Psychroma Review – Corrupted Memory

Psychroma is unlike anything I’ve played this year, from its vibrant and clashing colour palette to its unsettling, yet moving sound design and soundtrack. I completed this narrative-driven psychological thriller in one sitting, having been sucked in by the mystery of Haze’s missing memory.

Set in a Cyberpunk world in the year 2489, Psychroma takes place in a multistorey home called The Commons which offers shelter to the homeless. Our non-binary lead, Haze, is one of these inhabitants, and wakes up with no recollection of who they are. As we begin to piece together Haze’s missing fragments of memory, we also meet the colourful (literally) cast of characters living in The Commons and discover a mysterious machine hidden away in the building which allows us to tap into memory cards and learn the secrets written on them.

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Haze wakes up with no memory of who or where they are.

Psychroma is a side scroller and its gameplay mostly consists of finding items required to progress and taking them to where they need to be. When we have a new memory card or there’s been a development in the story, we can use The Alter to hop into this memory card as a ghost to relive the memories written on it. It’s safe to say that Psychroma is nearly entirely story-driven as the gameplay doesn’t offer much, but this doesn’t affect the overall enjoyment of the game when the storyline hits so hard.

That being said, the gameplay did have an annoying habit of adding interactable objects to the area at certain points, or not telling us when we can revisit a memory card we already have to discover something new. So, whenever I got stuck I would find myself having to wander the whole building to check what had suddenly become intractable or go through all three memory cards to see if anything new had shown up.

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A machine called The Alter allows us to use memory cards to revisit lost memories.

Because we’re experiencing the storyline through fragmented memories and also the visions Haze experiences due to their amnesia, Psychroma is mostly nonlinear and a lot of the scenes that we see won’t make sense at the time we’re watching them. This has its advantage in building further enigma around the plot, but also means it’s difficult to grow attached to the characters at the right moment to care when things go wrong.

It feels like we learn about certain side plots too late, and as a result we care about these characters at the wrong time. Which is a shame because Psychroma’s overall theme of memories and identity wraps so nicely around the side plots we experience with each character, some of whom are finding their own identities in different ways to Haze’s current situation. I think this nonlinear timeline is the ideal choice for a game about memory loss, but certain scenes should have been shown earlier than they were, especially because the game so clearly wants us to care about these characters and have an emotional response to certain scenes which just feel out of place or premature.

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Everything is fine.

It’s not to say that Psychroma couldn’t have been a tad longer either. My full playthrough, which includes collecting all CPU logs for further background information, took around three hours. This would have been absolutely fine for this storyline had we had just a tiny bit of more character building with the side plots and backstories.

Psychroma is told through some of the most stunning visuals of the year, using a colour palette mixed with vibrant hues and the graphics switch between a pixel side-scroller to more detailed sketches to flesh out certain scenes. Each character has a unique design, some being more cybernetically modified than others to help visualise the setting and also their history. And I love the homely, yet futuristc and rundown design of The Commons. It still feels welcoming, but the cracks beneath the decor are visible to show the living conditions of this world’s citizens. 

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Psychroma will switch to a more detailed imagery to help paint the scene better.

Paired with all this is a beautiful soundtrack which compelled my emotion in all the right ways, scaring the life out of me at the appropriate times while also going for a more moving touch during others. Sloane Smith did both the sound design and soundtrack of Psychroma and did a perfect job, bringing this eerie Cyberpunk world to life wonderfully with sounds that reminded me of cult classics from the genre such as Blade Runner. Sound and music can be so important when a game opts for a pixelated art design and needs to still convey horror at the right moments and Smith’s work meets this mark.

I can’t pretend that I wasn’t hooked by Psychroma considering I completed it in one sitting. While I was confused for most of it as the the lines between recovered memories and hallucinations are often blurred, and the timeline of when the scenes you’re witnessing actually happened is distorted, this does fit in well for a memory loss storyline. My only wish is that we had more time with the side characters to make certain plot points much more impactful. But overall, this is a beautifully crafted and enjoyable game.

Jess played Psychroma on PC with a review code.

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