Psychology’s my trade. I love the increasing mechanics built around mental health, therapy, and what it really means to be “well” in today’s society. Games have grown in sophistication of themes, using metaphors and fictional universes to drive home points about the greys of morality. I also can’t get enough of dystopian futures. Mind Scanners is all about psychotherapy in a dystopian society with stylish, unique visuals. What’s not to love?
You are a humble servant who lives in a walled-off city known as The Structure led by The Constructor. Your daughter has been kidnapped. Are you a bad enough therapist to save your daughter? Beginning your new career as a mind scanner, you quickly learn how to use a device to diagnose and treat those The Structure tells you may be psychologically ill. You spend day after day waking up from nightmares about your daughter and treating people just to go back to bed and do it all over again.
This applies to you, not just the character you play. Every day is the same, and that’s the huge pitfall of Mind Scanners. The world appears fascinating, with each location boasting a modest description to try and create a living, breathing world with a unique culture. The visuals and light audio match the authentic vibes the game attempts to establish, but a bit of heart is lacking in this four-hour grind.
When players work with each patient, a brief description of who the person is and was couples the portrait. With only 200 “time” in the day, traveling and treating patients becomes a task of organization and efficiency, which is fine. When meeting the prospective patient, a brief dialogue occurs and then players can diagnose the person as Insane or Sane. The diagnostic process involves a bit of a Rorschach-esque examination in which they interpret inkblot images. Once the person makes their interpretation, players select one of three evaluative statements. If the statement is accurate, a step towards completion is earned out of three; if incorrect, a loss of ten time occurs and a step is taken away. Following the evaluation, players get to decide if the person is Insane or Sane. The game clearly wants the player to think about what it means to be “sane” or “insane,” and in-game consequences occur if the developers think the designation is accurate or not.
If the client is sane, the examination ends and players can use the rest of the day as they see fit. Alternatively, if the client is insane, then the real meat of the game takes place, in which players have to use a variety of machines (minigames) to destroy the insanity markers in a list of twenty or so while also managing stress levels and depletion of the person’s personality (if you want). Once cured, players earn a lump sum of credit that keeps the game going. The client makes some comments, and depending on personality levels and whatnot, additional dialogue or rewards take place the following day.
The real problem with Mind Scanners occurs with the minigames. I could accept the repetition of this loop if the minigames had some spice, but they become a chore pretty quickly. Pulling levers, doing a Morse Code game, finding positive or negative words in a word search, and so on are fun at first, but after doing these tasks over and over, I quickly felt as if I was actually working, except I wasn’t getting paid!
Part of the reward for a job well done is the additional dialogue and branching decisions that occur every so often. Mind Scanners boasts multiple endings depending on a player’s performance and decisions, but by the time I was done with it, I definitely had had enough. Worst of all, while the themes and setting are exactly my bag, I found the writing so terribly predictable and shallow that I just didn’t care about anyone. Not the main character, his daughter, or anyone I met. This is just a cut above a mobile game, if I’m being honest.
For dystopian enthusiasts and those who don’t mind getting lost in repetitive minigames, Mind Scanners may be a suitable distraction. I’m sure some people are going to adore everything about this title, but I simply can’t recommend it for most people. It breaks my heart, because I had been keeping an eye on Mind Scanners for a while and had high hopes. After all, I’m a psychologist who loves stories about grim futures, but the execution here just didn’t make the landing. In fact, I might even need a mind scanner myself after binging this one.