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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

[Review] ‘In Sound Mind’ Takes You On a Surreal Trip Through Tortured Memories

While In Sound Mind trades in some familiar horror beats, it manages to find its own groove.

Developer We Create Stuff previously sharpened its horror teeth on the popular Half-Life 2 mod Nightmare House 2, and there’s some obvious heritage from that title bleeding through to In Sound Mind, but here it feels a lot more like a developer trying to expand on what it knows with an increasingly surreal voyage through a troubled psyche in order to solve a greater mystery.

The game’s plot sees you as Desmond Wales, a psychologist investigating the deaths of his patients from the town of Milton Haven, who had all been exposed to a mysterious chemical. This search for answers isn’t keen to stay in the realms of reality for long, however, and things begin to get weird as the documented memories of the patients begin to seep into Desmond’s world, offering up a variety of nightmarish scenarios for him to contend with as he seeks to discover the truth behind their collective demise.

Desmond’s mind isn’t in the best of ways thanks to the invasive, manipulative presence of Agent Rainbow, a fedora-wearing red-eyed ghoul that’s out to permanently take residence in Desmond’s brain, Rainbow loves to toy with his host, being both a help and a hindrance to the investigations. 

Desmond’s troubled brain causes each patient’s tape to transport his psyche to a hellscape that is shaped by that victim’s personal trauma. The world twists and contorts the vague outlines of places once remembered, giving thematic clues as to what went on in these people’s lives, and births monsters specific to them as well.

The cycle for each tape follows the same broad patterns of investigation, monster-avoidance, and puzzle-solving, but We Create Stuff ensures that any repetition is chopped up, mixed up, and seasoned differently each time. It may not seem like much, but I’ve played too many first-person horror games that keep their formula largely one-note throughout. In Sound Mind’s gentle switching up of such things makes for a more engaging experience. The puzzles especially benefit from constant chopping and changing of styles, and tend to be the right level of challenge as well.

It certainly helps that each tape location feels distinct from the last visually. From dreary hallways in a dilapidated building to the oversaturated glow of a memory of a Beach town, In Sound Mind utilizes its concept to create something of a tightly connected anthology where the central thread of Milton Haven’s unusual plight is strengthened by its individual tales of ordinary people and their troubles.

A good soundtrack goes a long way in my book to sweetening me on a game, and this is a game that delivers in that department thanks to The Living Tombstone, who found fame on YouTube with songs about the likes of Five Nights at Freddy’s.  Tasked with creating the soundtrack here, he sets the bar high with a crunchy melodic rock theme song in ‘Here Comes a Saviour’ and never drops below that with instrumentals and vocal collaborations alike. I enjoyed the game anyway, but I can’t deny the soundtrack had a big helping hand in my feelings about it.

The way each patient manifests in their world is another fascinating aspect. These ‘shadows’ bring each patient’s trauma to life as boss fights. The first, for instance, is a former beauty pageant contestant horribly scarred by a tragic accident as a child. As such her shame and anxiety shapes her shadow ‘The Watcher’, an ethereal gorgon. Another patient’s anger issues create a grim biomechanical creature called ‘The Bull’ that dwarves Desmond. My favorite though is a former soldier’s shadow. A radioman during a war, he endured a nightmarish tour after being exposed to a drug on the battlefield that caused him to see unbelievable things. He came back looking for answers, and ended up dead like the rest. The shadow is a gangly humanoid mess of metal, radio parts, and a sniper rifle for a head, that stalks the forests of Milton Haven. It’s perhaps the most intense and visually stimulating encounter of all.

Unearthing the conspiracy behind the mysterious drug and how it impacted these lives is genuinely compelling. It doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises, but has all the hallmarks of a satisfying potboiler with a visually interesting supernatural twist. The mashing together of Desmond’s obsession with caring for his patients with an increasingly doom-laden fate of his own mind drives the story on, ensuring there’s an emotional core to the spookiness that manages to avoid getting too mawkish.

In Sound Mind naturally suffers a touch when it leans into tropes that have been bludgeoned to death in this genre of games many times over, but that leaning is often done with purpose and care rather than used as a crutch. There’s nothing wrong with utilizing tropes when they’re applied with flair, invention, and proper structure behind them. We Create Stuff does just that with In Sound Mind, and as a result, pushes the game up above a sea of similar stories to create something more memorable.

In Sound Mind manages to be a confident full debut for We Create Stuff that shows its successful time experimenting with the Source engine was of great benefit.

In Sound Mind review code for Xbox Series X/S provided by the publisher.

In Sound Mind is out now on PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PC, and Nintendo Switch.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/video-games/3684756/review-sound-mind-takes-surreal-trip-tortured-memories/

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