The Psychic Detective

Developer:  (Colossal) Pictures
Publisher:  Electronic Arts
Year Released:  1995

Review by Rosemary Young (May, 1996)
psydet.jpgWell the first couple of times I played through this game/movie I had no chance of cracking it. Both times I failed miserably and ended up branded a blithering 'idiot'. Fortunately it only takes around half an hour or so from beginning to end, so I've given it a few more tries and managed to improve my performance. Though, I must admit, Eric the failed 'idiot' is easily preferable to the real thing. I think I'd hate to totally succeed in this venture and deal with the ego and antics of a successful Eric Fox.

Full motion video
The Psychic Detective is certainly not an adventure game, this one falls decisively into the category of interactive movie/story. All the action is played out in full motion video and the game play consists of selecting different portraits as they appear so that you can 'piggyback' in the minds of various characters and experience their part in the story, or selecting various objects thereby using your psychic powers to learn their secrets. There is no inventory, no adventuring puzzles, and the video sequences alternate between full screen and about quarter screen. When in this latter mode you have an opportunity to interact by selecting one of the objects/portraits which are displayed around the central picture at the appropriate times. Here you can use the mouse but it's much easier just to use the keyboard.

Having said that, all is not as simple as it seems. This is a title where you have to be alert and pay close attention constantly to have any chance of success. The story opens in a nightclub where you, Eric Fox the Psychic Flash, are performing your psychic act. Here you meet Laina Pozok, the damsel in distress, who offers to pay you in money and in kind (after a little prompting from your good self) to do a spot of psychic detection. She will tell you of the death of her father who was an eminent researcher into the paranormal and ask you to protect her sister, Monica, who is apparently in deadly danger.

You are invited to join a small house party where you will meet some of the various characters in the story and have the opportunity to infiltrate their hearts and their minds. Though at first glance your objective might seem to be to investigate a mysterious death (and you will likely witness a few other grizzly endings during the course of play) the ultimate objective of the game is not so much to apprehend a murderer but to learn as much as you can and finally play and win the Black Diamond Game. This is a board game where you must select four playing pieces each featuring an image of a character or item from the story. The power of the pieces depends upon your path through the story and your success depends upon your own powers of observation and interpretation in order to choose the best pieces.

Bite size chunks
The Psychic Detective is not an easy game to play. Tripping around in other people's minds has its drawbacks because whilst you are off cruising around with another character Eric moves on through the story and you are missing what he is doing -- plus, of course, you are missing whatever the other dozen or so main characters are getting up to. The temptation is to jump continually from one character to the next so you don't miss any action but this is about the worst thing you can do as you don't learn enough about anything to get anywhere. (Hence my first two abysmal failures). This problem is heightened by the fact that everything is in real time so characters and objects move in and out of the scene in quick succession -- if you don't make up your mind fast enough and zap into someone's mind or grab some object to hone in on its psychic vibes you'll miss your opportunity to investigate them, so once again the temptation is to begin darting around.

The secret (as far as I could tell) is to play through several times and try to identify and follow the significant events. This can get repetitive although you do influence the story and see different scenarios. In any event you will always feel as if you are missing half the action, which of course you are, and once you start jumping around the story breaks up into small pieces which take a lot of patience to fit together. It's best to keep your finger poised over the pause button and stop the action before making a decision. Trying to follow the story and pick up the important information is near impossible if you are at the same time panicking over who to follow next.

Psychedelic splendour
This game comes on 3 CDs and during the course of play there is a bit of disk swapping between disks 2 and 3. It has a single bookmark savegame slot which you can use to advantage to do a bit of experimentation (or to get in some practise) just before the final game of Black Diamond. You can try selecting different pieces and get an idea of what is happening. As I said, you'll have to contend with a good dose of disk swapping though, which brings me to another point. If disks must be swapped I wish that the game publishers would identify individual disks more prominently. Having to continually reach for the magnifying glass to read tiny numbers only adds to the frustration of this 'feature'.

The acting seems quite reasonable -- but I can't say I was enamoured with any of the actual characters -- and you'll be treated to loads of morphing faces and crazy psychedelic sequences as you trip around through the minds of others. It's an intriguing and, at times, violent and bloody story in the line of many computer games that have been released in recent times.

Although you can play it through in half an hour or so this doesn't mean that The Psychic Detective is all over and done with in that time. Far from it. You can easily play it several times to see different scenarios and work out your strategy. Still, although there is some incentive to get past the 'idiot' stage and re-play the game, this may not be everyone's cup of tea. As an adventure game player I didn't find it totally satisfying but if you have a preference for interactive movies then this one is different and just might be to your liking. rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 1996. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
486DX50, 8MB RAM, 21 MB hard drive space, 2xCD-ROM, SVGA, mouse.