It’s been sixteen years and four months since the release of the original Psychonauts. That might feel like absolute aeons for those who loved that game and for those who backed the sequel’s development almost six years ago, but for Raz and the Psychonauts it’s been a matter of days and hours. There’s not a moment to waste, as a returning danger threatens the Psychonauts and the world!
Psychonauts 2 picks up right where the VR interquel Psychonauts and the Rhombus of Ruin left off, with an audacious mind heist into the twisted psyche of Dr. Loboto. Who has he been working for? What has he done to Grand Head Zanotto? And who was the towering figure that he is so fearful of?
Don’t worry if you didn’t play the original or the VR offshoot, because Psychonauts 2’s story works well enough in its own right. The opening missions are great at resetting Raz’s character arc as a plucky intern at the Psychonauts (while retaining many of the powers he learnt in the first game), and refocussing the narrative on a new arc and a new set of characters.
It doesn’t take long before the returning cast of modern Psychonauts – Sasha Nein, Milla Vodello and Coach Oleander – start to take a back seat to the adventure as Raz finds himself with two daunting missions: to root out a mole in the organisation and to reunite the Psychic Six, the founding members of the Psychonauts. It was they who first defeated the great evil that was Maligula, and they’re certainly needed if the Psychonauts are able to do so again.
That’s not so easy as giving them a quick phone call. In the years since, each of the six has struggled with the mental anguish and pain of that titanic battle and the consequences of what followed. Raz will have to dive into each of their minds (with permission), to try and help them overcome the demons that hide within. For Compton Boole it’s an endless struggle with anxiety and the cacophony of voices that he feels criticising him, while Cassie O’pia has to reconcile the different sides of her personality and the different fronts she’s had to present to the world in order to survive.
As you would expect after the first game, stepping into the minds of others leads to all manner of twisted and otherworldly settings. No two minds are alike, the worlds both a representation of who they are and what it is that afflicts them. The visual design throughout is excellent, taking the German Expressionist style of the original game and making it look so much tactile throughout much of the game world, but with some minds dramatically shifting the art style or scenario that Raz finds himself in. Turning again to Cassie’s mind, hers is carved through the paper of books, the spaces you run through often filled with living paper cutouts of hand drawings who are all nice and amusing to talk to, while there’s psychedelia, game shows and more to be found elsewhere.
Regardless of the character, and all the way through to the arch villains, there’s a tenderness to how Double Fine tells each and every character’s story, explaining how they have ended up the way they are. As you will read in the game’s mental health advisory there are representations of addiction, PTSD, panic attacks, anxiety and delusions, but while there’s very often a comedic tone to the surrounding elements, there’s a great deal of empathy shown for each character’s struggles. None of the characters are completely “fixed” by Raz’s intervention, but he is able to help break them out of the vicious cycles and help them start to heal on their own terms.
Of course, there’s still plenty of comedy to be found in this game. There’s tons of one-liners and little gags that had me chuckling at various points throughout. Better yet, with the mysteries surrounding Maligula and the mole within the Psychonauts, there’s some great twists and turns to the story that I didn’t put together until the last moment.
Psychonauts 2 makes all of the advances that you would expect after two full console generations. The platforming is tighter and having powers like Levitation right from the off makes getting around much more enjoyable. There’s also the new abilities, such as Mental Connection, which lets you zip between highlighted points for added variety. You’ll want to keep an eye out for them off to one side if you’re a completionist, because there are sometimes hundreds of Figments and other collectables in a level. It can be a bit daunting to load into a level and see so many collectables noted in the UI, but given how moreish they are to pick up, you’ll have grabbed the bulk of them by the time you reach the end for the first time. Completionists will simply have revisit minds to scour areas for things they missed or use new abilities they’ve learnt, and there is an end-game state after the story has concluded to let you do exactly that.
Mental Connection can also be used in combat, pulling enemies toward you (or you toward larger enemies) for a quick melee attack. It’s here that you really feel how much the controls and abilities have been improved. You can keep on the move, use PSI-Blast at range, Pyrokinesis to deal with groups of enemies, pick out the special enemies that need extra attention or specific tactics and abilities to take out. It can get quite hectic and a bit button-bashy at times, especially as the final act increases the frequency of combat, but it’s much more fun than I found it to be in the original.
If the combat isn’t you thing, then no matter. Alongside things like colourblind support, the accessibility settings also include options to increase Raz’s damage output, to make him invincible, and to turn off fall damage, allowing those who just want to focus on the platforming and the story to do so. It’s always good to bring as many people into a game like this as possible.