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Psychonauts 2
Psychonauts 2

PC | Xbox One | Xbox Series X
Genre: Platform
Developer: Double Fine Productions Official Site: https://www.xbox.com/en-AU/g...
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios Classification: M15+
Release Date:
28th August 2021
Psychonauts 2 Review
Review By @ 12:02am 24/08/21
XBSX
In most content we produce on this site, we tend to pepper our coverage of games with zest and verve. We write with an admitted lean on indulgence; colourful language and metaphors and parables and wordly animation to help craft a sense of emotion and fun. The conveyance we hope to achieve is usually one that ropes the reader in with a point of difference, while steadily building to a base of informative and authoritative commentary.

We pride ourselves on it, in fact.

So why kick this review off with a breakdown of our tonal contrast to other gaming destinations? Well, with Psychonauts 2 there’s no room for an introduction with as much colour and tangentialism or word creation as usual. Double Fine’s long awaited, long overdue game is already kooky and colourful and ‘out there’ enough. To spend time trying to drag the reader in with essentially what they’ll get after they “Press the A Button”, would be akin to pulling teeth. Which is exactly where I, and the game, will begin -- pulling teeth.



No really, it’s where the game begins -- inside the mind of Dr Loboto who has a thing with teeth and, in learning to play the game via requisite tutorial, one of your very first tasks is to pull teeth and use them as weapons. And if that sounds insane, it’s a pretty good setup for the whole of the experience to follow. I mean, you’ll play through levels which just so happen to be the minds of a number of the game’s unique personalities, and layered within are contextual impediments and gameplay challenges built around themes of the psyche; the conscious mind and the subconscious mind as living sandboxes, where potential videogame traptropedoors around repetition can only be relegated to collecting. One minute you’re navigating someone’s warped memory of a delivery room, the next you’re finding a donor brain to help your mailroom co-worker who’s lost theirs. In setting expectation for the journey ahead, pulling teeth and using them as weapons in a brain wholly fixated on dental fears is about as clear an indication as you need.


"It’s a completionist’s dream, and a game that isn’t afraid to flex creative flair in delivery of divergent gameplay ideas...”



Instead of touching on the game’s long-in-the-tooth development period in any greater detail than we already did here, from a complete package and across the finish line, no less, a game, Psychonauts 2 is probably best summed up as dense. It’s a completionist’s dream, and a game that isn’t afraid to flex creative flair in delivery of divergent gameplay ideas and unique moments, nor to let story run point on how those deliveries find their way to you. It’s a polished experience that feels whole because it transcends the cadence of so many other games. There’s an air of snobbery towards the rest of the industry baked into Psychonauts 2 -- like what Schafer and co have is something no one else does, and what everyone else is doing is something Double Fine could care less about.



But this isn’t a negative at all. In fact, playing a game that feels as confidently delivered as this does is a genuine breath of fresh air in the modern landscape. Which is kind of funny, because so much of what makes this game great is how much it hearkens back to game design of yesteryear, though masked in ways that almost sneak past your otherwise honed ‘modern day’ videogame senses. "What’s old is new again," as I stated in our preview.


"In fact Psychonauts 2 is more videogame than any 10 of the last games you played, probably. And that’s because the studio has a pretty heady grasp on what hooks a player into occupation and task...”



That isn’t to say there isn’t a structure in Psychonauts 2, or that you’ll be playing something that doesn’t resemble a game. Far from it. In fact Psychonauts 2 is more videogame than any 10 of the last games you played, probably. And that’s because the studio has a pretty heady grasp on what hooks a player into occupation and task. Early on you’ll be sent on numerous teeteringly tedious fetch-quests, and it’ll often feel like you’re on that perpetual hamster wheel of progress. But things open up very quickly here, and before you know it you’ve nabbed Truman’s Security Clearance, unlocked most of the game’s progress-tied-abilities and all of a sudden the Motherlobe Quarry is your exploration and mystery-solving oyster cranium to lose yourself in.



I say mystery, because the game’s story follows a similar narrative beat to that of its first campgrounds-based outing. And the cadence and slow vetting of information and access, of probing options for breakthrough and sheer discovery where “eureka!” moments feel genuine and earned, is far and away the game’s biggest narrative triumph. There’s wordplay and innuendo and a familiar Double Fine tone here, where comedy and larger-than-life characters and settings take us on an incredible journey into an intangible world built in homage to, and entirely from, the mind. The game is a celebration of cerebrum and cortex, and you never forget where you are, ever. But its playfulness with its setting isn’t where the game is strongest. It’s in the aforementioned pacing and its sense of discovery that it shines, and it does this without trying -- a byproduct of all the other moving parts.

You’ll get all of the game’s tools pretty quickly, but mastering them, and the game thereafter is still no easy feat.


"Such a concept might read as a warning, and to some degree it is: this isn’t a game you can set your watch to...”



That density I proclaimed earlier, it applies to all facets of the game -- not just story. In gameplay in particular, you have numerous abilities to play with, and depending on the environment and task at hand, your utilisation of them can vary wildly. Such a concept might read as a warning, and to some degree it is: this isn’t a game you can set your watch to. It’s not a Hades or an Assassin’s Creed (the two others I’ve played most recently), and using your abilities to your advantage might feel odd and less ‘planned’ than in other outings that bill skills to specificity. There’s agency in Psychonauts 2 as a result, but it’s also not always obvious, which might confuse some, and frustrate others.



What you will get, guaranteed, is a game that fully realises a journey from start to finish, while letting you entirely off the leash in between, at your leisure. You never feel rushed to the next port of narrative call, and the game never gates you from one hundred-percenting an area. In so many ways this is a gamer’s game, but the studio has been mindful of its own design, and so options to bypass some of the more difficult or frustrating mechanics and challenges are on offer. But these might feel like hurdles in age alone, given the time the concept has been in gestation.


"t also has terrifically fleshed out moments of action and platforming, exploration and puzzle-solving, all wrapped in modern tech with a wonderful overall presentation...”



Psychonauts 2 feels like a classic point and click adventure game fully realised. And hyper-evolved. Which is why its disparate makeup offers a sense of familiarity -- working out how best to tackle the game’s overworld, and its contextual sandbox ‘levels’, is a task driven by curiosity, experimentation and persistence. But it also has terrifically fleshed out moments of action and platforming, exploration and puzzle-solving, all wrapped in modern tech with a wonderful overall presentation (that looks stunning on Series X, particularly on our Samsung 8K review panel). It oozes style and flair, in a nerdy kind of way, and that’s why we love it oh-so-much.

If you’re unfamiliar with Raz and his Psychonauts, through Game Pass there’s no better way to acquaint yourself with this weird and wonderful IP, one we hope hasn’t seen its last outing by any measure, and one we hope gathers many, many new fans. It’s been a long time coming, but it was worth the wait.
What we liked
  • Still as kooky as ever
  • Wonderful art and art-direction
  • A fantastic story that never rushes you
  • Picks up right where the previous outing left us
  • But doesn't leave newcomers high and dry in terms of exposition
  • Fantastic level design
  • Not at all repetitive
  • Challenging in the best kind of way
What we didn't like
  • Some camera issues
  • Old school gameplay ideas and mechanics might put some people off
  • It can be a bit hand-holdy in parts
More
We gave it:
9.0
OUT OF 10
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