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Psychonauts 2

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Release Date: 2020

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PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Psychonauts 2'

by Thomas Wilde on June 13, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

In Psychonauts 2, Raz will realize his dreams and visit the Psychonauts Headquarters as a fully established agent. But when he gets there he finds it's not the perfect place he expected, and he quickly realizes that the Psychonauts need him, more than he needs them...

Pre-order Psychonauts 2

It's been a long, weird road for Psychonauts 2. The original game was a critical hit and arguably a cult classic — it's been 15 years, and this is the video game industry, so that's long enough to say "cult classic" without totally devaluing the term, right? — but sold poorly at launch, to the point where its original publisher Majesco subsequently left the video game market for a while.

In 2011, its original developer, Tim Schafer's Double Fine Productions, acquired the rights to Psychonauts,polished it up a bit, and made it available via digital distribution. According to Schafer at E3 2019, Psychonauts proceeded to make more money in the years since Double Fine started selling it than it had in the seven years beforehand. That has led to the present day, when Psychonauts 2 has finally become a reality, after over a decade where it seemed like wishful thinking.

In other words, never think that you can't accomplish your goals because Psychonauts 2 is coming out. You can do whatever you want in life.


Despite Double Fine's recent acquisition by Microsoft, Psychonauts 2 predates that agreement and will still be a multi-platform release. It's been made with a "strong mix," as per Schafer, of old and new team members at Double Fine, with the return of the entirety of the original game's voice cast.

A playable section of the game was shown off behind closed doors at this year's E3. Schafer calls the new game more polished than the original, as Psychonauts was the production of a team that hadn't made anything quite like it before.

Watching it in action, though, the odd thing about Psychonauts 2 is that it doesn't really feel like any time has passed between it and the original. It's still a colorful, surreal platform game that alternates between Raz's adventures in the real world as a new junior member of the Psychonauts, and his and his fellow staffers' runs into the dream-logic inner worlds of their clients and antagonists. Graphically, it retains the cartoony proportions of the original Psychonauts, and while it's better animated and maybe a little more colorful than the first game ever was, it doesn't look entirely like a modern release. Instead, it's more like a retouched port of a late-cycle PlayStation 2 game.


I should be careful to mention that this isn't a criticism at all. The last thing I wanted to see out of Psychonauts 2 was some in-name-only sequel to the original that had been beaten into line by market forces. There's probably some dark alternate timeline where the game's a gritty open-world crime drama, and Raz looks like Max Payne in WWI flight goggles. This is much better, albeit surprising.

The gameplay at E3 was a short stretch where Raz, accompanied by many of his friends and fellow Psychonauts, made a run into the subconscious mind of Dr. Caligosto Loboto in order to learn who had ordered the capture of his friend Lili's father. Loboto is currently enduring a dental session from a dentist who's at least as crazy as he is, so that results in Raz being put through a gauntlet of tooth-themed challenges: moving platform teeth, angry thieving cigar-smoking teeth, environmental teeth, etc.

The demo showed off several of Raz's powers. Telekinesis is an old standby for throwing objects in the environment at other people, for either puzzle-solving or simple violence, but you also gradually reacquire more abilities as you progress. Levitation is used to supply Raz with both a slow fall and a double-jump, while psi-blasts give you a quick and dirty ranged attack, perfect for attacking flying enemies or punching a mouth-shaped obstacle right in its stupid uvula.


A little later on, you also get pyrokinesis, which creates a circle around Raz that ignites anything that strays into it. Enemies take a second to catch, but then panic and run away, while destructible objects in the environment catch fire. This comes in handy because as it turns out — and I did not know this going in — that a person's internalized regrets are both hostile and extremely flammable.

In general, Psychonauts 2 is deliberately made to be much like the first game, but it's the product of a team that has more than a decade's additional experience on tap. Much of the qualities that made the original what it was — the surrealism, the sense of humor, the way it could pivot on a dime into surprisingly maudlin or macabre territory — was on display in the E3 demo.

Schafer mentioned at the show that Double Fine's next project is likely to be something new and original, so any talk of a new beginning for a Psychonauts franchise is decidedly premature. Instead, what we have is simply what a lot of people have been asking for: a new chapter for Raz and the Psychonauts, from the original creators, with what made the original game special firmly in mind.



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