SEATTLE – Not every game at PAX West 2019 had a psychic acrobat burning oil paintings in a hybrid corporate office/nightmare of teeth and pulsating veins – but Psychonauts 2 did. Fans of the first game who were concerned that the franchise’s weirdness might have diminished over the past 14 years can rest easy. Raz and the crew are back, with inventive action/platforming gameplay, bizarre characters and level design that’s somewhere between hilarious and horrifying. Newcomers might wonder what all the fuss is about, but folks who have been waiting a long time for Psychonauts 2 will probably feel rewarded.
I watched a hands-off demo of the game, and Psychonauts 2 looks very much like a slicker, tighter version of the first game. From the game’s variety of psychic powers, to its inventive platforming sections, to its surreal tone, the game seems to have everything that fans loved about the formula the first time around.
The demo picked up right where Psychonauts: Rhombus of Ruin (the short VR story-bridge) left off, with the Psychonauts having captured the somewhat-evil Dr. Loboto. They need to dive deep into Dr. Loboto’s brain and discover the identity of the twisted dentist’s mysterious superior. To do this, the Psychonauts set up an elaborate fantasy to extract the information, Inception-style.
The plan quickly goes awry, and the Psychonauts’ harmless mental projection of an office building becomes a body-horror extravaganza of zippered-together teeth, pulsating veins, receding gums and disembodied tongues. This might sound a little dark from a series all about an ambitious young go-getter at a psychic summer camp, but the truth is that Psychonauts has always been profoundly weird. In exploring the dark corners of a person’s mind, things are bound to get a little gross.
Things are also bound to get a little symbolic, as I learned during the combat portion of the demo. Even early in the game, there’s a fair amount of variety in enemy types. In Dr. Loboto’s brain, Raz encounters business-suited Censors, amorphous Regrets, winged Doubts and even two cigar-smoking teeth with Brooklyn accents. (Don’t think about that one too hard.)
Raz can topple these foes with a standard three-hit punch combo, or make use of his psychic abilities. In the demo, we saw Raz use telekinesis, a concentrated energy burst and even an ability that lights anything nearby on fire. As in the first game, combat is not very deep, but you do have a few options at your disposal to keep things interesting.
The same is true of platforming. As Raz leapt across filing cabinets, floating rows of teeth and unspeakable combinations of the two, he could use a single jump, a double-jump, a levitating balloon and a rolling, bouncing ball of energy to navigate the otherworldly terrain. The platforming requires some precision, but until we get our hands on the game, it’ll be hard to say whether the controls feel any less fiddly than before.
The demo ended with Raz finally confronting the dark master of Dr. Loboto’s brain – except that it’s not yet clear who this entity is. For that, we’ll probably have to play through Psychonauts 2 in its entirety – and I think most people will be fine with that. Based on the demo, I’m not sure that Psychonauts 2 will have new customers lining up to pre-order the game, but it’s exactly what fans of the first game have been waiting for. It’s weird, it’s funny and it’s got plenty of gameplay options, even if the core of the experience feels like a pretty standard platformer. Psychonauts 2 will be out in 2020 for Linux, Mac, PC, PS4 and Xbox One, with no price announced as of yet.
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