Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Top 50 Games - #50

 Right, here we go.  I wanted to get a decent backlog before I actually started posting these.


All publisher info, release dates etcetera refers to the European version of the game.  'Cos I live in Europe and buy European games.
For "format", I list the version I actually own first then the others in alphabetical order.  I haven't bothered to list every single machine you can get each game on 'cos with some games we'd be here all day - I've just noted the ones that the game was initially released on.  So there's no "Xbox 360" for Sonic 1 or whatever.
This is 100% personal preference, regardless of the game's objective quality, to such extent as objective quality exists.  So there.
The longlist is actually a couple of months old now so if I wrote one today it might be slightly different but whatever.

it begins

50. Psychonauts
Developer: Double Fine
Publisher: THQ
Year: 2005
Format: PlayStation 2, Xbox, PC

No matter how generic and unadventurous gaming gets, there’ll always be a Tim Schafer or two.  In 2005, we were just coming out of the stealth game boom and warming up for the rhythm-action takeover.  Schafer’s Double Fine, meanwhile, were unleashing their first game – a free-roaming platformer with adventure elements.  Set at a summer camp designed to train psychic children.  Psychonauts tells the unlikely tale of Raz, a young acrobat with considerable mind-manipulation skills.  Running away from the circus and attending Whispering Rock Summer Camp to hone his talents and achieve his dream of becoming a psychonaut – a secret agent who can delve into others’ minds – he instead stumbles across a fiendish plot to steal his campmates’ brains.  As you do.
   The game lets you wander across Whispering Rock at will, taking the Zelda-style method of letting you enter one level at a time and locking off areas until you get the requisite ability to open ‘em up.  Once you actually go into a level, it’s a more straightforward 3D platform affair.  But that’s where the “straightforward” bit ends, because the levels are, as you’d expect from the plot synopsis, set inside people’s minds.  And good heavens do Double Fine take this idea and run with it as far as it’ll go.  Levels wrap around themselves, so you’re running on the floor, and suddenly the floor’s the wall, and then it’s the ceiling.  You sort out literal “emotional baggage” – crying pieces of luggage – by finding its lost address labels.  The people whose brains you’re running through might appear as themselves, or as a giant bull laden with symbolism.  There’s a secret room in one brain-level that completely re-evaluates one of Raz’s teachers – I won’t say more, but it adds a huge amount of depth to the character and is arguably the game’s most startling, affecting and thought-provoking moment.  And you could quite easily go through the whole thing not knowing it’s there!
   It’s the wealth of detail that makes Psychonauts, really.  The way that late in the game you get the ability to see through other characters’ eyes, so you can see how they view the world.  The pile of extra bits and pieces to find.  How Double Fine manage to come up with legitimate justifications for a couple of platforming’s most enduring bits of silliness – Raz can double-jump by telekinesis, and can’t enter water because his family are labouring under a curse that says they will all die by drowning, meaning that he becomes paralyzed with fear and imagines a hand coming up out of the water to grab him if you get too close.  
   The only major fault of the game is difficulty spikes – most people agree that the final level, the Meat Circus, is too hard.  Personally I didn’t have any major problems with it.  Instead, I got stuck on a boss fight barely halfway through the game – if I hadn’t found a toggleable invincibility cheat, I would’ve given up altogether.  Important note for game designers there – always provide an out.  If it hadn’t been for that cheat, I wouldn’t have got through the game, and it wouldn’t have taken its rightful place on this list.
MAGIC MOMENT: the utter genius of the level The Milkman Conspiracy.  Set in the mind of a near-catatonic conspiracy theorist, it presents a twisted view of suburbia where the streets twirl into loops and the classic mysterious men in hats and long coats are everywhere – except they’re trying to disguise themselves as members of the community.  And they’re absolutely terrible at it.  It’s completely hilarious.

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