When a game centres around a core philosophy, there are a few things I expect. I go in with lots of questions and ideas, ready to be challenged and surprised, but also ready to leave with more questions than answers. State of Mind is exactly the type of game that promises this kind of experience. I was prepared to be challenged on transhumanism and presented with a unique take on the good and bad of being a transhumanist. Yet instead of a challenging, thought-provoking narrative, I felt like I was retreading old ground. Think of any science fiction film that pits man against technology, and that’s State of Mind in a nutshell.
The year is 2048, and technology is growing faster and faster. You play as Richard Nolan, a hard-nosed journalist living in Berlin who shuns technology. His life is turned upside down after a car accident, which causes him to lose his memories. Not only that, but his wife and son are not to be found at home. Meanwhile, in a utopian digital world known as City5, Adam Newman leads a happy life with his wife and son, but he and Richard share similarities: they both have memories of a car accident and both work as journalists. When the two get in contact, Richard realises the fate of mankind as he knows it is in the balance, and he will only find his wife and son by discovering the truth behind this.
Despite State of Mind’s lofty premise, the story never really gets going. From the slow, boring start to the dull characters and uneven pace, I felt disengaged with the core premise: whether you prefer the real world or the virtual world. This is largely down to the characters, most of whom are bland and uninspired, just like any terrible thriller or sci-fi stereotype. And because of the premise of the story, I found many of the twists to be highly predictable, which was really disappointing. I came in expecting to be challenged, but left feeling like nothing had happened. It’s not bad, per se, but it is highly forgettable.
One thing State of Mind does excel at is the smaller details of the world. With Richard, you can examine objects around you, which provides a brief description, or a date, of each object or person. This is really cool because some of these refer to later parts of the story, and others hint at what has happened in the past. One detail in particular that stuck with me was Richard’s collection of books. Examining these gives you a deeper insight into his character, revealing that his hatred of technology even extends to the objects he owns. He refuses to give up books even though the rest of the world has moved on to a more digital means of reading. Items like this are dotted around the game and get you thinking more than the actual story ever does.
Given the genre, it’s unsurprising that there are a lot of choices to make throughout the game. Daedalic Entertainment has been pretty adamant about keeping the game’s narrative linear, avoiding branching paths, but many of the dialogue choices are restrictive and barely alter the conversations characters have with each other. I replayed a few of these sections to see whether choosing option A or B would change how I had to approach the next section, but in some instances, only one world would change. Meaningful choices should be achievable in a non-branching story, but there are very few instances in State of Mind where you are genuinely rewarded for making a different decision.
The game’s most distinct feature is its character models. The studio has adopted a low-poly style to reflect the character’s “state of mind” if you will, shattered due to personal circumstances but also fractured between the real and virtual worlds. I personally like the jagged style, and it makes me feel nostalgic for those blocky PlayStation graphics, but these models are far more detailed and have distinct facial features. Sometimes this style doesn’t work well in cutscenes, especially when the camera zooms in on a particular character, and the designs won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I think it works as a simple yet effective metaphor for the game’s core premise. It helps to give the characters more personality, and when accompanied by some extremely solid voice acting, it really brings some moments to life which would otherwise be disappointing due to the lacklustre story.
It’s perhaps a little cruel of me to compare State of Mind to Blade Runner, which itself deals with questions about what is and isn’t human, but visually I think Daedalic Entertainment have taken clear inspiration from Ridley Scott’s classic. The futuristic, dimly lit but bustling Berlin is a clear mirror image of 2019 Los Angeles. Everything from the crowded slums to the gloomy alleyways and even the lighting, while less blue, is distinctly moody and really sets off the atmosphere. The grim-looking Berlin contrasts beautifully with the light, bright City5, which looks like what you’d expect from a digital Eden. Everything is pure and clear, and the lighting is much softer and gentler.
Getting around Berlin and City5 can be something of a pain. State of Mind’s controls feel incredibly clunky yet floaty. Moving characters around sofas, cars and even lampshades can take some serious getting used to, and Richard often gets stuck on the corner of a wall or even another character’s arm. If you move too close to whatever you want to examine, you won’t be able to interact with it, and with the slight input delay while moving your character, this happens all too often. The item you want to see has to be in plain, full sight, and that can take a few tries sometimes.
These finicky controls also pop up in various minigames. While it’s largely story-driven, State of Mind has a few forced instances where you have to hack into doors or control a drone. The hacking segments are largely okay, if a little simple, but its the drone sections that are a particular bugbear. Navigating anything through a narrow corridor is irritating enough as it is, but with the drone feeling particularly floaty, things can get very frustrating very quickly. Luckily, sections like this are few and far between, but I don’t think they add anything to the game. I’d rather have Daedalic stick to a solely story-based approach than attempt to get the player involved through these menial tasks.
State of Mind feels like a passion project that has all of the best intentions but doesn’t quite meet them. There are a few brief flashes where the game feels like it’s going to pick up, but for me, the plot has blurred into every other sci-fi film that focuses on the transience of human life, or the plight of man against robot. It’s a visual treat, but underneath that style, State of Mind is lifeless, too wrapped up in its own ideas to even try and push the boundaries of the genre. I wanted to come away from the game with questions, but instead I came away feeling almost nothing.