Brave men indeed!
How could anyone really do justice when transferring Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho to the realm of video games? Whoever took on the task would need to build up a consistent feeling of dread in the player, and they’d also be required to create an environment where the unexpected can occur at any time. The game would need to be so harrowing that the player can hardly continue due to fear of what might be around the corner. With all of the above in mind, StarSoft produced the ultimate Psycho game back in 1988! Their creation did indeed fill me with dread, the unexpected did occur with great regularity, and there were many times where I simply struggled to make myself continue playing. I’m sure that you too will understand how perfect this game is once you’ve read through my experiences with it. Let us begin...
This poor guy doesn't know what he's in for!
When I started a new game in Psycho for the first time, I was confronted with a screen that displayed right off the bat how pioneering the game is. I’ve already played through 21 classic adventure games, and not once have I had any opportunity to play through a game with multiple degrees of difficulty. I could choose from Novice, Advanced and Master Detective! All I could think about was what brilliant variances in puzzle solutions must surely await me? Given how foreboding the choice of colours that accompanied the difficulty selection screen was, I couldn’t get myself to select anything other than Novice. Hal McCrery obviously tried to make things as disturbing as possible by utilising bright pinks and light blues in tandem, a technique no doubt chosen as a celebration of the CGA days of yore, while doubling as a disconcerting fever-dream inducing backdrop of horror.
Below the Root was the first graphical adventure game to have multiple playable characters, but Psycho is the first to offer varying difficulty levels
After choosing the soft option, I found my character standing outside Norman Bates’ eerie house, an outstretched arm ending in a fist holding a magnifying glass aloft. The first thing that crossed my mind was how brave it was for the developers to go solely with CGA palette 1 colours for the game itself! After all, making the tough calls and doing things differently to everyone else is what creating a masterpiece is all about! The scene itself reminded me straight away of Maniac Mansion, with me standing outside a mansion next to a letterbox, and the interface filled with verbs only added to the familiarity. Considering Maniac Mansion currently leads The Adventure Gamer leader board, the fact that Psycho appears to have paid homage to it certainly can’t be considered a criticism.
That's not a knife! This, is a... Oh, hang on a second, that actually isn't a knife!
Aaaahhh stuff it! I can’t keep this up for the whole post! Three paragraphs of trying to paint a positive picture of Psycho are way too many already. Let me cut the crap and tell you how things really went down! The game is entirely driven by keyboard, so while it does borrow the verb actions of Maniac Mansion, they can’t be selected by mouse, and they certainly can’t form sentences to be applied to the character’s surroundings. I immediately had an opportunity to try out the interface, as much adventure game experience told me there was likely to be something in the mailbox. I tried moving in front of the box, but I couldn’t. There was an unseen barrier stopping me from moving that far away from the house. OK, well it was clear already that Psycho wasn’t going to have much of an open environment.
I found it's grammar is not very good to say the least.
I pressed O for Open and received a message saying “Nothing happens”. OK. I pressed S for Search and got “Nothing’s hidden here.” I tried U for Use and got “I have nothing to use”. Hmmmm...V for View? “I found a mailbox with a note on it”. Hooray! I clicked T for Take and in return received “Nothing here worth taking!” Um...R for Read then? “Dear Norman: I’ll pick up the jewels just before daybreak – Uncle Max”. Well that was that then! I now had proof that Norman stole the jewels and could go report my findings immediately! Easy money! Except I couldn’t pass the invisible barrier, so would have to enter the house regardless! Seriously, if you were involved in a plot to steal a bunch of jewels, would you really stick a note communicating your involvement to the exterior of a mailbox?
Dear Police: I did it! Come and get me when you're ready!
It was time to enter the house. I walked up to the front porch which had a rocking chair to one side. I tried to walk over to it, yet once again was blocked by an invisible wall. I pressed the V button and still got a description of the chair, so I tried Searching it from a distance. “Something’s here.” You mean apart from the chair? Did you want to tell me what the something is? I tried Viewing and got “There’s something worth taking here!” No shit! I pressed T and was rewarded with “I have a clue!” Cool, what is it, and how is it presented?! I pressed C for Clue and got “2 personalities are 1 too many”. I also noticed for the first time that there was a score down the bottom right corner. My score had increased by 1000 when I found the clue. I soon also noticed that the score increased by 10 points whenever a minute passed. Was I going to be rewarded for taking my time?
Thanks for that. Can you be a little more specific?!
There was nothing else on the porch, so I entered the house by Opening the door. I’m not going to continue to go into detail about what commands I chose and when. I just wanted to give you a good idea about how the game interface works, and how it’s rarely obvious which command you need and are therefore forced to try all of them regularly. Inside the house, I found myself in the foyer, with two doors and a staircase. I tried opening both doors, but was told “Nothing happens” for both of them. I had no idea whether this was because the doors were locked or whether they couldn’t actually be opened at all, but since no other commands did anything either, I tried the stairs. The stairs collapsed as soon as I walked near them, making any path out of the room less than obvious.
Should I investigate the oddly shaped blob on the left or the jagged statuey thing on the right?
There was a statue like object to the right of the room, but I couldn’t get to it or do anything with it, so I turned my attention to the jar-like shape on the left side. As I walked towards it, I suddenly found myself in a living room, facing another direction altogether. Psycho certainly isn’t the first game to switch the direction a player is facing when they leave one screen and enter another, but it seems much more jarring when you don’t actually realise there’s another room there in the first place. Things were even more off-putting when I noticed a ghost rapidly gliding towards me. A ghost?! I don’t remember any of those in Hitchcock’s movie! I did what anyone would do under the circumstances. I panicked! This resulted in me pressing the F key repeatedly despite being completely aware that I didn’t currently have a gun in my possession to Fire.
Here's a re-enactment of the ghost in the living room. I had no chance of screenshotting it the first time!
Needless to say, the ghost crashed into me, but instead of dying the horrible death I figured was approaching, a message popped up saying “It got me! I feel so sleepy!” This was followed by a black screen with “I’m falling asleep! Zzzzzz....”, before I eventually appeared in exactly the same place, apparently unharmed. Oh well, I guess that wasn’t so bad. No need to panic. I just had a little sleep is all! My score didn’t seem to go down and my health still said Good, so I assumed the ghosts couldn’t actually hurt me and were merely an annoyance. It was then that I noticed the time had increased by an hour. Suddenly it dawned on me that making contact with the ghosts was going to make me sleep for an hour, lessening the amount of time I had to complete my task. I didn’t yet have any idea how long I actually had to complete the task, but the more the better. Note to self...avoid the ghosts!
Oh...and this is a levitating dog.
I spent the next few minutes wandering around the living room, which was actually spread over two screens, trying to find something I could interact with. I couldn’t open the doors at either end of it, and didn’t seem to be able to Take, View, Dig, Read, Use, Eat, Fire, Open, Search, Leave, Pull/Push or Clue anything. Yes, I tried everything! Movement around the room was stupendously difficult, as there were only set paths that the game would actually allow me to move in. There were quite a few places I wanted to investigate, but I simply couldn’t reach them. Sometimes I actually thought I was stuck until I found the one path that I was allowed to take. Occasionally a ghost would enter the room, as well as a dog (it was either a real dog that can fly, or a phantom dog gliding around), which would either catch me and add an hour to the clock, or I’d avoid it by leaving the room and coming back.
In the end I found absolutely nothing of value in the room, so I left the way I came in back to the foyer. I decided to go outside again and see if I’d missed anything out there. As soon as I tried to go back through the front door I was taken to a screen I’d never seen before. The entrance way to the house is only accessible if you’re leaving the house, not entering it. This is utterly stupid, but I guess there’s little chance a player wouldn’t stumble across it eventually. In the entranceway there was an overcoat on a stand and a vase. Viewing the overcoat revealed that it had large pockets. Searching it revealed a doctor’s note. Reading the note revealed a message saying “Heart Medicine: Take 3 times a day without fail”. Viewing the vase resulted in “I found a heavy vase filled with sand”. Digging in the sand uncovered a key! A skeleton key!
Hey, it's a skeleton key that looks like a skeleton! Neat!
By this stage of the game I was starting to realise that the key to finding anything of use was the View action. If View didn’t result in a descriptive response of some sort, then no other action would have any success. This meant I didn’t have to try using every action in every part of every screen, which was damn good news! I would just have to repeatedly press the V key until a descriptive message appeared, then figure out whether any of the other actions were appropriate. I assumed the skeleton key would allow me to open all the doors I’d come across so far. I took the door to the right in the foyer, and found myself in a library. The only items I could View were the bookcase and an organ. I investigated the organ for a while, but nothing seemed to happen. Searching the bookcase revealed a clue. I collected the clue, but strangely pressing C revealed a blank clue alongside the one I’d originally found. Even more strangely, I was able to walk along the bookcase picking up exactly the same clue over and over again, gaining the ability to increase my score infinitely. This was the first bug I found in Psycho, but it certainly wouldn’t be the last!
You've already found the blank clue you idiot! Here, have another 1000 points!
There were two doors running off the library and a ladder going up. I was not able to use the ladder, and trying to open the right door got the “Nothing happens” message. The left door did open though, and I found myself in a dining room. View revealed nothing of use, so I walked straight through to the Kitchen. There were two places on the screen where the View action resulted in a response. Firstly, I found a clue attached to the toaster, which incitingly told me that “skeleton keys open doors, not skeletons”. Once again I was able to walk up and down the bench collecting the same clue over and over again and getting 1000 points every time. The scoring system in Psycho is completely bugged and pointless (excuse the pun). The other thing of interest that I found in the kitchen was a door. If you look at the screenshot below, you’ll see that I was actually informed of a staircase behind the door on the other side of the room. How I knew that it was there is strange enough, but the descriptive message is stranger still!
Couldn't risk what exactly? Making sense? Obeying physics?
I’ll end this post here. I’d spent close to an hour playing the game at this stage, but a lot of that was taking screenshots and trying to find something to interact with before I found the skeleton key. It may seem unbelievable, but this is actually the halfway point of my time spent with Psycho. Within one more hour I had finished the game! If you think the first half was pointless and buggy, wait until you read my next post! I’m actually relishing the idea of applying the PISSED rating to the game. There’s little doubt that it will be the lowest ranked game so far, but I have to question whether anything will ever come close to it throughout all the time I spend writing this blog. It's exceeded my expectations of how bad an adventure game can actually be, which is at least educational. Hopefully I’ll get the Won! post up tomorrow.
Now that I'm not taking the piss, why does the intro contain verbs not found in the game (Say, Get), and an Objects option. The image is clearly from another version.
Session Time: 1 hours 00 minutes
Total Time: 1 hours 00 minutes
Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: I've already finished the game, so you can discuss spoilers as much as you want! Just remember that I still have to write another post, so try not to ruin it for anyone that wants to go along for the ride with me. In other words: "Don't give away the ending - it's the only one we have!"