Review: State of Mind (PS4)

I wrote about State of Mind a few months back, after I named it one of my top picks from EGX Rezzed. I was impressed by the distinctive low-poly graphics and the intriguing plot, whereby citizens are being involuntarily uploaded into a virtual world. But now having finished the game, I’m sad to say I’m disappointed.

State of Mind is set in a cyberpunk-style Berlin in the year 2048, which is rife with terrorism, inequality and dealers selling illegal hi-tech software, all ruled over by a scary robot police force. Journalist Richard Nolan returns to his Berlin apartment after a car accident, only to discover his wife and child are missing, while a robot butler has mysteriously appeared in his home. Meanwhile, Adam Newman has experienced an eerily similar accident, only he lives in the pristine City5, an apparent utopia, and his wife and child are still present in an apartment that echoes Richard’s own one.

It’s an intriguing set up, and the demo I played back in April showed lots of promise as I switched between protagonists to solve puzzles like mixing chemicals and manoeuvring drones in a section that involved infiltrating a shadowy laboratory. But it turns out that the demo was in no way representative of the main game, in which puzzles are exceedingly rare. And when they do show up, they’re incredibly simple, barely worth calling puzzles at all. In fact, the game mostly involves walking to the sole point of interest, pressing X, then watching a cut scene. Repeat ad nauseum.

State of Mind immediately reminded me of Heavy Rain in the way that you play a father looking for a lost son, but also because you start the game pottering around a house just idly tinkering with stuff, like flicking on stereos and playing the piano. This kind of low-key domestic interaction was novel in 2010, but now it just comes across as filler. Indeed, throughout State of Mind, examining objects is generally a complete waste of time. I recently lauded the point and click game Unforeseen Incidents for the way it made clicking on objects a joy – your reward would be an amusing comment from protagonist Harper Pendrell, even if the object itself was of little use. In State of Mind, examining anything is an exercise in disappointment. Your ‘reward’ is often a single line of text that drily informs you what the object is. I usually ended up regretting having walked over to the thing in question in the first place, and quickly learned to only bother with anything that had an ‘X to interact’ label in addition to ‘Square to examine’ to save further annoyance.

These dull descriptions feel like a missed opportunity in terms of lore building. The world of State of Mind is fascinating, but the game does little to capitalise on this or develop it. I had loads of questions about the game world, like how robots ended up replacing the police, but very few answers. The various people you meet enter and exit the story with little fanfare, and are quickly forgotten about. And there’s frustratingly little character development – I had no real idea why the game’s antagonist was building a VR city, and we barely hear anything from Richard’s wife, a key player in the story.

The game is incredibly linear, too. Unlike, say, Heavy Rain with its multiple endings, you have zero influence on how the story plays out, save for two binary choices at the very end. And because the puzzles are so sparse and simple, the burden is entirely placed on the narrative to give you a reason to keep playing. Unfortunately, although the game goes to some interesting places, many of the revelations are so heavily telegraphed that they fall flat when finally revealed. In between, there are several dull patches of busywork where little happens.

In essence, State of Mind is a walking simulator in the same vein as Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, only with a light dusting of puzzles on top. But whereas Rapture kept me gripped with its strange story and intriguing cut scenes, which did a fantastic job of drawing out the motives and backgrounds of each character, the plot of State of Mind isn’t quite compelling enough to hasten you to the next point of interaction, and the characters are flat by comparison. At one point, for example, [SPOILER ALERT] a character finds out that they’ve been dating an android, yet the massive implications of this are ignored, and everyone basically just carries on regardless [END SPOILER ALERT].

I still love State of Mind‘s distinctive low-poly graphics, but the game itself feels like a missed opportunity, a reasonably interesting story that’s hamstrung by poor pacing and character development, and a glaring lack of things to actually do. The developer, Daedalic Entertainment, is well known for its point and click adventures, and I can’t help but think that a few more ideas from that genre could have been applied to State of Mind – like combining items in an inventive way. The company describes State of Mind as a “futuristic thriller”, but this thriller is distinctly lacking in thrills.

State of Mind is available for Switch, PlayStation 4, PC, Mac and Xbox One. We reviewed the PS4 version.

Disclosure statement: Review code for State of Mind was provided by Renaissance PR. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.