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Psychonauts 2 is the game psychonauts always should have been

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Psychonauts looks like the early access version of Psychonauts 2. The original has become a cult classic thanks to its adorable characters, creative art design, and impeccable sense of comedic timing, but the gameplay has never been much fun, even. in 2005. Psychonauts 2 – who you can pre-order here, coincidentally – doesn’t make any fundamental changes to the formula, but it refines all aspects of platforming and combat, tightens level design into a constant showcase of new ideas, and takes problem-handling more seriously mental health with respect. After spending six hours with a preview, it feels like this is the game Psychonauts should have been from the start.

The story picks up immediately after the events of the VR-exclusive Rhombus of Ruin, which itself was only moments removed from the cliffhanger at the end of the first Psychonauts. If you missed the VR game, the bottom line is that the Psychonauts – an elite group of psychic secret agents – saved their leader Truman Zanotto and captured the infamous dentist-turned-mad-scientist Dr. Loboto. As Razputin Aquato, your mission is to help the Psychonauts find out who Loboto worked for and find a mole within the psychic spy organization.

At least that’s what Raz wants make. While Raz technically became a psychonaut in the first game, the rest of the organization is unwilling to recognize a child as a full-fledged psychic secret agent. So Raz must progress as a psychic trainee, going through some surprisingly wicked hazing rituals of his fellow students while also aiming (literally) to change his mind about his preparation for the mission.

As in the original, most of the action takes place in people’s minds, where their personalities and mental blocks manifest as platform levels. You fight a parcel new monsters, as well as some returning enemies like the Censors, who are there to eliminate thoughts that are not yours – like yourself. There are flying enemies, facilitators who generate shields, tiny bits of fodder, and big murderers who act like minibosses.

Just running around and hitting those enemies with your basic melee attack and dodging their strikes always feels a bit mushy, but Psychonauts 2 dramatically improves the combat of the first game by incorporating Raz’s psychic powers into combat in such a way. more organic. path. Your pyrokinesis is now an area-of-effect attack that can easily ignite multiple enemies at once. Telekinesis now allows you to quickly grab clutter around the environment to throw at enemies. While not quite as malleable, pieces of Psychonauts 2 resemble Remedy’s Control, allowing you to throw the environment on bad guys as part of a suite of powerful abilities.

Psychonauts 2 greatly improves the combat of the first game

Making enemies that “play against each other and harness your powers in new and strategic ways” has been a concentrated effort for the team at Double Fine, Lauren Scott, Senior Systems Designer, told us in a session. questions answers.

“I remember feeling that in the first game we had some really powerful psychic abilities, like invisibility, which sometimes players would forget in the second half of the game and not use,” adds studio director Tim Schafer. . “This is not the case in this game. Different enemies will cause you to remove different psychic powers. They have strengths and weaknesses, and you can really think about how to chain powers when attacking different combinations of enemies.

Raz of Psychonauts 2 using telekinetic powers in combat

Shield Generation Enablers are initially very frustrating to deal with – they prevent their allies from taking damage, they dodge your psi blasts from a distance, and can knock you back quickly in melee. But as soon as you set one on fire, it drops its shields to run around in heat-induced panic, allowing you to take down other enemies for a minute – which sets a rhythm of fire and fire. strike satisfying for the remainder of the battle. The new focus on versatile powers helps click combat in a way it never did in the original.

This is a very common problem in games, using mental illness as a shortcut to transforming the villain

Tim schafer

Workshop chief

The new levels are just as wild and creative as you’d expect, and they’re greatly enhanced by the frenetic pace of Psychonauts 2. The original Psychonauts’ greatest strength is the diversity of their environments, and the levels I’ve seen. in the following build on this strength by introducing more variety at each stage. Each of the four brain levels I was able to play were broken up into bite-sized little chunks that never stayed long enough to get boring.

There’s a book-themed level populated by cutouts, with library shelves and floating books serving as platforms. Every now and then, you will find yourself squeezed through the pages of said books, which shifts the perspective from 3D to 2D as you flip through the words on the page. Then you are in an open papercraft city, with multiple objectives to complete and a series of intersecting paths to get there.

Raz of Psychonauts 2 using telekinetic powers against a censor in combat

Then there is the cooking game level, where you race against the clock to prepare basic ingredients like eggs and bread, which are anthropomorphic members of the audience, for a panel of giant goat puppet judges and voracious. So you’ll have to telekinize a talking egg and throw it in boiling water to prepare it (my monster), then rush onto the stage while the egg boils to get toast or sliced ​​bacon. It’s basically overcooked, except with little commercials that double as chunks of comedy for counterfeit goods and little fight encounters.

Psychonauts 2 opens with a post describing some of the mental illnesses featured in the game – as well as a warning for those with dental phobia, which yes, there is a level with a lot of dental stuff – and directs players to mental health focused on charity play, Take this. The original game certainly created empathy for its characters who suffer from mental illness – a natural side effect of spending so much time on people’s minds – but the sequel takes a more proactive approach to handling these topics sensitively.

“I think there’s a lot more awareness in the culture in general – and for me personally – about representations of mental health,” Schafer says. “I think there are a lot of things we did well in the first game just because of good intentions and a lot of things we would do differently. Now in the second game we do it with real intention.

Convinced? You can pre-order Psychonauts 2 here

Schafer adds, “After joining Xbox, we had access to more research, more mental health testing with real clinicians, because we are not clinically trained ourselves. They put us in touch with groups like Take this, which helped us to test, consult and identify things in the game that were good representations, but also things that could be improved. How to avoid stigmatizing language and representations. This is a very common problem in games, using sanity or mental illness as a shortcut to transforming the villain.

Raz of Psychonauts 2 sliding in a tunnel made of teeth

There is a line in the game where one of the leaders of the Psychonauts suggests that the group is not there to “fix” people – a trope the original game sometimes fell into – but rather to help them fight. their own demons. And this is played out in the levels. The varying segments of the book level represent different aspects of yourself coming into conflict with each other, and the cooking show, in turn, reflects concerns about how you feel about you and others. judge.

So far, it looks like Psychonauts 2 is building on its predecessor not just in terms of combat and level design, but in terms of empathy. This is exactly the kind of sequel I was hoping for from Double Fine – a sequel that recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of its predecessor and expands or improves upon them in equal measure.

You can pre-order Psychonauts 2 here, or buy PC Game Pass to get it that way when the August release date rolls around.

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