Psychonauts 2 is a game that, for a long time, felt like it was never going to happen. But then in December 2015, Double Fine ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to create the sequel. Now, almost six years later, the game is nearly here — and I’ve played a few early levels ahead of its August release. I’m happy to report that, folks, it’s more Psychonauts, but now it’s looking and playing better than ever.
While the 2 at the end of the name might imply it’s a sequel to Psychonauts, it’s actually *pushes up nerd glasses* a narrative follow-up to Psychonauts In The Rhombus of Ruin. That was a VR game released back in 2017 which directly carried on from the cliffhanger ending of the first game. If you, like many, didn’t get a chance to play that VR side-adventure, Psychonauts 2 starts with a video summarizing both the events of the original game and Rhombus of Ruin. This is also useful considering the original game was released all the way back in 2005!
(If you haven’t played the first game or the VR spin-off this next paragraph contains some spoilers. If you haven’t played those games or have and don’t need a recap, you can skip the next block of text.)
To summarize: Teenager Raz is a gifted psychic who runs away from his life at the circus to join a summer camp for other psychic kids run by the Psychonauts, an international paranormal spy group that is called in to complete missions involving other psychic or strange things. Over the course of the first game, Raz helps foil an evil plot to take over the world and stops a deranged doctor from stealing brains. For all his great work, Raz is made an official Psychonaut by an older, famous agent of the group who works at the camp. Right as that happens it is reported that Truman Zanotto, Grand Head of the Psychonauts, has been kidnapped and Raz and his team of fellow Psychonauts head off to save him from the Rhombus of Ruin. They pull it off, but discover he’s in a coma and now they have brought him back to HQ to figure out what to do next. From here, the sequel begins
(No more spoilers!)
Right at the start of Psychonauts 2, the game opens with a trippy set piece as you explore the mind of Dr. Lobotto, a bad guy from the first game. You are trying to figure out who he’s working for, but it becomes quickly apparent that the amateur dentist is aware of your tricks and his mind begins to twist and change, fighting you every step of the way. It’s a fantastic introduction to the game and shows how things in this new sequel are both bigger, better, and yet, oddly the same.
For example, there are more enemy types now, beyond the standard Censor variants seen in the original. These new enemies, like exploding Bad Ideas that chase you around, make combat a lot more interesting as you have to use more of your powers and abilities to survive. Thankfully, combat is much improved over the original, with more useful powers that are easier to fire off in combat. No more relying on just punch and psi-blast!
Like the first game, levels are still dotted with figments to find and emotional baggage to clean up as you explore. At the same time, the levels are more detailed and larger than anything seen in the original game, though they still retain that wacky and distorted art style that made the first game so unique. And now there are even more things to collect as you look around these massive areas.
This combination of what made the original so good with new or improved features and ideas is found throughout the levels I played for this preview. It made it easy, as someone who just recently played the first game, to slip in and have a good time. Yet I didn’t feel like I was just doing the same thing over again in 4k.
It was the second level I played that truly convinced me this was a special game. This level, which ends up featuring a casino mixed together with a hospital, has been shown off in video previews before this, but actually playing and exploring this wild world is still impressive. And as was often the case in the first game, the villain of this world in Psychonauts 2 is more nuanced than your average video game boss.
If the other worlds and levels in Psychonauts 2 are even half as fun, detailed, and creative as the casino and hospital mash-up, then this could end up being an easy contender for the best game of 2021.
One more thing to note is that, even in this early preview state, the game ran flawlessly on my Xbox Series X, even supporting a 120 FPS mode that looked and played wonderfully.
I was provided an early digital preview copy of Psychonauts 2 by Xbox and Double Fine and while the preview build contained four main levels to play through, I tapped out after two. Not because I didn’t like what I played, but because those first two levels were so good and felt so perfectly Psychonaut-y that I didn’t want to see more before I can play the whole thing. I’m ready. I’m in. I can’t wait to join Raz and friends on their next big adventure through various minds and worlds on August 25.
Oh, and if we do get a third game, I really, really hope we don’t have to wait another 15 years for it. That’s just not fair.
Disclosure: Heather Alexandra, an ex Kotaku staffer, currently works at Double Fine.