If you could play an Aldous Huxley novel, Daedalic Entertainment's State of Mind would be it. The game is thought-provoking and leaves you contemplating its messages and themes way after it's over, and while we don't want this to be a love letter or a spoiler-fest, it's worth reiterating that every time you turn it off, you're left thinking.
State of Mind looks at the utopian and the dystopian and discusses trans-humanism. It all sounds a bit pretentious when written down like this, but the story and themes discussed are incredibly deep and pulled off through a well-crafted story and great voiceovers. We see the breakdown of a relationship which brings up the themes of jealousy, abandonment, and separation through this narrative, adding a little bit more food for thought.
In short, the aim is to find out what happened to the main character's family; to piece together what happened before and after a car crash in a world where terrorists are trying to stop the influx of machines. We've already said too much though, so we won't bang on too much about the story.
When we first got this to review, it was difficult to put a handle on exactly what this game is. From the get-go it reminded us of films like Blade Runner and I, Robot, and the world it builds is dark and deep in lore and history. You're immediately embroiled in a conspiracy that will drive you crazy with questions you want to ask, in which you fill the shoes of Richard Nolan, a journalist who helps you unpeel the layers of this world.
Somewhat embittered and angered by the dystopian Berlin he lives in, he has been involved in a car crash and resolves to put his life back together. His home life is a wreck, and we're immediately dragged into his failing marriage, wondering where his wife and kid are. Along with a less than stellar career, this is an angry journo who won a Pulitzer prize long ago in the past that defined his career.
This is in stark contrast to another character, Adam, who was also in a taxi crash and survived. While Nolan is the most prevalent of the playable characters, there are others you take control of too, but again we don't want to say too much. It would be very easy for this review to tell you everything about the twists and turns of this story, but needless say it is gripping.
What we can say though is that it compares our reality with the truth. Looking at a contrast between the utopian virtual world and the dystopia of reality is not novel or new, but the way this game does it feels unique. Building realistic worlds and people is difficult, but somehow Daedalic Entertainment has managed to pull it off.
The grumpiness of Richard towards robots is understandable and contrasts with Adam in a major way. In fact, their interaction with each other and the world around them is engaging and entertaining, and the look of this world is equally impressive. Backgrounds look stunning, while the characters themselves are polygon-based. You'd imagine that the look of the characters would detract from the experience, but nothing could be further from the truth. The graphics suit the game perfectly, and it feels like anything else would have never worked as well.
All of this directed from a third-person perspective, and the camera angles work well. The voice acting and sound of the game really build the ambience too, and in fact, it's like playing a film. We could probably say that it has something of Deus Ex about it but without the action.
You spend the vast majority of the time talking with people and interacting with objects to move the narrative forward, and most things can be both interacted with and scanned for a definition of what it is. One of our few complaints come from the fact that, if you stand too close, the camera angle stops us from reading the text that pops up.
If you're looking for a highly interactive button mashing experience, however, this isn't it. State of Mind doesn't have the timed challenges of Telltale titles, nor their emphasis on dialogue choices, but instead, it's about travelling to new locations and instigating conversations.
Aside from the gripping story, there are some rather simple puzzles. There's a part where you have to blind security drones with laser lights, which we felt didn't add much to the experience, and in another scene, we had to piece together images in a 360 radius around Richard to re-create his memory. Most of the puzzles are hits rather than misses, we would say.
While the issues of separation, confusion, and angst are all examined, there are some beautifully calm moments as well, like the robot trying its best, and failing, to please Richard. Interaction with family photos and the ability to play the piano make it all the richer. The robot, for example, is introduced as a spiteful present from his wife to Nolan who clearly hates machines; the abusive relationship they have even made us feel empathy with the robot.
In conclusion, what you're looking at here is a highly developed futuristic thriller that is rich in backstory and deep in themes. It's thought-provoking and provides emotional and engaging narrative. While some of the puzzles are a little on the boring side, from start to finish we were hooked, especially since the visual style is superb too. If you're looking for something to make you think and keep you guessing along the way, check this out.