Analysis of Psychonauts 2 | voxel

While video games have already received a lot of great stories, few developers can claim to have created as many captivating worlds and characters as Tim Schafer. The Double Fine Productions boss has been around since the late 1980s, when he was recruited by LucasArts to help develop the epoch-making PC adventures, and he hasn’t stopped since!

Maybe you know him from his debut directing game, Day of the Tentacle? Or maybe the incredible hairs Full Throttle and Grim Fandango? In 2000, he founded his own studio and gave us a new wave of unforgettable adventures, from Brutal Legend The broken age. Still, it is undeniable that one of the most important parts of this rich history was the release of Psychonauts.

After all, it was Double Fine’s first project, which tried to blend the witty dialogue and cinematic narrative of the adventures with the 3D platform mechanics that were in high gear at the time. Despite its quality and having several ideas far ahead of its time, the initial sales of the game disappointed, and it took years for the journey of Razputin Aquato and the Psychonauts to gain status as a darling of the public.

In 2021, the scenario is very different for Tim Schafer, for the series, and for Double Fine itself, which is now part of the Microsoft family. Psychonauts 2 arrives on the market accredited to feature among the top games of the year, courtesy of more than five years of development and the expectations of thousands of eager fans. But can the game live up to the hype that surrounds it? Check out our full review below!

Smart talk

If nothing I’ve said so far was familiar and you’re parachuting into Tim Schafer’s games, you needn’t worry as this is as good a starting point as any. All you need to know before playing is that the first Psychonauts is played by Raz, a young man who has escaped from the circus to infiltrate the psychonauts’ camp.

There, he meets new friends, teachers, and opponents, but all of that is beautifully summed up in a charming video recap that serves both to introduce the story to first-timers and to refresh the memory of veterans. Even because, despite being called Psychonauts 2, this is actually the third canonical adventure in the series!

The first game ends with the kidnapping of Truman Zanotto, the head of the Psychonauts and father of Lili, Raz’s girlfriend. These events have a sequence in Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, an exclusive game for Virtual Reality launched in 2017, where we face the dentist Dr. Loboto, responsible for the abduction. It is from there that the new plot begins, with the psychonauts trying to find out who was giving orders to the villain.

It can be a lot of information to absorb at once, especially when you take into account that the lore and theme of the series are also very rich, but the first phase of Psychonauts 2 fulfills very well the role of tutorial mechanics and summary of the narrative in a very organic way. Still, without a doubt, the plot will be much better appreciated by those who finished at least the first game and already know all the characters and their peculiarities.

mad my head and heart

As we already mentioned in our preview, when we had the opportunity to test the first hours of the campaign, in terms of gameplay Psychonauts 2 it’s basically a more polished version of its predecessor. Alternating more open-world segments with other stages in more linear corridors, the bulk of the fun comes from exploration and interaction with other characters, but there’s also generous doses of combat and platforming along the way.

Fortunately, fighting and jumping has never been more enjoyable, and the Raz responds exactly as you’d like most of the time. Melee attacks now have more impact, and different enemy types involve different solutions and a good use of your attacking arsenal to progress. As the campaign progresses, our hero even gains the power to deliver ranged attacks, incinerate objects, slow down time, create a copy of himself, and more!

Exploring the environments of Psychonauts 2 is more enjoyable than the original game thanks to good controlsSource:  Reproduction / Thomas Schulze

Both henchmen and bosses are often more vulnerable to one or more of these combined powers, so it’s fun to memorize your patterns and abuse your psychic powers. It is noteworthy that Psychonauts 2 it’s not challenging at all, and that’s a design choice anyway, as that’s admittedly not their focus. Any minimally capable player will likely close the entire campaign without seeing the game over screen.

This is not a problem in general, but after five or six hours you should get tired of eliminating the rivals you meet along the way, as the fights are so easy that they end up becoming just another bureaucratic job that you have to put up with until you are rewarded with the next big scene and the story unfolding.

It helps a lot, then, that game worlds are extremely creative both in their themes and in their visual and gameplay proposals. Now you’ll be traveling in a land of pure rock, with lysergic references to 1960s culture, now you’ll find characters and classic literary writers coming to life in a library, even wandering around an archipelago where the memories of a ” castaway” solitary.

Without spoiling surprises, you’ll even participate in cooking competitions and a casino full of tricks and secrets, so variety is the keynote of Psychonauts 2. Every environment is a real treat, and you’ll be happy to be playing something so creative in an industry that seems increasingly lacking in different ideas!

An unforgettable experience

The reasons that make each level memorable revolve mainly around the incredible art direction and superb level design. Each area seems to have been painstakingly carved with great care, whimsy and intelligence, evoking various symbols related to its thematic arc, and then connecting them with unparalleled wisdom.

The sharp text written in partnership between Tim Schafer and Erik Wolpaw (who was also scripted for the first Psychonauts and in the great ones Portal 2 and Half Life 2 Episode One and Episode Two) is the icing on the cake, as it makes us care about each character whose mind will be invaded before, during and after the missions, clearly feeling the impact we had on the journeys.

When I had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Schafer, he was very concerned about passing on positive messages throughout history and treating some thornier issues like various mental illnesses with delicacy, a challenge he certainly took literally! However, this also comes at a small cost: though Psychonauts 2 be very humorous, your text also seemed less funny to this day.

If that’s the price to pay for everyone to be happy playing the game and not get hurt by controversial jokes, it seems like a fair trade-off, especially when you remember that there’s so much charisma and strong identity around the rest of the text to make up for it. A more serious problem is the way in which certain mechanics end up being underused thanks to the abundance of other ideas that start to be explored in the following hours.

For example, at the very beginning of the game you learn a mental connection technique that serves to unite different thought bubbles. Keywords hang in the air inside a person’s head, and you need to create a path between them to connect them and change the “victim’s” values. It’s a really cool and fascinating idea, but there are few occasions that you will be forced to do this throughout history.

The structure of the campaign is also a little weird, as some phases last a little more than 20 minutes, while other levels can reach almost two hours. Occasionally there are still sub-areas within the levels, and they can be larger than other main phases. It’s a pretty twisted structure and frankly the game works best if you don’t think about it too much and just get carried away.

It is worth it?

Psychonauts 2 it’s the most ambitious project Tim Schafer and Double Fine have ever launched, and luckily it hits the nail on the head. While not as funny as the director’s other games, his mission to celebrate empathy and strengthen connections between people was accomplished with flying colors in an extremely charismatic, fun and charming campaign. Anyone who plays this story will remember their worlds and characters for years to come!

“Psychonauts 2 is one of the most creative games in recent years, ideal for those who love good stories”

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