Twelve years and two console generations previously, a young boy with psychic abilities arrived on the gaming scene. Raz set his sights on running away from the circus to join a summer camp for those with similar abilities — he set his sights on becoming a Psychonaut. Over the years since his arrival, Raz and his band of friends have gained a cult following and have sold thousands of copies of their game on a wide variety of platforms. In 2015, a sequel was announced to arrive in fall 2018 but that's still a long way off, so what do we do in the meantime? Well, Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin is here to bridge the gap in between the two games, but does it scratch that itch?
Rhombus of Ruin takes place immediately after the ending of the first game. Raz, now a fully-fledged Psychonaut, joins his friends and former mentors Lili, Sasha, Milla, and Coach Oleander as they fly off to rescue the Grand Head of the Psychonauts, Truman Zannotto. Their mission sees the party travel into the dangerous Rhombus of Ruin, a part of the ocean with a deadly reputation. When the party is kidnapped and separated, it is up to Raz to not only rescue Truman but also the other members of the party, as well as to reveal the identity of the kidnapper.
It's a story that Double Fine never intended to tell, only planning to refer to the incident in passing in Psychonauts 2, but that doesn't mean that it isn't worth telling. Who wouldn't want to know events in more detail, rather than leaving it to the imagination? What's more, it doesn't matter if you haven't played Psychonauts; the plot is perfectly understandable even for those new to the franchise, although some of the finer plot points won't hold as significant a meaning.
Meet the crew apart from Coach, who is otherwise occupied
Unlike this title's predecessor, Rhombus of Ruin is not an action/adventure platformer. Instead it is a VR required adventure title that allows players no free movement. Players use Raz's psychic clairvoyance to switch between different characters and creatures. Through these creatures, players can gain a different perspective of a room, operate a different machine or even move to an entirely different location. It's an appropriate solution to the problem of motion sickness that is such an issue with VR titles although it does have its limitations. If the target character is too distant or there are objects in between, you can't get a clear line of sight. It's also almost impossible to look behind you, so if the creature you currently inhabit is looking in the wrong direction, you'll need to travel between other creatures before you'll get the perspective you need.
None of the party's characters receive a back story or development during the course of the game, likely because we're already supposed to know who they are, but they don't need it either. Their purpose is that they each have a specialist psychic power that they can reintroduce for Raz, therefore none of them ever has a more significant part to play. This is more than can be said for the rest of the NPCs. Despite the deadly reputation of the Rhombus of Ruin, its other occupants are little more than near-identical gormless fish creatures and are far from the threatening enemies that you would expect. In a normal adventure title this would be a wasted opportunity, but when you're taking over these creatures as your main mode of transport, there can't be any unpredictability in the way they behave. With this in mind, non-hostile behaviour is probably best.
Those controls are complicated enough for our fishy friend
Each of the story's chapters takes place in a self contained area where Raz primarily uses his psychic powers to progress. As well as clairvoyance, he can nudge objects with psi poke, blast objects with a powerful laser with the appropriately named psi blast, move objects with telekinesis, and set things on fire with pyrokinesis. During the brief tutorial, players are quickly introduced to each of these fun powers and when the tutorial ends, you're left in a blind panic trying to remember the controls for each. It is fortunate then that Raz loses most of these powers when he is kidnapped at the start of the main story. As players progress through the story, the powers are reintroduced at a much slower pace of one per chapter, giving plenty of time to get used to each new skill before moving on. It also has the purpose of driving players forward, ever hungry for the next wonderful power that was taken all too soon.
Due to the game's mechanics, the result is an extremely linear adventure title with little exploration. All of the clues and the items needed for solving puzzles are within easy reach. There is no backtracking between the different areas and there is no inventory because you will never need to transport items between locations. This does mean that the game's puzzles are extremely simple and there is nothing that will stump you for more than a few minutes. If anything, you'll be stumped because you're trying to overthink a puzzle rather than because the solution is too obscure. A single playthrough will take 2-3 hours depending on how much experimentation and easter egg hunting you wish to partake in. When compared to other lengthy and challenging Double Fine titles like Broken Age and Grim Fandango, this is a bit of a disappointment.
Ah, here's Coach. Fire in the hole!
In terms of an adventure game, the title could be a bit of a disappointment. However, in terms of its use of VR, it is extremely clever. When looking through the eyes of a much smaller creature, everything seems much bigger because perspective is scaled to the creature's size. Players can also become part of the puzzle's solution themselves due to the ability to zoom in and out with the VR headset-controlled camera. While the overall use of VR is great, there are some minor bugs that it does present. There were some minor collision issues where objects affected by telekinesis could travel through scenery. There was also the frequent presence of the "Out of Game Area" sign that appeared in areas that were out of bounds. While this could be immediately fixed by recentering the camera with the Options button, the warning wasn't anywhere near as prevelant on chapter and save reloads.
Finally, there are the trophies. Like the rest of the game, these are very simple to earn. Seven of the 12 trophies are unmissable story based trophies that you will get just for playing through the game. The remaining five relate to specific actions that must be carried out in certain chapters. While these are missable, chapter select allows you to return to individual chapters once you have completed the game for the first time. The bad news is that there isn't a platinum trophy, so while it's an easy completion, you won't boost your trophy score by a large amount.
SummaryPsychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin bridges the gap between one title 12 years in the past and another at least 18 months in the future. It's a story that was never meant to be told but it will no doubt satisfy real fans of the franchise to know what really happened, while also managing to keep newcomers entertained. The title uses VR well and cleverly uses the abilities of the character to avoid the main pitfall of motion sickness. The downside is that VR compatibility restricts the amount of exploration in which players can partake and simplifies puzzles. The result is an all too brief experience and an adventure title that is competent but a bit of a disappointment for Double Fine's usual standards.
- Story satisfies franchise fans and newcomers alike
- Fun psychic powers
- Clever use of VR
- Puzzles are too simple
- No exploration allowed
The reviewer spent four hours being a psychic pyromaniac and searching for secrets in her attempts to reunite the Psychonuats crew. She earned all 12 of the game's trophies in the process. A Playstation 4 copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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