’s powers makes use of the “direction” keys and can be quite hard to use with the keyboard, making the telekinesis power rather useless unless Raz is safely out of reach.
A nice looking game with an entertaining story and funny dialogue, Psychonauts can cause quite a bit of frustration because of the weak PC controls and weird boss design decisions. I find the travel into somebody else’s mind extremely fun to do and the story interesting, but frustration just kept creeping up the further I delved into the game and at some point I ended up wondering: Is this really worth playing just for the cutscenes?