Recent years have seen plenty of games put the emphasis on personal, well-written stories for both old and new IP's. There is even a good market for games where the story is front and center, falling into the domain of pure interactive storytelling with minimal gameplay. Think choose-your-own-adventure books but with more of an audio-visual experience to go along with it. State of Mind from Daedalic games falls into this domain. The developer is well known for their creative, high-quality games that usually have unique visuals that make some of their games instantly recognizable.
State of Mind is no different in the sense that it's a visually unique story-driven game but is there enough beside the interesting premise and appealing graphics under the hood to keep you playing? Let's break it down.
State of Mind is available for purchase on Steam.
State of Mind is a story-driven adventure game set in the fascinating near-future version of Berlin. You play as Richard Nolan, a morally complex, flawed character you'll actually have a hard time loving. Richard is a journalist defined by his skeptic and hostile attitude toward technology, bots especially. The game opens up with you being in a car accident and subsequently waking up in a hospital.
It's here that you already notice something is amiss with the strange behavior of your attending physician. You are sent home to your wife and son and when they are nowhere to be found, you set off in search of them. While the initial premise seems simple, the rabbit hole runs much deeper than that. In the pursuit of his family, Richard gets involved with an organization called Breakpoint that has uncovered that people are being uploaded to a seemingly perfect virtual world called City 5. It's there that the rich make their escape from the declining state of the world and further expand the ever-growing wedge between the rich and the poor.
City 5 is where a second playable character comes into play in the form of Adam Newman, Richard's alter ego of sorts and he is as different from Richard as the City 5 is different from Berlin. His quest involves gaining knowledge of the other world as its existence is sprung on him early in the game. This dynamic of having two alter egos discovering all the layers of the mystery behind their existence is at the core of State of Mind. There are a few more playable characters that serve to further deepen the story, create emotional connections and provide a look from a different perspective.
The game doesn't shy away from asking some tough philosophical questions along the way. Questions of what defines a human being and what it means going too far with the usage of technology. Intertwined with that are also your run-of-the-mill conspiracies, "technology is useful only to the rich", corporations running the show, surveillance, and AI consciousness. The standard tropes of any number of sci-fi dystopian world we know and love.
The story largely plays out like a sci-fi thriller movie with cutscenes perfectly emulating the medium to great effect. This great cinematic experience is not without its problems, however. Later parts of the game are where the story loses its focus as it throws all the mentioned genre tropes at you at once in a way seen a hundred times over, even falling into cliche territory. While the main story is completely resolved by the time you hit credits with obvious room for a sequel, some of the side stuff doesn't have any payoff or is completely ignored. The story would have benefited much more if the story didn't introduce all these elements and was kept a bit closer to the chest in terms of emotional investment.
Despite these shortcomings, I very much enjoyed the main story and the characters. The world that the Daedalic built here is a solid foundation I'd love to further explore in future games.
When it comes to gameplay and what you actually do in the game – that part is completely subservient to the story. Much like any Telltale game, you'll control your character in an area in which you'll be able to interact with different marked objects and NPC's. The objects will provide you with information about the places you're in and people who inhabit them. Similarly, important NPC's will be clearly marked and you'll be able to initiate conversations with them that will either give you more information or drive the story forward.
The way it moves forward will, of course, depend on your chosen dialogue options which will be based on interpretation of the information you gathered and previous in-game experiences. It's a segment that's excellently done and even when the story derails a bit, the conversations still feel meaningful and are interesting to follow.
All the walking and talking is occasionally broken up by the inclusion of mini-games and puzzles. These come in a few varieties and are extremely simple but do a good job of breaking up the narrative and providing you with a bit more to actually do. If you came here looking for any sort of action, even quick-time action lite from the likes of Telltale Batman – look elsewhere as State of Mind features none. Its entire focus is on the storytelling and the look and feel of the world. Luckily, the game gets that right.
VISUALS AND AUDIO
Seeing a screenshot from State of Mind means being instantly interested. It's a game that features a unique, low-poly, angular visuals that are a perfect fit for the world the developer created. While the buildings and interiors are crisp and clean, the characters feature a bit more polygons to make them look more natural and detailed as well as to distinguish them from the environments.
The dualism of the protagonists is also expertly translated to the visuals of the worlds they inhabit. The dystopian-looking Berlin is a neon-lit place where it seems dark and rain are a constant. News reports talk about terrorist attacks and weapons of mass destruction threats making it a generally gloomy place. In stark contrast, City 5 is a brightly lit, futuristic looking utopia. Technology is booming, people are generally more handsome, happier and more intelligent. The mood set by both worlds is superb but I must admit that I had a more enjoyable time in the City 5 segments. Similar to the Matrix, you just can't wait to enter it and escape the often ugly reality.
When it comes to the characters themselves as well as how they are voiced – I found it to be a hit and miss. While voicework is generally good, especially for the main characters – the flow of conversations and the delivery of some lines often felt strange. While many games that feature conversations with dialogue trees have the "unnatural pause" in-between player choice, it's a bit more in-your-face in State of Mind. Every dialogue option can feel like it's a part of a tonally completely different conversation and they don't blend well.
Also, one problem that arises from the game's low-poly visuals is the lack of emotional expressiveness from the characters. This made moments that were supposed to be highly dramatic or emotional fall a bit flat or even seem funny and that was a strange vibe to get from a serious, story-driven game.
The music, on the other hand, is truly sublime. It's where the game packs both a serious emotional punch and perfectly complements the visual aesthetics of both dystopian Berlin and the utopian City 5. Only the main menu music is really in your face while other tracks are often minimal, more subtle and appropriately assigned to gameplay and cutscenes.
State of Mind starts off really strong. The story, the characters, and the overarching mystery are set up in a way that you really want to find out more. This is greatly helped by some great music and voice acting as well as the visuals aesthetic and the mood of the game-world. Unfortunately, as you near its end you realize that some of the revelations fall flat due to the game falling back on established genre tropes and cliche story beats that aren't helped by the lack of character emotional expressiveness and tonally strange conversations with some wooden delivery. Despite the minimal gameplay, sci-fi fans will have plenty to dig into here but the rest should think twice about taking the red pill.
|+ Great visuals||– Too many genre tropes|
|+ Highly atmospheric music and solid voice acting||– Lack of emotional impact|
|+ Story set-up and the mystery||– Very minimal gameplay|