Let me just preface this blog by letting you know an important fact about my personal video game world; I love Double Fine Productions. I’ve enjoyed most of their games, but even the ones I’ve not had much fun playing do not prevent me from feeling an immense respect and admiration for the developer.
Regardless of what you think of Double Fine’s games, it is impossible to deny they are full of creativity and charm. It is also very surprising that the studio remains completely transparent in the making of games and the obstacles that occur when doing so, when many other developers like to keep things under wraps. Loads of documentary videos can be seen on their YouTube channel made by Two Player Productions. If you are in any way curious about how game development works I highly recommend watching them; they are produced with a high quality and are really interesting. So, when I heard that my favourite Double Fine game, Psychonauts, was getting a sequel in VR, I was very pleased.
Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin is a Playstation VR game that takes place immediately after the end of the first game and bridges the gap to the upcoming sequel. You play as Raz, a young boy who is part of an organisation known as the Psychonauts. Raz and his companions have to save the kidnapped Grand Head of the Psychonauts who just so happens to be Raz’s girlfriend’s dad.
Naturally, the game’s writing by Tim Schafer is hilariously witty and one of the most enjoyable parts of the experience. The characters all have their own style and personality making them delightful people to spend your game with. Even the main antagonist is well rounded and has a lot of depth that is explored towards the end of the game.
Raz is provided with a number of psychic abilities throughout the game. Telekinesis, pyrokinesis and clairvoyance are all useful tools that Raz requires to solve puzzles and traverse the game world. Throughout the whole 2-3 hour game Raz is seated. In order to travel around he uses clairvoyance to enter someone else’s mind and see the world through their eyes. Every character you use clairvoyance on is stationary, so this vastly reduces the chances of motion sickness. For the whole time I played, I did not feel nauseous at all and was, for the most part, comfortable.
However, one aspect of the way the game uses VR did hinder my enjoyment of the game. In order to use clairvoyance, you have to turn your head to look directly at the character you want to travel to. Typically this is a fine function that other VR games have used effectively. But, where Rhombus misses the mark is that the character you need to travel to is often behind you, so you are having to strain your neck in order to proceed. Certainly, the best way to play is seated on a swivel chair so you don’t have to deal with uncomfortable head turns. The game itself recommends this before you start playing, saying it’s the ideal way to play.
Despite this small inconvenience, the VR does some very cool things from time to time and the puzzles are fun to solve. The game likes to play around with perspective, for instance, you clairvoyance into a rat and see what he sees. Directly in front of you is a flea. Go
into the flea’s mind and you see a gigantic rat inches from your face. It is a small and obvious detail, but it’s one that is immersive and demonstrates some of the interesting things VR could do with perspective in the future.
Most of the puzzles that you come across are often abstract, in the same way adventure game puzzles are, nevertheless they are still fun to execute. It really involves playing around with everything in the area until you get an idea of what you’re supposed to do. Once you’ve got it, it’s simple enough to play out the situation and then be rewarded with a bit of story and a new ability.
Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin is what I expected the game to be, but that is a good thing. I knew Double Fine would create a fun story with brilliant characters and have enjoyable adventure game style puzzles to solve. Although the use of VR is not exactly ground-breaking, and it occasionally strains the neck, it’s still an immersive experience that brings you closer to the wonderful world of Psychonauts.
The Rhombus of Ruin is available to download from the Playstation store.