by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Are We Human, or Are We... Uh... Something Else?
State of Mind opens with a bang, literally, as the neo-grunge streets of future Berlin are interrupted by an explosion. As we soon find out, this bombingn is only the most recent in a series of attacks, carried out by unknown perpetrators. Caught in the blast is our protagonist, journalist Richard Nolan, who wakes up in a hospital with head injuries leading to disorientation and memory lapses. He wants to know where his wife and son are, but his questions go unanswered, and things get stranger as he returns home and finds them gone, a robotic service droid left in their wake.
With his absolute hatred of certain technologies, lying, less than friendly attitude towards just about everyone, and ongoing marital affair, Nolan is an easy protagonist to hate. He does want to find his family, though, and in doing so quickly ends up tangled in a conspiracy that challenges the very nature of reality and what it means to be alive. See, it turns out that someone is uploading humans into a virtual world called City 5. Think The Matrix, only replace the robo-apocalypse with the Blade Runner-esque Berlin of 2048 (I’m guessing the year is no coincidence). Where Berlin is a bit of a pit, City 5 is bright and pleasant. Here in City 5 resides our other protagonist, who is the opposite reflection of Nolan in more ways than just where they live. A kind and loving family man, Adam Newman is deeply troubled when he and Nolan eventually communicate and are able to start working on getting to the bottom of this simulation conspiracy. It’s from this central premise that the game draws its philosophical quandaries, asking big questions like “what does it mean to be alive?” and “what makes real, real?” Not every single question and concept is dealt with in a completely satisfying way, but enough is given justice that it’s quite an interesting ride to go on.
Beautiful Minimalism and Invasive Ads
All of this only works because the visual and sound design are absolutely fantastic. Please, please play this game with a pair of nice headphones. The atmospheric electronic score is perfect, and the ambient noise- be it rain, whispers, or distant action- makes the worlds feel positively alive. Play it in a comfortable chair at night with all of your lights off. The low-poly character models paired with neon colors and dynamic shadows combine nicely to complement the melancholy burn of the unfolding story. I don’t often find myself agreeing so wholeheartedly with the artistic direction of a game, but I’m hard pressed to find anything I didn’t like... once I was actually in the game.
There is one thing that bugged me, and it’s not something I’d normally bring up. I want to mention that there are ads on the main menu screen of the game for some of the developer’s other titles. On the bottom right, taking up relatively meager but not entirely insignificant amount of space, I had ads for Witch It, Shadow Tactics, and PIllars of the Earth. I don’t like this in any game. If I’ve anyone has paid good money for something, they shouldn’t have to deal with advertisements for more on a page they’ll visit every time the log on. It’s especially damning in a game like State of Mind, though, that depends so much on its atmosphere and sense of cinematic immersion. Seeing ads on the nice stylized menu was annoying the first time I started State of Mind, and it bothered me more each subsequent time. Please, Daedalic Entertainment, let me play your game in peace.
Lite on Actual Game, But That’s Ok
Narrative is definitely the focus here, so if you come in expecting lots of action and active participation, you’ll be a little disappointed. You shouldn’t be, though, because what’s there works really well. You won’t do a whole lot more than walk around, click on some environmental objects, and talk to people. A few basic puzzles/tasks get thrown into the mix as well, which serve to break up the pace a little. It’s a very passive experience, and one that, despite all the different plot points flying around, is incredibly relaxing to play through. There’s lots to interact with if you’d like to immerse yourself in the world a little more, but if you don’t want to that’s cool too- you won’t miss out on anything necessary. You get dialogue options in conversation, but this is a linear experience, so don’t expect to effect the plot.
Despite a few drawbacks and narrative tangles, State of Mind is a great game that I had a ton of fun playing. The attention that's gone into creating an engaging world results in an experience that has a lot to offer anyone willing to be a more passive participant in the engaging experience. It’s a slow burn, the perfect game to relax with for a few evenings like a season of a good tv show.
Interesting story, fantastic visual style and worldbuilding, great soundtrack
Ads on the main menu, a few too many potential plotlines