The first part of Psychonauts was not easy for its creators. Four and a half years of development, the loss of a publisher in the face of Microsoft , meager sales … But it was all for good reason: the efforts of the studio Double Fine gave us one of the most outstanding games in history. True, this automatically put the sequel in a difficult position, since it is very difficult to make a continuation of the cult, but commercially unsuccessful game. Publishers won’t fund it, and the enthusiasm of the press and players won’t get you very far. Of course, the growing popularity of crowdfunding by the mid-2010s helped start development, but in order to complete it, Double Fine still had to find a publisher – and then, ironically, change it to the very Microsoft, which once refused to release the original.
After spending five and a half years in development, more than 16 years after the release of the first part, Psychonauts 2 finally came out … And, despite fears, it turned out to be a worthy sequel to the original.
Secret Service prodigy
The permanent hero of the Psychonauts series is the ten-year-old acrobat Razputin, who escaped from the family circus to become a psychonaut: a secret agent who possesses psychic powers and knows how to penetrate the subconscious of people. He sneaks into a children’s camp, where experienced agents teach young people how to control their skills. In the new company, he is not particularly welcome, but despite the attempts of adults to expel him, he still manages to go through training, get a girl and save the world from battle tanks working on the brains of mentally talented children. For these merits, he is still accepted into the ranks of psychonauts. And then a responsible mission arises: to find the kidnapped Truman Zanotto – the head of the agency and also the father of his beloved Raz.
For people who only went through the first part, the story ended on this cliffhanger, but in 2017 the Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin midquel was released , where Raz and his fellow agents rescued Truman from a secret underwater laboratory. Unfortunately, in Psychonauts 2, it turns out that it is too early to celebrate victory. The freed prisoner does not come to his senses in any way, the kidnapper obviously had an accomplice among the psychonauts, and in general everything goes to the fact that the secret villain wants to bring back to life the evil sorceress Maligula – the one who flooded the homeland of Raz and through whose fault his family suffers from hydrophobia.
Once they sign up for interns, and so he again finds himself in the company of unfriendly peers. But they quickly find themselves behind the scenes: in the center of the story this time not the children, but the old people – the six founders of the agency, who defeated Maligula 20 years ago. One of them, Ford Kraller, Raz knows from the children’s camp, where a crazy pensioner works as a service attendant. The fate of the rest of the representatives of the old guard was not much better: someone went crazy, someone completely disappeared. However, there is no one else to rely on, so almost all Psychonauts 2 goes to collect the original team and bring their psyche in order.
In this regard, the narrative of the second part is much more complete than in the first. If in the original Raz dived into the heads of completely random people, then here every excursion into someone else’s subconsciousness tells the story of one of the key characters, reveals the details of a carefully written background and lore. And each inner world looks and works differently, which is the main beauty of the game – in Psychonauts 2 you never know what lies ahead. Either he assembles a musical group, then he participates in a culinary TV show, then tries his luck in a casino that looks suspiciously like a hospital: the player constantly has to do something new, and the visual series reinvents itself literally on the go. Already captures the spirit!
Psychonauts 2 Shows, Does Not Tell; even when it comes to legends of deep antiquity, the game will find a way to convey their content with the help of visual
While all levels are strikingly different from each other, each relies on the same core mechanic – 3D platforming. Once he runs, jumps, performs acrobatic stunts, collects “coins” and secrets, fights with enemies and uses his psycho powers. The mental connection allows you to pull yourself up to opponents, jump between thought bubbles and connect them, opening new paths deep into the subconscious. Pyrokinesis sets fire to enemies and scenery in levels, opening secret passages, and telekinesis allows you to move objects with the power of thought – or throw all kinds of debris. Abilities help Raz in everything: in battles, exploring locations, finding secrets, platforming – as it was in the first part.
Of course, as before, all of Psychonauts 2’s ideas have a pseudo-psychological explanation. The local analogue of “coins” is a figment of the imagination that adorns each of the levels; also as collectibles are secret memories in safes and emotional baggage, presented in the form of literal bags, to which you need to bring the appropriate tags. The only thing missing is the cobweb in the corners of the mind: there is no special vacuum cleaner for cleaning it and other active objects in Psychonauts 2. Raz’s inventory and the characters’ reactions to its contents made the first part akin to the point-and-click classics of LucasArts , but the second does not claim these laurels.
Psychonauts 2 cleverly uses portals to change settings on the fly
But the game puts more emphasis on battles: the bestiary has increased markedly, and almost everyone has a vulnerability to one or another psycho-power. So, Panic attacks are insanely fast – you simply cannot keep up with them if you do not first slow them down. To overcome a Bad Mood, you need to find its source with the help of clairvoyance, and you can get bogged down in sticky Doubts, but pyrokinesis works great against them. In short, fighting here is not particularly difficult, but quite fun.
Separately, I am glad that the search for secrets can be done not only in other people’s heads, but also in a small open world. A spacious base of psychonauts and its surroundings is available for research: an abandoned quarry and a tourist site nearby. And after a lengthy introduction, when the game releases Raz into fresh air, the passage branches out: you can take on any of several leads, along the way completing side tasks.
Twice in the same river
Psychonauts 2 miraculously retained all the elements that made the original a hit, and it deserves attention if only for this reason. Despite the increase in time by one and a half times, it never ceases to amaze – with the level design, situations, small details … This is the case when quantity smoothly turns into quality: when every little thing is hand made, you involuntarily begin to admire them.
The quality of the levels is maintained at a decent level: there is nothing as dull and drawn-out as Mia’s party from the original game, but also nothing stunning like The Milkman Conspiracy. But the humor sank a little. For some reason, only Tim Shafer is on the list of writers – Eric Wolpo’s name is not there. So jokes of the level of the first part or, for example, Portal are rare here. But, on the other hand, the insipid Broken Age game is no match either.
However, one gets the impression that this time humor for Schafer was not as important as the plot, which, for all its irony, is rather dramatic. The first part did not really rely on the narrative: it rather tried to convey the feeling of adventure that children and adolescents of pioneer camp age dream of so much. The second begins as a spy detective, but quickly changes priorities, switching to the tragic story of the old team of psychonauts, which is somewhat reminiscent of the “Guardians” . This story is perfectly worked out and spelled out in detail: it organically continues the events of the first part, skillfully keeps the intrigue and competently involves all the characters. That’s just from the continuation of one of the best video game comedies, I expected a little different.
You can hardly tell more about Psychonauts 2 without going into details. Spoiling a game entirely built on surprises is a thankless task, but in almost everything else it repeats the first part. In this sense, it is quite possible to call it an exemplary sequel – so much so that it could have been released this year in 2007. The fact that after 16 years we received almost the same game and are sincerely happy with its release speaks only of the stagnation of the industry in the 2010s. It is difficult to blame Psychonauts 2 for this: if no one has done anything better for so many years, it is good that Double Fine at least could do no worse.