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In Sound Mind Video Game Review

Written by Matt Bartlett

Released by Modus Games

Developed by We Create Stuff
2021, Rated PEGI 12
Game released on 28th September 2021
Platforms: Xbox Series X and S, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, and PC (Reviewed)

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Review:

There are a number of games that have tried, with variable degrees of success, to dig into the psychological and emotional depths of both their protagonists and the players themselves. In Sound Mind is one of the latest of these mind-bending games that attempts to pry into the heads of its characters and play a number of tricks on the hands at the keyboard to get under their skin in a unique way.

Thrown into the psychological shoes of therapist Desmond Wales, you wake up in the grungy basement of your apartment building. It only takes a few steps outside of the room to realize you aren’t exactly home, with glowing clouds of toxicity and phone calls from a mysterious stalker haunting you as you make your way back to your office. Unnaturally strong police tape blocks hallways, a missing elevator button means you can only return to your office- and once you do, Desmond starts to realize his purpose in this dreamscape.

Finding a tape from one of his former and now deceased patients, Demond plugs it into a cassette player and finds himself transported into another mindscape. In this, the player is treated to recorded sessions between Desmond and the patient while he slowly makes his way to a glowing door. These doors act as gateways between “inner worlds” and after a literal walk down memory lane, the therapist finds himself inside of a twisted and dark version of the last important place in that patient’s life.

Through battles both mental and physical, Desmond’s goal is to make it through several of his patients’ tapes in the same way. By putting their tortured souls to rest, he hopes to help them rest peacefully and discover why all his patients in particular are passing away, one by one.

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There’s Always More to a Dream Than It Seems

In Sound Mind plays like most action survival horror games. Playing out in first person, you’ll run, jump, and duck through dangers and environments to progress through each area and the central hub of Desmond’s apartment building. The game takes steps to embolden the player as it ramps up, introducing weapons to combat more physical dangers if they should choose to go out of their way to do so. The transition from success by escaping and stealth to being able to fend off multiple threats at a time with shotgun is gradual, so the game never veers too far from its roots in survival over action.

The game also rewards exploration and checking into nooks and dead ends to find ammunition, health, and if they’re lucky, stat boosting pills that will help Desmond in a number of ways if he finds enough. Through these, Desmond can improve his stamina, health, and other factors to help make surviving his deep dives a bit easier. Getting these enhancements can be perilous, but in the end, worth it.

Exploration becomes equal parts mobility and combat as Desmond faces down creatures that start to stalk him from the depths of his patients’ psyches. Each patient also haunts their own headspace in which Desmond tries to break them of their anger that they are holding on to, keeping them tormented. Between dodging these spirits, players must navigate physical puzzles involving jumping, dashing, and crossing terrain that gets more and more treacherous with each new area. While this seems straightforward, there are a few occasions where progression might seem impossible until the player takes a step back, analyzes the area and approaches from a different angle. Sometimes it’s the game playing tricks on you and sometimes it’s a matter of situation assessment. Whether intentional or not, the method to progression fits into the themes of the game.

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Jumping to the Wrong Conclusions

Unfortunately, the game’s few missteps are negligible but still provide some frustrations. In older games of this genre, movement could be loose, causing platforming to end in a game over despite feeling like everything was done correctly. While the instances are few, there were plenty of times that the controls seemed too loose, plunging poor Desmond to his death or getting him stuck on something that didn’t seem to be an obstacle. Combat feels a little off, too, with seemingly well-placed strikes and shots missing their target on occasion. The physics of the game take a little longer to learn than some might be comfortable with.

The other issue is the game’s lack of guidance after its initial tutorial. It’s easy to argue that the game doesn’t hold your hand, forcing the player to think of solutions themselves. If I weren’t an avid gamer, though, I might not have thought to shoot glowing barrels once I had a gun in my possession since I was taught to keep away from them in the first few minutes of the game. A mirror shard that you pick up can both be used to find hidden objects and as a weapon and also a way to open previously blocked passages to proceed. This feels less like giving the player autonomy and more like a lack of instruction on the game’s part.

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Beautifully Mindful

What the game does right, though, it does very well. The presentation is fantastic. Environments are beautiful and radiate the right combination of ethereal and realistic. The soundtrack enhances the game’s sense of dread and wonder and shifts appropriately between tones as the narrative needs. The voice acting is all spot on, as well, which can be hit or miss for a piece of this kind. Even at its most mundane, In Sound Mind is a great experience for the senses.

It also handles its sensitive topic matter with the right amount of distance. A number of games that have tried the psychoanalytical route of digging into its cast over the past few years have stumbled, sometimes creating a disparaging or offensive commentary on mental health and how people dealing with poor mental health should be treated. In the first two-thirds of the game, at least, In Sound Mind presents its characters and their situations then focuses on the plot at hand. Desmond may ask “why” because of his character but the game focuses on helping these spirits and unraveling the questions behind the characters themselves rather than making a commentary about them.

What I truly loved about this game, though, was that most of its scares result in tricking the player’s sense of where things are and when things appear. It’s easy to get a jump out of a player when you throw a spooky face at them with a musical stinger. The method works. Most of time, In Sound Mind takes a more lasting approach. You may turn away from a store mannequin to find that turning back reveals they’ve relocated. Reaching a dead end in a hallway may result in you trying to go back only to be face-to-face with a wall or worse, your stalker even just briefly and with little fanfare. Most of these attempts to throw the player off from what they think they know of their surroundings are effective and do a lot to keep folks on their toes.

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Waking to Dream Another Day

In Sound Mind has its hiccups mechanically, to be sure. There isn’t anything that can’t be overcome with a little bit of trial and error, though, and the game gives more positives than negatives overall. The story isn’t fresh, but it’s handled with a clear concern for telling a creepy and intriguing tale. Surrealism has been done to death in horror gaming, but the developers never go over the top or try to outdo the rest of the pack. We Create Stuff clearly wanted to tell a story while slipping some love letters to other games in the genre like Alan Wake and Layers of Fear, but it feels like their story over everything else.

Will the game become an instant classic? Probably not, but it may leave an impression for a while until the developer’s next game. If you go into it with the expectations it sets from the start, you won’t be disappointed. Above all else, it is a puzzle game with combat and some scares. In Sound Mind stands out against several other efforts that have been coming out lately and shouldn’t be overlooked for folks looking for a solid entry in the psychological horror realm.

Grades:

Story: Threeandahalfstars Cover
Buy Amazon Uk
Cover
Buy Steam
Graphics: Fivestars
Gameplay: Threeandahalfstars
Sound: Fivestars
Replayability: 3 stars
Overall: 4 Star Rating

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