In Sound Mind is one of the most inventive games I’ve ever played.
Developed by We Create Stuff, creator of the Nightmare House 2 mod for Half-Life 2 that’s been scaring people for over 10 years, In Sound Mind plunges players into a survival horror experience like no other. Though there are some clear influences here, such as Condemned and Alan Wake.
Playing as a therapist, your ordeal begins as you come to your senses in a dark room. It soon transpires that you’re in the basement of a large building. The question is, how did you end up there, and why? To get answers, your first task is getting the elevator up and running so you can further explore and maybe find a way out. But you’ll soon find out that the building itself is anything but ordinary.
On the second floor you’ll find your office, where you normally meet with your patients and discuss their problems. Yet inexplicably, across the hallway there’s a door that also leads to your house. When you gain access to the first floor of the building you’ll also discover more doors, all emanating a bright white light, that lead to the homes of a number of your patients. You’ll gain access to them one by one, and in each lies a tape cassette. Play a cassette back in your office, and you’ll find that it effectively transports you to a new environment, each closely linked to a tragedy experienced by the patient named on it.
Like horror games of yonder, puzzles lay at the heart of In Sound Mind. Simply getting out of the basement is a task, and from there In Sound Mind doesn’t let up. On the one hand it makes a refreshing change to have the noggin tested. But on the other, In Sound Mind can sometimes leave you a little too in the cold for comfort. The aggravating thing is, the answer is often staring at you right in the face, but without the usual tooltips or little nods pointing you in the right direction, considerable time can be spent running around in circles before you figure it out. Though of course, by the time you’re reading this the game will be out and all of its secrets spilled onto the worldwide web. You’ll be able to just look up the solution to the problem that’s facing you.
Many puzzles require you to make use of a simple but surprisingly useful tool – a shard from a broken mirror. Hold it up and you can see what’s behind you. In the first of your patients’ tapes, it comes in handy for fending off an apparition that doesn’t like looking at itself in the mirror. In the rest of the game, it’s useful for the fact that it weirdly makes messages hidden in the environment visible, as well as other useful objects. And since it’s sharp, it can be used to not only cut through obstacles such as tape, but can also be used to bash breakable boards and even inflict damage on your enemies.
There’s actually a surprising amount of combat to be found throughout the running time of In Sound Mind, although you can try to stealth your way past most encounters if you wish. On harder difficulties it can even become a necessity, due to the scarcity of ammo. And then there’s the fact that in some tapes there are enemies that simply can’t be killed by the usual means. There’s not much point in shooting what is essentially a living pool of ink with a pistol, for example. Instead, all you can do is run or try to deter them until you find a solution.
The combat, stealth and puzzles, all mixed up with ample lashings of horror and an engaging story that will have you wondering exactly what is going on until things start to get a little clearer, make In Sound Mind one of the most interesting and unique experiences I’ve played in a long while. It keeps you on your toes, never sure what quite to expect next. And it has a sense of humour, too. Imagine that, a game that makes you chuckle from time to time while also scaring you.
While at launch In Sound Mind was plagued with numerous issues, they’ve now mostly been cleared up by a patch. The framerate can still be inconsistent at times but it’s generally solid, while the crashes generally found in one particular section of the game have been eradicated. We Create Stuff has even taken action to help those players who were left with very low HP after an autosave – the game will now give players at least 20 HP when continuing, giving them a fighting chance of survival.
It doesn’t provide an experience that’s free of frustration or hiccups, but that doesn’t stop In Sound Mind from being one of this year’s biggest surprises – an action-horror game that delivers not only scares, but also head-scratching puzzles and plenty of engaging combat encounters, all wrapped up in a story that makes you think. With this sort of creativity, it’s exciting to see what We Create Stuff comes up with next. But until then, if you’re brave – and clever – enough, you’d be wise to throw yourself into In Sound Mind.
In Sound Mind Review – GameSpew’s Score