A mind is a terrible thing to waste
Daedalic Entertainment have strongly established themselves as one of the major players in the adventure gaming genre. With titles such as the Deponia quadrilogy and the Whispered World series, the German-based company has a prolific output of quality comedy, science fiction and fantasy adventures. Being a massive fan of old-school point and click adventure games, along with also being a big Blade Runner fanatic – the news that Daedalic were working on a science fiction puzzler set in a dystopian near-future certainly piqued my interest. State of Mind attempts to tackle some pretty hefty philosophical ideas, but does it pull together to form a coherent whole?
The game focuses primarily on Berlin in 2048, home to reporter Richard Nolan. Nolan is a Pulitzer award-winning writer, married to a supermodel and blessed with a happy, healthy son. Despite the societal unrest going on all around him, Richard seems on the surface to have it pretty good. That is until a mysterious cab crash scrambles his memories and he finds his wife and son go missing under strange circumstances. Now Richard must try to unscramble the mess of his mind, which leads him to uncover an international conspiracy involving a cloud-based virtual world. Just who is uploading the minds of the general public onto this cloud utopia and what is their goal? Only by working together with Adam – his cloud-based alter ego – can Richard try to repair his State of Mind.
Gameplay mainly see us navigating both the bleak neo-noir Berlin world where Richard lives – poverty and rioting here has led to a violent and bleak atmosphere – and also the polar opposite cloud utopia inhabited by Adam. Bright, cheery and positive, this is just one of the many points of juxtaposition littered throughout the narrative. Yet both characters have sinister elements seeping into their lives. Whether it be the strange daily checkups Adam’s son is being subjected to at the mysterious “clinic”, or the underground hacker group who try to help Richard, but are repeatedly hunted down by police robots, there is a overriding sense of oppression and foreboding. The atmosphere created by the art and writing teams is probably the most effective part of State of Mind – creating an effective sense of unease throughout.
There is very little actual gameplay to be had here however. There is an inventory screen in-game, but any useful items are automatically used when needed and there are no traditional puzzles to solve. The whole experience focuses on walking through the locations open to us, examining items and speaking to other characters. Almost all sections of the game are solved through simply exhausting all dialogue options and finding all items to interact with – all of which are highlighted by large green arrows – meaning that long-winded pixel-hunting is not an issue. Seasoned adventure gamers will find very little challenge on offer, with State of Mind being much more akin to an interactive story than a point and click puzzler.
There are several points where alternative dialogue choices or actions can be made, but none of these have much real, significant impact on the development or outcome of the story. The design team of the game have stated that they wanted one singular narrative that fans would experience, rather than several branching ones, but for a title that has no discernible challenge and little actual playability, we as fans have come to expect at least some sort of interactivity in the form of having a larger influence on how these sort of tales progress. Being able to switch between several playable characters when you like does give the impression of freedom, but most tasks need to be tackled in a pretty rigid order, so this is only a superficial liberation and adds little to the overall gameplay.
It should be said that the story also falls down somewhat on the intentionally disjointed way it unfolds. The sense of disorientation and confusion is clearly deliberate, to tie in with the fragmented memories of our protagonists, but this does make the story pretty difficult to follow at times. Characters are often mentioned in conversation as if we know who they are – before they have even been introduced to us, dramatic events seem to quite suddenly occur out of nowhere, and we are treated to so many flashback scenes that it is very easy to lose track of the real timeline of how events took place. All of this is clearly meant to form part of the atmosphere of disorientation and confusion, but it sadly makes it more difficult to really care about how things will eventually fit together. Being a little too clever for your own good can definitely turn off a large portion of your audience.
The visual style on display is also a bit jarring – yet again, probably in a purposeful design choice. As mentioned before, the environments are incredibly successful, helping to perpetuate the successful atmosphere. However, the low-polygon character models definitely feel a bit out of place. Looking like something out of an early PlayStation 1 game, all of the characters in State of Mind seem to be struggling to hold themselves together and move through their daily lives. This does help to tie in with the overall mood of the game, but makes characterisation and the conveyance of any real emotion difficult. In a title the relies on its emotional core – a man struggling to pull his life back together and save his family – these blank polygonal canvasses just don’t allow us to connect with them in any meaningful way. The music, voices and sound effects employed are thankfully more successful, however somewhat repetitive.
Without giving too much of the plot away, the idea of uploading our consciousnesses into a virtual world in an attempt to escape the ills of society is a fascinating premise no doubt, but State of Mind doesn’t manage to pull together into a cohesive whole. It is in fact a little TOO successful at creating a sense of everything being disjointed and disconnected – so much so that as a player it can be difficult to see just what one should be doing next in-game. This is a definite slow-burner and everything begins to make a lot more sense as things rapidly gather pace towards its conclusion, but it is sadly likely that a lot of players may not suffer through its shortcomings long enough to reach this point. There are still interesting moments and themes for Science Fiction fans to enjoy, but the whole is sadly somewhat disappointing.