In Sound Mind puts players in the shoes of psychologist and protagonist Desmond Wales, as he awakens to find himself trapped within his apartment complex. A look out of the ageing and dirty windows on Desmond’s floor is quick to show the apartment building and indeed the rest of the town has been engulfed in heavy floodwaters for as far as the eye can see – you won’t be going anywhere.
The way these subplots come together is a decent mystery and hook for the overall story. It creates this soft bed for the character stories that deal with loneliness, anxiety, anger management, and PTSD. Collectively though, these disparate narratives build In Sound Mind as a window into our ever-frail human psyches. Small notes along with the persistent taunting of Agent Rainbow help you piece together your patients’ complete stories, in a way that has you understand that their anguish (and all mental health issues, for that matter) should be treated with empathy and compassion. It’s affecting, particularly when all the pieces fall into place, both for the individual stories and the larger one at play.
In Sound Mind is played in the first person and the game’s structure lends itself well to reinforcing both forward momentum and exploration. As Desmond, you need to get into your patients’ apartments, get their tapes, and then go into them to confront what they’ve been twisted into by mysterious external forces. There are four patients and most of their rooms have different obstacles barring your entry. Much like Metroid, you’ll need to find new equipment to get past these.
Each of the environments within the game begs for exploration, be it to find each of the well-hidden collectables in the form of pills to pick up that tie into the game’s achievements, or simply to appreciate the artistic design that has gone into the creation of each area. Exploration isn’t something you’ll be forcing yourself to do either, as it ties into gameplay progression with phone calls or the acquisition of particular items or objects that must be found helping to push on with the story, whilst the surprisingly engaging puzzles that make up gameplay aspects will also see you running about the place and going to areas off the beaten path.
What’s on the tape here feels, looks and sounds somewhat inspired by Fractional Games’ work on Penumbra: Overture blended lightly with Psychonauts. There’s some really evocative imagery on display too, like cameras and eyes following you in the supermarket or the ear-crunching distortion of the poisoned lighthouse’s light bathing the dour cliffs in a malevolent red. It all adds to the mind-bending abstraction that is powerfully ramped up in some sections, putting you on an uneasy footing in memories that can only be described as…a bit cooked.
The game was developed by We Create Stuff, the team responsible for the Nightmare House 2 mod for Half-Life 2. Honestly, In Sound Mind reminds me of Half-Life in a lot of ways, and this is a good thing. Tightly-scripted scenarios based around careful navigation, jumping, and running from danger are one of the best things about it. I look forward to playing it again once I forget a lot of the smaller details. It’s not often that you get to see so much creativity and tight game design in one place, after all.
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