Date: September 27, 2021
In Sound Mind is a first-person psychological horror game that takes place exclusively in your own mind.
You play as Desmond Wales, a therapist that finds himself trapped in an unfamiliar building, with no recollection of how he got there in the first place. The very people that you tried to help have been dying one after the other, and now you are the one losing your mind. The only way to save yourself and figure out what’s going on is to
investigate what happened to your patients by going through recordings of your sessions that will take you through their struggles and their last moments. While trying to make sense of what’s going on, you will be haunted by a mysterious stranger, who makes sure to torment you every step of the way with creepy phone calls and notes.
Every time you find a new tape, you will be able to visit a new world centered around one of your patients: a world filled with their fears, their struggles, and their nightmares. As if being trapped in a building with a creepy trench coat wearing stranger wasn’t scary enough, you will be transported to faraway places filled with your patient’s torments, and enemies determined to hunt you down. An eerie ambience, strange places and oddly shaped creatures, add up to a psychedelic experience.
This being a horror game, you will find familiar mechanics such as a flashlight that needs a steady supply of batteries, shifting hallways designed to disorient you, and sneaking past oddly shaped monsters. Jump scares however are few, and the game relies instead on creepy sounds and visuals to invoke a sense of dread. The movement is somewhat refreshing compared to games like Resident Evil 7, with your character being able to jump, sprint and crouch, so the game doesn’t rely on slow movement to make you feel helpless. Throughout the game, you will be steadily introduced to new mechanics with each patient’s mind that you visit, and up until the end you will have to use all of the tools at your disposal to solve various puzzles.
The game does a good job of slowly introducing new ways to solve problems, so while you don’t feel overwhelmed by different mechanics, you also don’t really get bored of solving puzzles, which are a core part of the gameplay. With movement being unconstrained, the platforming sections never feel frustrating, and clues are scattered throughout the levels to prevent you from getting stuck. It all adds up to make the exploration part of the game feel smooth and interesting, and never veer into tedium.
Before venturing to a new world, you will have the chance to learn a bit about the patient by traversing a pathway with audio recordings of your past sessions with them. Notes, journals, and vinyl records for each of the characters, with music by The Living Tombstone, all contribute to fleshing out their character development. While a lot of those are optional, they are interesting enough to make exploration feel rewarding, and add something valuable to the experience.
Despite all this, some characters end up feeling one-dimensional and uninteresting. It’s hard to relate to or feel sympathy towards someone whose whole personality seems to be “angry truckdriver”. Desmond Wales also suffers from a similar issue. For the majority of the game, you are drip-fed smalls bit of information about the protagonist, and it’s not until the later parts of the game that you begin to piece together his story — and the payoff for this drawn out character development isn’t really worth the wait either.
The game’s tension and horror aspects also receive an uneven treatment. In the first quarter of the game the atmosphere is genuinely unsettling and frightening, and the small bits of humour help give you a moment of reprieve.
However, when the game introduces combat into the mix, you are able to take down most enemies with just a shard of glass. This problem only gets worse once you get an actual gun: not only does it serve to completely rid you of any feelings of helplessness and dread, it also makes sneaking completely obsolete. The combat itself is fine, enemies have weak points, and you can dodge their attacks by moving around. The problem is that you stop being afraid, and the world just doesn’t feel threatening anymore. Now, while you’re going through enemies like you go through one ply toilet paper, the trench coat wearing creep turns into a prankster that you mostly ignore.
Surprisingly, combat doesn’t really affect any of the bosses very much. While they’re supposed to be an important part of the game, most of the time they end up feeling like a walking talking puzzle more than an actual boss. Instead of being a considerable threat, they just end up being an annoyance that gets in the way of you solving your puzzles.
Staying immersed in this world also proves to be a challenge. Fairly quickly, it becomes apparent that every level is structured in the same manner. You find a tape, which leads to a new level, which introduces a new mechanic to the game. You then avoid the boss while doing puzzles, and you eventually defeat the boss through the use of those mechanics. It ends up feeling like you’re playing a game instead of being immersed into its world. This is further exacerbated by the fact that the apartment building is just a hub that connects to other levels, and very much feels like one. All these things, paired with the fact that the pacing is predictable, add up to a very game-y feeling.
The story however stays consistent throughout the game. Every patient’s story that you discover adds more information to the overarching narrative. Every time you get an answer, you get even more questions about what’s going on, and it genuinely felt interesting to go through the story and reach the conclusion. While the enemies aren’t threatening, and the game doesn’t manage to be a horror game from start to finish, the psychedelic feeling of the game and story behind Desmond’s descent into madness were intriguing from start to finish.
In the end, In Sound Mind wants to be a psychological horror game but the horror part is barely present. While the game starts strong and makes you feel like you’re part of a frightening, dangerous world, you quickly realize that there is nothing that a shard of glass and a gun can’t solve.