Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin Preview
PlayStation VR games shouldn’t be few and far between, what with 160 titles already in development and over 50 on tap for 2016. But perhaps one of the most promising titles isn’t necessarily on everyone’s radar: It comes from the fantastic minds of Tim Schafer and Co. at Double Fine Productions and it’s called Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin. That’s right, after many years anxiously awaiting news of a possible follow-up to the 2005 platforming classic, we now have not one but two new games to look forward to; the other is the recently funded Psychonauts 2, which won’t be available until 2018. So, if you want to get back into the swing of things with Raz and that gaggle of fascinatingly zany characters, you gotta dive into PSVR.
Announced late last year at the PlayStation Experience, this promising VR adventure picks up where the original left off. If all the fans remember, the first Psychonauts ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, which of course generated widespread hope in a sequel. If you’re not familiar, here’s a prelude (and warning, a bit of a spoiler): Raz is finally recognized as a great PSI-Cadet and he has a chance to become a fully-fledged Psychonaut. Camp is over and it’s time to go home but before Raz can return home with his father, news arrives that the Grand Head of the Psychonauts, Truman Zanotto, has been kidnapped. Now it’s up to Raz and Lili – Truman is Lili’s father – to rescue him, so the newly-minted Psychonauts must jump straight into action!
Perhaps the biggest difference between the third-person platformer that was the original Psychonauts and this new effort is the perspective: In the Rhombus of Ruin will actually be first-person within VR, and Raz “will have the ability to project his psyche onto other peoples’ brains,” which means there is an entirely new mechanic at play. Raz has a fresh way of moving about this fantastical world, which of course prompts some obvious questions. Maybe the most important of these is, “how will this PlayStation VR experience work?” Control will always be an issue and if it doesn’t work well enough, the gameplay falls flat, right? If it’s first-person, it should be relatively straightforward but bear in mind that we’re talking about a completely new form of interaction. We’ll have to see how Schafer and the team approach this; there’s no doubt they’re bad-asses in the world of development but this is a whole new world…almost literally.
It’s important to note that the game is being developed internally at Double Fine so there’s no outside influence here. I’m assuming that’s a good thing, given the inherent talent, but again, questions do linger. Raz has really cool abilities like telekinesis and pyrokinesis (yes, those powers are returning) but how do we control them within the VR space? It’s going to be one of those “you have to try it to see” things, which I’m afraid will lie at the core of any VR experience. As for the style of gameplay, they’re saying it’s basically another adventurous puzzler of sorts, so at least we know they’re going to retain that major element of the first title. The puzzles were a huge focal point of the original and chances are, they will be again. Solving them in VR should be a definite trick, and the level of satisfaction might actually rise.
Lastly, I’m wondering if Double Fine’s amazing design capability will be on full display. The first game was just so mind-blowing in this department; I still remember The Milkman Conspiracy, Black Velvetopia and Waterloo with stunning clarity, and I still say they’re some of the finest-constructed levels in video game history. Will we appreciate such levels in the same way within VR? Or, because these levels have to be fundamentally different, how will we react? Sadly, I think there are more questions than information when it comes to previewing a VR game but hey, just knowing that one of the first PlayStation VR games will have “Psychonauts” in the title is enough for me. :)
3/28/2016 Ben Dutka