Psychonauts 2

Psychonauts 2 is a platform game developed by Double Fine and published by Xbox Game Studios. The game was announced at The Game Awards 2015 ceremony, and released on August 25, 2021 for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S, and on May 24, 2022 for Linux and macOS.

Psychonauts 2
Psychonauts 2 cover.png
Key artwork by Nathan Stapley
Developer(s)Double Fine
Publisher(s)Xbox Game Studios
Director(s)
Producer(s)
  • Andy Alamano
  • Gavin Carter
  • Naoko Takamoto
Designer(s)
  • Seth Marinello
  • Zak McClendon
Programmer(s)Kee Chi
Artist(s)Lisette Titre-Montgomery
Writer(s)Tim Schafer
Composer(s)Peter McConnell
EngineUnreal Engine 4
Platform(s)
Release
  • Windows, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
  • August 25, 2021
  • Linux, macOS
  • May 24, 2022
Genre(s)Platform
Mode(s)Single-player

Like the game's predecessor, the player controls Raz, a young acrobat that is training to become a Psychonaut, a member of an international task force that uses their psychic abilities to stop those that perform nefarious deeds with their own psychic forces. Within Psychonauts 2, which follows directly from events of the interstitial virtual reality game, Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, the Psychonauts try to learn who was really behind the capture of their leader, unveiling a deep mystery surrounding the organization's founding and Raz's family history. To uncover the mystery, Raz enters the mindscapes of various characters to discover clues. Within these mindscapes, Raz can perform a variety of new and returning psychic abilities that allow him to maneuver through the often-twisted minds and battle the mental creatures they produce.

The original Psychonauts, released in 2005, was met with critical praise, but failed to sell well and was considered a commercial failure for several years after its first release. Double Fine and game director Tim Schafer had expressed the desire to create a sequel to Psychonauts, but the financial demand of developing the game stalled any serious attempt for several years. Double Fine regained the intellectual property to Psychonauts from Majesco Entertainment in 2011, allowing them to rerelease the game on modern platforms, which saw strong sales and increased demand from players for a sequel. Double Fine sought to acquire part of its financial capital to fund the developments of Psychonauts 2 through a US$3.3 million crowd-funding and investment drive through Fig, launched simultaneously with the game's announcement. The campaign raised nearly $4 million by the beginning of 2016. While Psychonauts 2 was initially to be published by Starbreeze Studios under a publishing-only deal, Starbreeze fell into bankruptcy in 2018. By 2019, Microsoft acquired Double Fine as part of Xbox Games Studios as well as securing the publishing rights from Starbreeze. This acquisition allowed Double Fine to complete the game as envisioned rather than dropping the planned content.

Upon release, Psychonauts 2 received generally positive reviews from critics, with many feeling it lived up to the quality of its predecessor. Praise was directed at its platforming, level design, visuals, writing, and tone, while criticism fell on aspects of the gameplay and the boss battles.

GameplayEdit

Psychonauts 2 is a third-person platform game similar in gameplay to its predecessor. The player controls Raz, a newly graduated Psychonaut with powerful psychic abilities, as he delves into the minds of others. The player uses "Psi-Powers", such as telekinesis, pyrokinesis, and levitation, in combination with more common platform game elements, to explore the mental worlds of several non-player characters.[1]

SynopsisEdit

SettingEdit

Psychonauts 2 is set in a fictional, alternate world in which psychic powers exist thanks to the fictional element Psitanium - a substance brought to the planet by several meteors. The Psychonauts are an international espionage agency focused on psychic peacekeeping, scientific research of the human mind, and the development of psychic-based technologies.

In Psychonauts, the player-character Razputin "Raz" Aquato is a young acrobat fascinated by the Psychonauts, but shunned by his family who fear his psychic abilities. He runs away and infiltrates Whispering Rock summer camp, a training facility for young Psychonaut recruits. While there, he helps to foil a plan by the demented Dr. Loboto and misguided Coach Oleander to steal the brains of his fellow campers and the Psychonaut agents Sasha Nein and Milla Vodello, while befriending Psychonauts founder Ford Cruller and Lili Zanotto, the daughter of the Grand Head of the Psychonauts, Truman Zanotto. Raz's father, Augustus, comes to accept Raz's goal of being a Psychonaut, revealing his own weak psychic abilities. Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin follows immediately from the end of Psychonauts, where Raz joins Sasha, Milla, Coach and Lili to rescue Truman from being captured by Dr. Loboto.

CharactersEdit

In addition to returning characters from the previous games, Psychonauts 2 introduces the other founding members of the Psychonauts alongside Ford Cruller, known as the Psychic Six: Otto Mentallis, chief inventor who assists Nein and provides new psychic equipment; Compton Boole, who pioneered telepathy with animals; Bob Zanotto, uncle to Truman Zanotto and capable of communicating with plant life; Helmut Fullbear, a psychic actor whose body was lost and his brain was kept in a jar for over 20 years, making him lose his five senses; and Cassie O'Pia, an author of the self-help book "Mindswarm" who is lost in a multiple personality disorder. Additional Psychonauts staff at their headquarters, the Motherlobe, include Hollis Forsythe, Second Head of the Psychonauts, Nick Johnsmith, the only non-psychic member of the Psychonauts who works in the mailroom section, and a group of interns training to become agents. These interns include Sam Boole, elder sister of Dogen and granddaughter to Compton who can communicate with animals like her family; Adam Gette, the African-British keeper of the Psychonauts' history board who powers yo-yos as a weapon; Morris Martinez, a radio aficionado who travels around via levitating wheelchair; Gisu Nerumen, an engineering ward to Otto and levitating skateboarder; Norma Natividad, a shrewd manipulator and talented pyrokinetic; and Lizzie Natividad, Norma's cryokinetic and moody sister. Raz's family beyond Augustus are also introduced, including Augustus' wife and Raz's mother Donatella, older siblings Dion and Frazie, younger siblings Mirtala and Queepie, and their Nona, mother to Augustus.

PlotEdit

Having just rescued Truman Zanotto, Raz and the other Psychonauts stage an elaborate interrogation construct in the mind of Dr. Caligosto Loboto to identify who hired him for the kidnapping. They learn he was coerced and his mind heavily booby-trapped against revealing any helpful information, but Raz sees the fear tactic instilled in Loboto’s brain: a vision of Maligula, a powerful hydrokinetic psychic believed dead for 20 years after flooding her home country of Grulovia and being subdued by the founding Psychonauts, the Psychic Six. Sasha and Milla conclude that Loboto could not have committed such a high-profile abduction without help on the inside, and resolve to identify the “mole” back at headquarters.

Upon arrival at the Motherlobe, Raz is stripped of his unofficial Psychonauts rank and assigned to the intern program under a mailroom clerk named Nick, who turns up brainless on his first day. During a routine classroom workshop to learn a new psychic technique, Raz manipulates the thoughts of Hollis Forsythe, the Psychonauts' second-in-command, to eliminate her inhibitions and allow him and the other inexperienced interns along on the particularly dangerous next mission to investigate Nick's missing brain and the new lead on the “mole”. After entering her mind and correcting his mistake, the agents and interns discover the hideout of a "Deluginist", a member of a conspiracy theorist group believing Maligula to still be alive or able to be resurrected, along with evidence of a possible plot to involve Lili, as Truman’s daughter, as a pawn to ruin the Psychonauts from the inside.

Back at the Motherlobe, Truman awakes from a feigned coma and instructs an impressionable Raz to bring him Ford Cruller—the only person able to match the threat of Maligula. Raz sets off on his confidential mission just in time for his father Augustus and the rest of his family to arrive at the Motherlobe, having caught up with him after his runaway to Whispering Rock.

After summoning Ford back to headquarters using the bacon strip given to him at camp, Raz finds that Ford’s erratic and fractured psyche requires repair. In the process of trying to access Ford’s multiple personalities around headquarters, Raz makes the acquaintance of the now-elderly members of the Psychic Six: Compton Boole, grandfather of Raz’s camp friend Dogen and the pioneer of psychic work with animals, and Otto Mentallis, research & development head of the Psychonauts and keeper of a vault of spare experimental brains.

In hopes of stabilizing Nick's brainless body, Raz claims an unmarked brain from Otto’s lab to temporarily keep Nick occupied. When the brain promptly causes Nick to experience sensory overload and fly into a panic attack, Raz investigates the mind and finds it to be the long-dormant brain of Helmut Fullbear, another member of the Six who was frozen into a glacier during their fight against Maligula twenty years prior. After helping Helmut handle his panic and recover some of his memories, Raz discovers Maligula was in fact Lucrecia “Lucy” Mux, once a dear friend of the Six and even romantically involved with Ford. Determined to reunite the Six and untangle the new Maligula threat, Raz is finally able to piece Ford’s fragmented mind back together.

Ford confesses to Raz that he never killed Maligula, too in love with Lucy to put an end to her. Once a pioneering Psychonaut, Lucy had returned to her home country of Grulovia amongst political unrest, and was pushed to the breaking point in service of the monarchy, violently quelling peaceful protests, traumatizing her to the point her fight-or-flight complex took over. Raz, horrified, is finally given the truth: that Ford locked the most dangerous part of Lucy’s mind away and rewrote her remaining memories to hide her amongst Raz's family, as his Nona. Then, to punish himself for his deeds and to forget the pain of losing Lucy, Ford shattered his own mind for good measure.

Now knowing his Nona is in fact Lucrecia Mux, with Maligula deeply buried in her subconscious, Raz reluctantly agrees to help Ford fix his mistake by helping him gather the remaining Psychic Six (Seven) to the Green Needle Gulch. Here, he meets with Cassie O’Piea, an expert in mental partitions and archetypes; and Bob Zanotto, uncle to Truman and expert psychobotanist, who succumbed to alcoholism after losing his husband, fellow Six member Helmut, to the fight twenty years prior. Cassie and Bob assist Raz in uncovering an old experimental tool, the Astralathe, necessary to fashion a mental "pit" and allow the Six to permanently banish Maligula into the depths of her psyche.

As Raz and the Six confront Maligula within Lucy's mind, Raz is pulled out and into reality where Truman Zanotto is erratically investigating the Gulch and tailed by a concerned Lili. When Raz and Lili peek into Truman’s mind, they find it is not his brain in his head at all: it’s Nick’s missing brain, except Nick is the mole, and is in fact Gristol Malik, exiled prince of Grulovia and hellbent on restoring Maligula to overpower the revolutionaries that ousted the royal family. Sasha, having independently connected the dots about the mole, races to the showdown at the Gulch along with Milla, Oleander, and Forsythe.

Ford and the others appear to lose the fight within Lucy’s mind and all are forced to flee as Maligula appears in full force, enveloping the Gulch in a hurricane and threatening to drown everything and everyone. Raz’s family, reeling from the revelation about their matriarch, physically and psychically help Raz overpower Maligula and, with a now-lucid Lucy’s help, banish her from Lucy’s mind and from reality forever.

While Raz’s family is left to bond and heal from their falsified past, and the Seven are left to reconnect and repair old wounds, Truman’s brain is restored to him, Gristol is put in psychoisolation, and plans are made to rescue Helmut’s body from the frozen glacier. Loboto escapes from Sasha’s lab amidst the confusion, mentioning to Raz that he needs to get back to Whispering Rock, as he “left his kid there”. Raz and the interns are promoted to junior Psychonauts for their role in uncovering the mole and for defeating Maligula.

DevelopmentEdit

BackgroundEdit

Double Fine's first title as a studio was Psychonauts, released in 2005. The title was considered a commercial failure, but was highly praised by critics for its characters and writing and gained a cult following. In the years following its release, fans and game journalists urged Tim Schafer, CEO of Double Fine and principal creative lead on the game, to develop a sequel to the title.[2][3]

Schafer had expressed interest in working on the Psychonauts franchise again, with the company having envisioned larger story arcs for the game's characters over the course of its development.[4][5] The development of the sequel would require a publisher that was interested in the game, and Double Fine approached publishers with the idea; Schafer said that in these pitches, he pointed out the large number of both legitimate sales through digital distribution and through the illegitimate means of software piracy.[4][6] After Double Fine's success with the concurrent development and publishing of several smaller games, such as Costume Quest and Iron Brigade, Schafer felt more comfortable about embarking on a sequel, knowing that it need not obstruct the creation of any newer properties.[7] Despite this, the publishers continued to turn down the idea. Some called the concept too creative or too obscure, according to Schafer.[4] For others, with whom Schafer said he had good relations, the deals they offered did not fit with the scale Double Fine had planned for the game.[8]

In February 2012, Markus Persson, at the time the owner of Mojang, made a public offer to fund a sequel to Schafer through Twitter.[9] Later that day, a company representative for Double Fine stated that Persson and Schafer were discussing the possibility, without further affirmation.[10] Persson noted that the anticipated costs that Double Fine would need would be an estimated $18 million, far exceeding what was initially expected to fund and cautioned fans to avoid hyping the funding possibility.[11] Persson and Schafer met at the Game Developers Conference in March 2012; no definitive plans were made for funding a sequel, however.[12] In February 2013, Persson officially stated that he was no longer directly trying to fund the sequel, commenting that he did not "have the time at the moment to even try to get educated enough to make an 18 million dollar deal", though would be open to the idea at a later time after he left game development; Persson did note other potential investors have stepped forward to help any such effort.[13]

Announcement and fundraisingEdit

At the 2015 Game Awards, Schafer announced Double Fine's plans to work on Psychonauts 2 using a crowdfunding campaign through Fig. The company sought $3.3 million in funding for the game, which represented approximately one-third of the planned development costs, and would augment money being put in by Double Fine and a third-party investor. Schafer noted that while the amount was the same that they had raised for their Broken Age Kickstarter, which by the time of its release had significantly overrun its budget, he felt the studio was in a better position to manage the costs and processes necessary to deliver Psychonauts 2 on schedule.[14] Schafer noted that this funding approach — bringing in money from multiple investors instead of from a single publisher — is similar to the approach taken by the movie industry, and further, that the use of crowdfunding can alleviate some of the traditional risks associated with investment, being an effective means of proving public interest in a title.[8]

Mere days after the announcement of the Psychonauts 2 campaign, Double Fine announced the development of Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin, a publisher-funded virtual reality game for the PlayStation VR. The game is a smaller standalone chapter that serves as a bridge between the original game and its sequel, featuring Raz and the other psychonauts rescuing Truman Zanotto, tying into the conclusion of Psychonauts.[15]

During the campaign, Schafer confirmed that in addition to voice actors, several team members who worked on the original game would return for the sequel, including Erik Wolpaw as writer, Peter Chan and Scott Campbell as artists, and Peter McConnell as the composer.[16] 2 Player Productions, a video production company who had previously worked with Double Fine to document the development of Broken Age, would be similarly documenting the creation of Psychonauts 2.[17] Double Fine planned to utilise Unreal Engine 4 to develop the sequel, allowing them to save time and money that would otherwise be spent developing a custom game engine, as they had done in the past.[18]

The campaign reached its target funding goal with five days left in its 38-day campaign.[19] Upon completion, a total of $3,829,024 had been raised from 24,109 backers, with about $1,874,000 (48%) coming from those who opted to invest in the game compared to those who chose the more traditional reward-based options.[20] Some of this funding was tied up in process with the Security and Exchange Commission to authorize Fig's use of unaccredited investors; Fig during this time covered Double Fine's development costs from their own capital. The matter was resolved by September 2016, assuring Double Fine will receive the amount funded or invested.[21]

In February 2016, Zak McClendon, who had previously worked as design director at 2K Marin and Harmonix announced he had been hired as lead designer for Psychonauts 2.[22]

In February 2017, it was announced that Starbreeze Studios had invested $8 million to help digitally publish the game across all platforms. They would recoup the investment by gaining 85% of the profit on sales, after the Fig investors are accounted for, until it is recovered, and then take 60% beyond that. The investment only affected the distribution, as Double Fine retains all control on the intellectual property and the development process.[23]

Double Fine had originally planned on a 2018 release for the title, but announced in December 2017 that with the game in full development and their planned roadmap towards release completed, they did not expect to release the game until at least 2019.[24] Double Fine premiered the game's first full trailer at The Game Awards 2018 in December 2018. Psychonauts 2 was in alpha at this time.[25]

By June 2019 Double Fine had been acquired by Microsoft as part of Xbox Game Studios. Microsoft purchased the publishing rights for the game from Starbreeze for $13.2 million. Despite the sale, Double Fine stated that Psychonauts 2 would still be released on all previously announced platforms (not being exclusive to Microsoft platforms).[26][27] The Microsoft acquisition allowed Double Fine to pay back the Fig investors earlier at a 139% return and increasing subsequent revenue-based return on investments from 70 to 85%.[28] Schafer said in a 2020 interview that prior to Microsoft's acquisition, they were at a point that they cut the boss fights out of the game due to lack of funds, but were able to re-add them afterward.[29]

In July 2019, Double Fine announced that they had delayed the game's release until 2020, wanting to make sure they make the game as good as players are expecting.[30] Double Fine announced in July 2020 that the game was further delayed to 2021, which will allow for an Xbox Series X-optimized version to be released as well.[31] A release date for the game was officially announced at E3 2021.[32] Double Fine announced on Twitter that the game had gone gold on August 6, 2021.[33] On August 23, 2021, Double Fine revealed that the macOS and Linux versions had been delayed to an unannounced future date.[34] Both versions were then released on May 24, 2022.[35]

Voice castEdit

Most of the game's original voice actors from Psychonauts returned to voice their characters, notably, Richard Horvitz and Nikki Rapp as the voices of Raz and Lili respectively.[16] New to Psychonauts 2 include Jack Black, who has worked on previous Double Fine games, as Helmut Fullbear, and Elijah Wood, who had also provided voicework with Black in Broken Age, as Nick Johnsmith.[36] As an Easter egg casting, Rikki Simons voices the embodiment of one of Raz's powers; Horvitz and Simons had previously voiced the characters Zim and Gir in the animated show Invader Zim.[37] Kimberly Brooks, who voiced Hollis Forsythe, won a BAFTA Award for Performer in a Supporting Role for her work on Psychonauts 2.[38]

ReceptionEdit

Psychonauts 2 received "generally favorable" reviews for most platforms according to review aggregator Metacritic;[39][40][42] the Xbox One version received "universal acclaim".[41]

Tom Marks of IGN gave the game an 8/10, saying: "Even with a few rough edges, Psychonauts 2 is just about everything I could have hoped for from this long-awaited sequel."[47] Keza MacDonald of The Guardian gave the game 5/5 and praised its unique levels and areas and memorable characters, though criticized its emphasis on collectibles they considered dated and its "redundant" upgrades.[48] Josh West of GamesRadar+ gave the game 4.5/5 and praised its imagination, humor, and called it an "audio visual feast for the senses", but thought the boss battles were frustrating and the upgrade system was "ineffectual".[45] Kurt Indovina of GameSpot gave the game 9/10 and praised the writing and approach to serious topics of mental health conditions, the art direction, platforming, and combat, though criticized its boss fights as lacking.[46]

Will Greenwald of PCMag gave the game 4/5, praising the variety in visuals and the platforming and puzzle mechanics, but criticized its combat as "muddy" and the limited amount of usable psychic powers at any one time.[50] Giovanni Colantonio of Digital Trends gave the game 4/5 and praised the level design, visuals, platforming, though criticized its "bloated" story, and while complimenting the upgrade system, they criticized the ability juggling as complicated.[51] Mike Minotti of VentureBeat gave the game 4/5 and stated, "If you ever enjoyed the original, or just like the idea of a psychic-themed 3D platformer, I'm sure that you'll like Psychonauts 2 and find plenty of laughs along the way."[49] Edwin Evans-Thirlwell of Eurogamer praised the game as being "as witty, eccentric and imaginative as the 2005 action-platformer, with a more developed understanding of mental health."[52] Zack Zwiezen of Kotaku gave the game a positive review and stated, "Psychonauts 2 isn’t about gunning down the big boss at the end and cheering over their dead body. It’s about understanding that even the biggest asshole is still a person, and deep down they may just need some help. Psychonauts 2 says that everyone can change."[53]

Awards and accoladesEdit

Year Award Category Result Ref
2021
Golden Joystick Awards 2021 Best Storytelling Nominated [54][55]
Best Visual Design Nominated
Xbox Game of the Year Won
Ultimate Game of the Year Nominated
The Game Awards 2021 Game of the Year Nominated [56]
Best Game Direction Nominated
Best Narrative Nominated
Best Art Direction Nominated
Best Action/Adventure Game Nominated
2022 22nd Game Developers Choice Awards Best Narrative Won [57]
Best Visual Art Nominated
25th Annual D.I.C.E. Awards Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composition Nominated [58]
Outstanding Achievement in Story Nominated
Adventure Game of the Year Nominated
33rd GLAAD Media Awards Outstanding Video Game Nominated [59]
18th British Academy Games Awards Animation Nominated [60]
Artistic Achievement Nominated
Game Beyond Entertainment Nominated
Music Nominated
Narrative Nominated
Technical Achievement Nominated
Performer in a Supporting Role (Kimberly Brooks as Hollis Forsythe) Won

ReferencesEdit

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External linksEdit