State Of Mind Review
Reviewed on PCAlso available on Nintendo Switch, Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One
State of Mind's premise is a thought provoking one - in the seemingly near future, humanity will face the concept of trans-humanism. The potential for human consciousness to be defined, decoded, downloaded, moved and edited is seemingly high and potentially close to realization. So what will it mean to live in such a time? How could one's perception be manipulated? What defines a person's sense of self? Can it be adjusted without a person even noticing? How would you know if such things had already happened to you? What would you do if you found out they had?
We enter the relatively near future of 2048 and are given a glimpse of our first protagonist, Richard Nolan, as a disaster strikes. Dark, bleak city streets are filled with fire, explosions and panicked people. Flashes of a handshake between Richard and an unknown man flit across the screen, another of a child and its mother being told that the kid's got potential as Richard looks on. A proposal to a woman begs questions of our perspective as the camera sweeps behind Richard and transforms the person being proposed to into a completely different woman. Questions of who this man is and what he may have done loom large and it's your task to take control of his life and answer them.
True to that premise, State of Mind offers up a mystery you find yourself immediately at the centre of. Waking in a doctor's office after the events of the introduction, you'll be given direct control over Richard for the first time and are set to work going through a quick and painless tutorial covering the usual concepts - camera movement, navigating the game world, absorbing and regurgitating information. The doctor switches Richard's augmented reality system on, allowing him to see the world in somewhat standard "video game vision", NPCs and interactive objects highlighted by neon green arrows above them and the chance to read a description of who that person is or what that object does.
It's an aging trope that works well enough, though the reality of living with such tech would probably drive most people insane with how pointless a majority of information would be - just imagine sitting on a couch and having your AR system label each cushion separately and then highlight them with big green arrows. Then you look at the wall and see a painting labelled right down to the type of wood the frame is made from and when you bought it. You'd end up living in a plain white box room just to avoid the headaches from all the "helpful" pointers. That said, considering we're in a video game focused on detail and detective work, it's a trope that serves its purpose well enough and fits the setting better than the likes of Fallout's inexplicable on-screen markers, much as it is functionally the same.
What? You never asked how the Pipboy on your characters wrist can project its information directly into the player character's brain? Just me then...
As alluded to previously, futurism drives the events of State of Mind and the core mysteries you'll be tasked with getting to the bottom of. At first, you'll flit between two protagonists, Richard Nolan and Adam Newman, as they go about their day-to-day lives. Each lives in a similar but distinct apartment, their layouts identical but the differing cities in which they exist and the things that fill each of them offering up some curious thematic comparison right from the off.
Richard works as a journalist for The Voice and is seemingly hitting hard times when we first meet him, with his family having left him for reasons unknown and the apartment he lives in filled with broken technology and hints that he's not quite the ideal man.
In contrast, Adam is living a comfortable life working as a writer for The Present, looking after his son at home when we first meet him, his walls and shelves full of mementos of the past, reminders of connections to his family and his responsibilities. With this foundation of similar but contrasting lives in place, State of Mind sets about exploring the way technology affects each person's life, how their interactions with it shape their views and behaviour, how society as a whole could or would react to concepts such as a robotic labour force or augmented limbs.
Comparison and contrast are where a lot of plot focus is placed in State of Mind. As each character progresses in their particular situation, you are regularly switched between them, seeing how each reacts to similar circumstances and what informs their differences. The relationships between father and son as well as husband and wife are at the fore, hammering home the inherently familiar humanity of the characters while also allowing the unfamiliar aspects of the futuristic concepts to be played out logically, inviting the player to wonder how their relationships and life choices are adjusted by the technology they use.
Going further into plot details would absolutely steal a lot of potential interest from you if you find yourself drawn to the game, but it's safe to say that those unfamiliar with futurism in general, concepts of trans-humanism, virtual worlds, augmented reality and of existential questions relating to the consciousness and what creates one's sense of self will have a lot to think about as they progress and glean insight. What's assured is that the twists and turns that come are likely to surprise even the more jaded and experienced gamers out there, as certain plot points are not made explicit and the nuances of some concepts are left to the player to discern. While the likes of Deus Ex or Neir: Automata have explored similar questions of what humanity becomes when it can truly understand and emulate every element of itself, previous exploration of the ideas have not been made with the implicit intent to make the plots of those games relatable to an average person living a fairly typical "partner, kid, house and a job" existence where State of Mind has. It's not a game that will force endless critical thinking from you to progress by any extent, but it's certainly one that ought to provoke some all the same if you allow yourself to question your own situation.
In contrast to the lofty goal of the narrative, the gameplay carrying things forward is a little less than exciting. State of Mind is essentially a classic adventure game presented in a 3D space, very much like Dreamfall or Telltale's narrative focused games. Click the thing, read the description, use the thing with the other thing and in no time you're moving forward with the plot. It's thoroughly standard stuff that at times suffers for maintaining the illusion of greater interactivity. Areas are generally worth a single sweep for information, but you'll be set about moving through them multiple times, very rarely with anything new to see or read. But sometimes there is something new, so you'll end up checking each time you pass, breaking the pace of the story and provoking some minor frustration when nothing new appears. A little more effort filling areas with minor characters with continuing stories would have really helped inform the world players are dropped in to and give them something more to look forward to each time they're asked to take the same trip to work they've already taken three or four times.
Alongside these elements are dialogue choices that rarely matter and conversational dead ends that are equivalent to the old RPG trope of your mother waking you up and asking "Do you want to get out of bed and go on an adventure?" endlessly until you pick "Yes" and move things forward. Were these elements either polished with more things to do in areas you're returning to, or expanded so that conversation choices have genuine relevance, the gameplay aspects of State of Mind might have had some weight, but as it is the ideas feel terribly dated and do more to highlight a lack of choice than fool the player into thinking they have agency over the plot's evolution.
State of Mind has a visual style that's intentionally low-fi, with hard angles marking the edges of the game's low polygon count models. As a result of this, human characters exist in the uncanny valley, being immediately identifiable as people but also otherworldly and implicitly inhuman. It's a style reminiscent of Killer7, Capcom's soon to be re-released PS2 and Wii cult classic, and is used to similar effect, ramping up the feeling that the world that you've found yourself peering into isn't to be taken as a mirror of reality and directly reacted to, but rather as something more akin to an interpretation that begs quiet questions. The down side of this stylistic choice is that the characters rarely have enough range of expression to match the emotion their voice acting can be full of, the result being an emotionless blank stare as a character laments their failing relationship or indulged a moment of intimacy.
Sound and voice acting are, like the other aspects of State of Mind, a mixed bag. At times the cast deliver lines with all the passion, honest sounding reaction and pace that this kind of production absolutely hangs on and needs, where in other scenes the lines can come off as stilted, read from the page or in need of a little more direction so that conversation between actors presumably recording at different times can flow naturally. Additionally, some of the sound design is grating, with ambient noises at times being too loud in the mix compared to dialogue. On scene in particular comes to mind, a potentially intimate moment between Richard and a young woman he has been maintaining an affair with is almost drowned out by the sound of a small robotic vacuum cleaner whirring away. It's the kind of thing that can and hopefully will be fixed with a patch soon after release, but unfortunately it's like this on release.
It's a shame that the gameplay State of Mind offers up is so lacking and that a lack of polish distracts from the story being told at times, because the story itself is unique, adult and absolutely begs questions that society in general needs to ask itself about the technology we allow into our lives and the results of doing so.