With the recent closure of SCE Liverpool, many a gaming tear was shed. Founded in 1984 by two members of Imagine Software, Psygnosis were responsible for many of the great titles that adorned the golden age of computer-based gaming.
The studio published titles on most platforms at the time; including the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga, Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, PC and Atari ST, among others. Sony purchased the legendary development and publishing house in 1993, but it wasn’t rebranded until 2001. Arguably some of the studio’s most successful work came to fruition during these PlayStation-exclusive years, and you’ve probably played a lot of them without even realising.
So with that in mind let’s take a look at some of the most notable titles Psygnosis had to offer.
Wipeout (Psygnosis - PlayStation, 1995)
The original Wipeout was one of the flagship titles for Sony’s newly launched PlayStation console, and was an instant hit. It provided a new type of racing game experience – it was fast... Really fast! Set in the metallic neon of 2052, the player pilots a choice of various hovering ship-type vehicles, each with their own stats and attributes, as you fight for first place. Tracks were a stark contrast of brightly coloured cityscapes and dusty, uninhabited desert plains and mountain ranges – but the one constant throughout was the pure insanity of breakneck speed and the drive to win.
The thing that drew so many gamers to Wipeout was the soundtrack. It was an eclectic mix of trance with a dash of electronica and a little dance for good measure. The PAL version featured tracks from Orbital and The Chemical Brothers (amongst others), but the entire soundtrack as a whole had a common element – a pounding cavalcade of pulses and beats, designed solely to get the player to their goal as fast as possible. In fact, the music was an integral part of Wipeout’s success, as the electronic genre was very popular at the time – and it suited the game’s frankly ridiculous speeds to a tee.
There have been several sequels to Wipeout over the years (including Wipeout 2097, Wipeout Fusion and Wipeout 64), and they’ve been great – but none have managed to come close to that first taste of pure speed that the original brought, and none have been quite as popular.
Sad, then, that the release of Wipeout 2048 proved to be the company’s swansong…
Lemmings (DMA Design - Commodore Amiga, 1991)
“Let’s go!”If you’ve ever had the fortune to make friends with a couple of thousand of DMA Design’s little beauties then those two words will mean a lot. And odds are that you’re humming that tune right now. See?
Lemmings was one of the most popular games of the Amiga’s entire catalogue, and quite rightly so. It was eventually ported to every platform you can imagine, and was just as popular on almost all of them.
The point of Lemmings was to guide a quota of your little green army from point A to point B, through instructing one lemming at a time to perform a certain task – digging, blocking (so your lemmings turn around and march in the opposite direction), building girders, and so forth. The thing is, however – that there are hundreds of them. The trapdoor opens, and literally hundreds of the critters come spewing out into your multi-tiered stage of soon to be mayhem. What this means is that you have to think fast if you don’t want your lemmings to fall, burn or get squished. What this also does is invoke a type of panic and terror (the kind rarely felt in games today) when you make a wrong move. The game actually succeeds in making the player feel for their lemmings, making it all the more devastating watching helplessly as they stream to their death over the edge of a cliff….
Shadow of the Beast (Reflections Interactive – Commodore Amiga, 1989)
The story behind Shadow of the Beast is grim, even by today’s desensitized standards. Your character was kidnapped as a child, and was exposed to evil magic – so much so that he has become a beast-like deformed version of his former self. It takes witnessing the execution of his father to wake some long forgotten part of himself, and so begins his quest for revenge. An unbelievably difficult one, at that.
Technically, Shadow of the Beast was brilliant. Psygnosis had become synonymous with great looking games and this was just another example. With well drawn character sprites and twelve (count them) levels of parallax scrolling backgrounds – visually, it was stunning. Unfortunately with the game being purpose-built for the powerhouse that was Amiga, ports to other platforms couldn’t quite showcase the title as it was intended. As a consequence (along with arguably poor level design and dodgy collision detection) many argued that Shadow of the Beast was nothing more than a glorified tech-demo. Even today, it is beautiful – but it might be an early example of great visuals concealing mediocre mechanics. Either way – it is still the title most fans would boot up to show off just what the Amiga was capable of.
And rightly so.
Puggsy (Traveller’s Tales – Multiplatform, 1993)
Puggsy began life as a tech-demo for the Amiga, and was developed by the same team until Psygnosis purchased the project and passed the reigns to Traveller’s Tales.
Puggsy himself is an alien who lands on an alien planet, only to have his ship stolen by the natives. The game itself is a standard sort of platform affair, with lots of puzzles, and a very cleverly implemented physics mechanic – allocating individual items different weights and allowing them to be stacked in certain ways. The player gains point and other bonuses upon carrying these items through the stage exit, but physically getting a decent amount of good items there is quite the task - items respond to their weights, the slope of the terrain the player traverses and the speed in which they do so. One false move can cause your huge tower of items to come crashing down! Players would find themselves tip-toeing slooooowly towards their goal for fear of losing their bonus points.
The game was also huge. With 41 stages (46 if you count the tutorial levels) and 16 bonus stages, there was enough to keep you playing long after you had finished the main game.
One point of note was the presence of multiple endings (there are three, if memory serves correctly), something of a rarity at the time (one of which was accessed by solving a maths equation shown during the closing credits).
Alundra (Matrix Software – Sony PlayStation, 1997)
When it comes to gloriously dark, twisted storytelling, Alundra is up there with the best of them. The titular protagonist has the power to enter other people’s dreams, and ends up shipwrecked near a small town. There he sets about helping the townsfolk who have been under a curse that causes them to experience awful nightmares (even though at first a lot of them believe him to be the cause). As the story progresses more is revealed about the town of Inoa and its surrounding area, and the darker the narrative becomes.
The game itself is an action RPG outing, taking cues from the Zelda series and other similar titles such as Landstalker (notable as both games shared some development staff). Exploration is often encouraged as items can be recovered to provide access to previously unreachable areas. There are puzzles to wrap your brain around (notoriously difficult puzzles at that), and a vast world to explore. They’re the usual “find this item and use it here” staples found at the heart of most RPGs - and a lot of them – but where the game excels is with the larger (some of them huge) mindbenders. Some of them will have you literally scratching your head and trying to work them out while you sleep. But the payoff is huge when you do.
Another point of interest is the music – often cited by many as one of the best soundtracks of the era, and almost perfectly balanced and tailored to the twisted narrative that Alundra seeks to tell.
So another veteran studio closes as ten more appear in its stead. As sad as that may be - we may well find ourselves looking back on them ten years from now and comparing their offerings to that of Master Chief and Nathan Drake.
What were your favourite Psygnosis games? And which titles were under/overrated? Talk to us below!
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