State of Mind Review
A lot to wrap your head around.
There’s nothing quite like the combination of neon lights, scantily-clad women and robots being bad that so easily draws comparison to one particular behemoth of modern cinema. Fall under the flickering haze of this blend of dystopian grime and mystique and people will queue up to tell you just how much said film or game looks like Blade Runner. The comparisons are inescapable, but with the right injection of originality, this sci-fi trope doesn’t have to be an unbearable burden.
State of Mind’s cinematic opening rushes us straight past all these aesthetic clichés as we follow our injured protagonist, Richard Nolan, on his way to the hospital. The year is 2048 and we are in a futuristic Berlin where Richard wakes in a grimy hospital, confused about pretty much everything.
Having suffered memory loss from his ‘accident’, he walks through some tests with a doctor to regain his strength. This sequence allows the player to get situated with the controls and basic facts of Richard’s life, but neither the questions or movement tests require any real effort from the player and reveal even less about how the game may unfold.
The real intrigue is piqued later, as Nolan returns to his apartment to find a strange droid and his wife and child missing. After this introduction, the game moves us into a completely new environment and we are now Adam, a man whose life seems like the light to Richard’s darkness. Through the course of this predominantly point-and-click adventure we discover how the lives of these two men are intertwined and how too Richard’s family have became embroiled in the darker side of the world’s booming robotics industry. Moody men and misunderstood robots; it’s a classic combination.
The first and most obvious thing to mention about State of Mind’s gameplay is its beautiful art style. Like bundled shards of glass, the game’s characters are all low-poly angles, disproportionately long in the body in a cartoonish manner. While the backdrop does scream Blade Runner, it has a dingy dystopian beauty that is its own, with flying cars as numerous as the buildings they weave between. However, this beauty doesn’t come without costs.
With the game’s camera always positioned closely behind the character’s shoulder, moving around this world can be an awkward affair. Anything but precise, navigating around even Richard’s small apartment feels laborious, with the camera angle always slow on the uptake. Interactions with objects usually lead to cutscenes that bypass this, but the game never improves on the initial impression of meandering movement.
It’s not the only thing that initialy feels laboured. From the first encounter with the doctor, our protagonist’s interactions with other characters are flat at best. The style of speech between doctors, newscasters and even friends is often notably similar, meaning that little differentiates one character from the next other than their respective voice actors.
Richard, although a critic of modern living, is often nothing more than a git. In complete opposition, Adam is almost too angelic in his obliviousness to what surrounds him. With Richard’s mistress’s missed calls attracting more of his attention than his missing family and Adam’s blasé attitude to the issues his son is clearly facing, it’s difficult to empathize with our main characters – an issue when the stakes are raised later in the game.
As Richard moves between his office at The Voice, his home and dingy nightclubs, the game’s themes of transhumanism and technological advancement gain greater pace. State of Mind feels far more confident when sketching out these issues, painting a world poised on civil war. It does well to keep these dystopian themes mostly afloat between abrupt changes in scenes, settings and protagonist.
But without fully fleshed characters to empathise with, even these themes pack very light punches. Through the course of the game we are introduced to the thought leaders that want humanity to transcend a purely physical world, and those that seek to destroy advancement that could threaten what it means to be a ‘real’ human. Yet, the characters that are closest to us in this story, Tracy, Richard’s frustrated wife, and Lydia his mistress, remain only partially constructed.
To make matters worse, in my playthrough frequent issues with sound completely removed any sense of tension from scenes, and even in one instance snuffed out one character’s speech altogether. In the main club scene, the club music spluttered out after only a few moments, leaving NPC’s dancing enthusiastically to just the noise of drones flying overhead.
The game experience is littered with issues such as these. If sound issues aren’t delaying suspense, the additional puzzles and mechanics added to the later sections of the game certainly are. These more game-like elements significantly weighed down the action in ways that do not improve on the point-and-click style that served perfectly fine before.
In the end, State of Mind boils down to a good attempt at a dystopian thriller that is let down by the experience of actually playing it. While the game certainly has a take on transhumanism issues that are interesting in their own right, without better characterisation of its leading cast, the conclusion leaves you feeling cold. The stakes are too low, the characters too hollow, and the world just a bit too cliché.
With a bit of slimming down and improvements in sound and movement, State of Mind could have been something really special. Instead, we have a rare case of a game that doesn’t live up to the promise of its art style, and that’s a real shame.