Format: PS2

4 005209 070496
Age Restrictions: 12+
10 February 2006

For years the Psychonauts have deployed their psychically-armed operatives all over the world, but this time trouble is brewing right in their own backyard. Someone is abducting students from the Psychonaut boot camp - a deranged scientist who only wants their brains. One cadet - a mysterious and powerful new arrival named Raz - stands alone against the lunatic. Raz must develop and unleash an arsenal of paranormal powers, including telekinesis, firestarting, clairvoyance, and his most powerful weapon of all - the ability to launch himself telepathically into someone else's mind, and run around in the demented amusement park of their imagination. Raz takes on their inner demons face to face, wrestles with their nightmares, and digs up their secret memories. Ultimately he must enter the mind of his worst enemy and destroy his dark plans at their source, while trying not to lose his sanity in the process...

In Psychonauts you play the part of Raz, a young lad who dreams of becoming a Psychonaut and using his psychic powers for the good of mankind. You have managed to sneak into the Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp uninvited, and have signed yourself up to Coach Oleander gruelling physical and mental assault course. You show promise and are allowed to continue your training, but you soon discover that there is more to Whispering Rock than meets the eye. Why is there a large underground network that houses a number of laboratories? And what is happening to some of the other campers? Are their brains being removed?

This is a platform game that will keep you playing for weeks - if not months. And you can almost guarantee that it's a game that once you've completed you'll be returning to in the future. In a lot of ways it reminded me of Jak 3 and Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy. While Psychonauts is very different in style to the aforementioned games, I got the same excited school boy feeling - as though this was the first time I'd experienced a game like this. I even took this home and played into the small hours - something I've not done for years.

Stylistically, the game is original. Odd looking characters living in a near-earth world. But as about 50 percent of this game takes place in other people's minds, this allows the developers to really create some fantastically trippy environments. Our hero, Raz, reminded me of a cross between Z, from the animated movie Antz, and Michael J. Fox. (in 1985's Back to the Future).

The idea of the game is to learn various psychic abilities (shooting, levitating etc.) for a much larger mission later in the game. You can wander around the camp facilities talking to the other kids and completing various missions. And, while you are walking around, it's a good idea to collect as many of the half buried arrow heads and cards you find. These help you buy equipment and upgrade your abilities.

The camp area is quite large, so it's great to see that the developers have stuck in a couple of handy ways of zipping from A to B without having to spend ages walking everywhere. First, there are some alien creatures that will transport you to various parts of the game you've already been to, and then there is the underground train which will transport you swiftly to important buildings and labs that you will be spending a lot of time going between.

One of the best things about this - the element that insures that adults and kids will get equal enjoyment out of playing - is the sense of humour that runs throughout. It's dry, and biting and it's fun just talking to other campers to see what crazy thing they are going to come out with.

Okay, now for the negative points. There are some quite nasty bugs that should have been ironed out before this was released onto the market. These include overlapping dialogue, very poor lip synch (which in a couple of instances sees characters mouths move while no dialogue is being spoken. So, there seems to be some conversation going on between characters, but nothing is said - even though the camera cuts between the characters and their mouths move), camera being positioned so that you can't see what's going on in cut sequences; and, on a of occasionally, the game crashed for no apparent reason.

But as annoying as these problems are, this is still a hugely enjoyable game. And it's certainly one that will keep everyone in the family amused for a long time.

Darren Rea

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