Psychonauts 2’s Short Length is One of Its Best Features

Psychonauts 2 is an incredibly short game by modern standards, and that's honestly one of the reasons why the game is so brilliant.

Psychonauts 2
Photo: Xbox Game Studios

In an age of live service games and open-world epics that practically give you new universes to explore, it’s hardly surprising that some gamers are already wondering how long it takes to beat Psychonauts 2. However, it is a little concerning that’s the first question a lot of people seem to have about this game.

To answer that question as thoroughly as possible without diving into Psychonauts 2 spoilers, it’s going to take you about 10-12 hours to beat the game on standard settings and closer to 25 hours to 100% the game. I’ve heard people stretch those runtimes to 15 hours and 30+ hours respectively, but I’d say that it’s safer to lean towards the shorter side of the estimates if you’re trying to figure out how much time you’ll be spending with this one. Of course, you could just enable Psychonauts 2‘s invincibility settings and shave quite a few hours off of both of those time estimates.

There are already some who are expressing concern over the idea of spending $59.99 on a game that can be beaten in a relatively short amount of time (at least by modern standards), and I absolutely get that. It certainly helps that Psychonauts 2 is available via Game Pass (which I imagine is how many people will end up playing it), but $60 is a lot of money to a lot of people, and you can’t really judge someone too harshly for wanting to get the most out of that money as they can.

At the same time, it’s a little sad to think that many conversations about Psychonauts 2 may begin and end with “How long does it take to beat it?” Honestly, many of the reasons why Psychonauts 2 is as brilliant as it is can be traced back to the fact that it’s a relatively “short” game.

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It really comes down to pacing. Again, I really want to avoid spoilers as much as possible given that the vague idea here is to encourage people to check out Psychonauts 2 however they’re able to do so, but the thing that jumped out at me most while playing it is how nice it is to play a modern Triple-A game that feels so…deliberate. You’re afforded a degree of freedom when it comes to how you choose to explore Psychonauts 2‘s story and levels, but for the most part, you’re experiencing the game roughly how its creators intended for you to experience it.

Granted, that’s pretty much the point of most works in most creative fields, but this is where Psychonauts 2‘s length compared to other games really becomes an attribute. We recently talked about how the length of modern Assassin’s Creed games makes it incredibly difficult for their creators to tell the stories they want to tell in a way that doesn’t ask players to wade through a ton of gameplay padding in order to experience them. As you can imagine, Psychonauts 2 is pretty much the antithesis of that experience.

It’s not just open-world games, though. Even when you compare Psychonauts 2 to Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart (another recent example of a shorter 3D platformer), you really start to see how Psychonauts 2 is carefully paced so that you never feel like the game is dragging out a particular section solely for the purposes of making the experience feel longer than it actually is. I loved Rift Apart, but the game sometimes emphasized variety (or the perception of variety) over maturing the core gameplay experience and trusting in the appeal of those mechanics as well as the game’s story and characters. Psychonauts 2 feels much more confident that it’s never going to lose you, partially because the game doesn’t really try to overstay its welcome at any point.

However, the biggest argument for Psychonauts 2‘s shorter length may just be the quality of its level design. I’m continuously impressed with how open-world game developers find new ways to make every corner of their massive creations feel distinct, but if I’m being very honest, I miss the creative brilliance of “smaller” video game levels. In the same way that Stephen King’s short stories are often his best simply because they afford him less room to derail the plot, there’s something about a traditional video game level that you just can’t replicate in an open-world environment. Even the best open-world missions sometimes struggle to recreate the narrative brilliance of a more structured video game level. It’s just a little more difficult to take a player on a guided tour through a creative vision when you’re also trying to resist making them feel obligated to experience this one aspect of the game in the way you hope they’ll experience it.

Psychonauts 2‘s best levels make it clear that the thrill of discovery isn’t always about putting as many options as possible in front of someone and asking them to try a little bit of everything. It’s sometimes about offering a kind and knowledgeable tour through an experience that they otherwise may have never thought to enjoy. There’s a reason why not every restaurant in the world is a buffet. While the idea of being able to choose between nearly every conceivable food option feels like the kind of thing you never want to go back from after you’ve experienced it, many of us quickly discover that we at least occasionally miss a place that just does a few things really well. Shorter video games inherently let creators focus on those things that they do incredibly well or at least feel more passionate about.

At a time when streaming options often leave us endlessly scrolling through infinite options and even summer blockbuster movies tend to be at least two-and-a-half hours long, there is something incredibly comforting about experiencing a tightly constructed video game that may be shorter than the biggest open-world and live service titles but still offers you 10-15 hours of memories that will last much longer than that.

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I completely understand why the prospect of paying $60 for a game that won’t last you nearly as long as other games is an instant consumer red flag, but I just worry that gaming is on an unstoppable course towards a future where offering 10-15 worthwhile hours of entertainment is seen as a drawback rather than an accomplishment.