State of Mind presents a vision of 2048 that feels equal parts neat and unsettling. Robots dominate society, acting as household servants and even make up a fully autonomous police force. Citizens have augmented reality implants that display basic information for every person they come into contact with. Virtual reality has evolved into fully immersive worlds that many people prefer to spend their entire lives within. Technology can be wonderful, but should it advance at the expense of our humanity? State of Mind presents meaningful transhumanistic questions, but the delivery leaves much to be desired.
Daedalic Entertainment’s narrative adventure has much in common with Life is Strange in terms of its third-person design. The meat of the experience involves exploring compact hub areas and interacting with characters, with additional elements sprinkled on top. These include puzzle-solving, stealth sequences, and even light shooting segments.
The plot centers on technophobic journalist Richard Nolan. His life gets flipped on its head when he’s involved in a near-fatal car accident. As he gradually picks up the pieces, he realizes his accident may have been anything but. Worse, his family has also gone missing. In his search for answers he uncovers a conspiracy revolving around a secret virtual world. Despite his reservations with tech, Nolan must cooperate with forces in both realities, including a digital copy of himself, to rescue his family and squash a grander scheme.
Nolan’s overwhelming unlikability holds back the story in a big way. Granted, much of this is by design. He’s tangled in an affair despite being married with a kid. His paranoia, both tech-related and personal, causes him to regularly fly off the handle, often irrationally. Nolan’s glaring flaws play into one of the game’s themes: escapism. Many characters turn to the virtual world to escape real world pain or imperfection. Richard has every reason to do the same, but he detests the idea of an artificial existence. That’s fine, but Nolan’s sheer abrasiveness made it nigh impossible to get behind him as a
sympathetic character–something State of Mind clearly tries to accomplish.
Nolan and the most of the cast suffer from cheesy, wooden performances that often rob serious moments of their emotional weight. A character death, for instance, doesn’t hit nearly as hard because of the rough acting. The story periodically drops players into the shoes of other supporting characters. Some tales land better than others–the story of a robot gaining freewill feels uninspired. However, these scenarios do a solid job of providing backstory and tying together different plot threads. Experiencing the troubled life of Nolan’s mistress Lydia became my favorite tale. She has easily the most fascinating history as well as the most genuine performance.
Even though it features player choice, State of Mind tells a largely linear plot. Most choices lead to minor changes in tone, like choosing to respond angrily or passively. The only decision of significance comes at the flat conclusion. Those hoping to see branching paths for everything they do will be disappointed, but I personally didn’t mind the more focused approach.
What did bother me was how the hokey, somewhat pretentious writing got in the way of State of Mind’s otherwise intriguing themes of transhumanism. The game sometimes feels like it tries too hard to be profound and can get up its own butt with its philosophy. State of Mind clicks best when those themes simply prop up the relatable human drama; an estranged father attempting to rebuild his family, for example.
Other scenes feel outright dumb. In one unintentionally hilarious moment, I met a character infiltrating the virtual world undercover. He reiterated his need for secrecy, then immediately denounced the beliefs of the society he’s supposed to blending in with by making a loud scene in public. Well-worn archetypes (e.g. the messiah with a god complex, the self-righteous hacktivist) could have been stronger if they were written with more subtly. They can be over-the-top to the point being cartoonish and are painfully one-dimensional.
In terms of presentation, the sharp, polygonal art direction gives State of Mind a cool style. I especially love the slick camera framing that adds to the cinematic feel. Unfortunately, scenes that abruptly switch to the loading screen and occasionally wonky angles (such as from within a character model) mar the production values.
State of Mind’s gameplay can be hit and miss, as well, but I admire its variety. More involved mechanics include using a drone to navigate a maze of ventilation shafts while avoiding rogue bots. Sifting through notes to find correlating intel offers cerebral fun akin to a classic adventure title. An interactive art exhibit allowed me to manipulate music and visual effects for no real purpose but was neat diversion nonetheless. Best of all, only a few mechanics repeat themselves.
Recurring activities are simplistic but mostly inoffensive. For example, piecing together jumbled AR scenes like a virtual puzzle. Others, such as a hacking mini-game, feel too easy. Players must position the analog sticks in the right spot but exacts solutions worked repeatedly, sometimes even consecutively.
State of Mind presents interesting ideas wrapped around solid gameplay and a good look. However, the questionable writing and performances bring everything down. It has some bright spots, but State of Mind ultimately boils down to an ambitious yet average sci-fi thriller.
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