Set in a government-backed psychic summer camp called Whispering Rock, which is set up to help youngsters train and sharpen their psychic abilities, the ultimate goal is to join an organization charged with defending the population from psy-terrorists, essentially. In this world of psychics, Razputin, or ‘Raz’ for short, helps the camp’s quirky counselors and his fellow telekinetic teens train up and solve mysteries.
Psychonauts is a cult classic Xbox exclusive from all the way back in 2005. Made by Tim Schafer and the legendary team at Double Fine Productions, Psychonauts is an action platformer that follows a boy named Razputin on his quest to become a fully-fledged psychic agent.
The game combined the best of Double Fine’s Hollywood-grade writing and world-building with warped mindscapes, thoughtfully inspired by real-world psychological science and theory. In many ways Psychonauts was way ahead of its time, and still holds up today. The original is on Xbox Game Pass, and something I highly recommend you check out before giving Psychonauts 2 a try, which drops on August 25 for Xbox and PC.
I’ve been lucky enough to try the game out for myself recently, and having not previously played the original, I had no idea what to expect. I would swiftly learn that Psychonauts is all about expecting the unexpected. In just a brief few hours, I’d seen so much unexpected that taking a break from the game almost felt like a comedown, and I mean that in the best possible way. Psychonauts 2 is shaping up very nicely, and I expect it to end up on many game of the year lists if the full game even comes close to as special as what I have experienced so far.
Psychonauts 2: A singularity of pure creativity
You’re in a hospital that’s also a casino. There are three giant, vomiting goat puppets with murderous intent and a rat that plays chess with startling skill. What do these three things have in common? They’re among the most normal occurrences in Psychonauts 2.
As someone who didn’t play the original and isn’t too familiar with Double Fine’s history, Psychonauts 2 is one of the few recent games that I can claim has shown me things I truly haven’t seen before. The setting itself is a stroke of genius, giving Double Fine the opportunity to fully explore the limits of absurdity in combinations few games have been able to tread. Imagine if Inception was a Saturday morning kid’s show, it might look a little something like Psychonauts 2.
Psychonauts 2 is a narrative-heavy game. I’d expected a pure platformer with collectibles for some reason, but Psychonauts 2 lays on character development and world-building with relentless density. Every NPC has something unique to say, often with deeper dialogue trees with even lore and information. Every line I experienced felt meticulously crafted, paying careful attention to each individual character’s direction, with a side order of genuinely hilarious humor and double entendre.
Simply put, Psychonauts 2’s script feels like the result of a massive Disney-Pixar budget. Indeed, Double Fine is a comparatively smaller team, but for Psychonauts 2, that intimacy seems to have created cohesion between the narrative and world design that bigger studios often seem to struggle with. Even the most absurdist LSD-inspired visions have a purpose in Psychonauts 2, as you learn more about the psyche of the characters that conjured them. Marrying the story with the dreamscapes of its world is absolutely critical to avoid coming off as random for the sake of it, and Double Fine delivers in a big, big way. Psychonauts 2’s structure is almost dizzying for those unfamiliar with the original. The game tosses you in right at the end of the first game, in a clear love letter to fans. Indeed, Psychonauts 2 began life as a crowd-funded project, and Double Fine spares no expense catering to those who backed the studio all these years. At the same time, Double Fine makes an effort to bring newbies up to speed, with an in-game summary of the previous entry, as well as a history terminal exploring the lore and backstory of the universe.
From the outset, you’re exploring the inner workings of Dr. Caligosto Loboto’s brain. Therein lies the core function of the Psychonauts, after all. As telepaths, you can explore the minds of targets to gain intel, creating dream-like worlds of seemingly incoherent visual metaphors and grotesque imaginings. Loboto is a dentist, and his mind is filled with gums, teeth, and all manner of dental detritus that’ll have dentistphobes cringing. As Raz, you’re hunting for intel on who ordered Loboto to kidnap the head of the Psychonauts, Truman Zanotto, following the events of the first game.
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