Let me ask you a question. What if you wake up one day and find out that the world isn’t real? Will you take the blue pill and go back to sleep, or take the red one to embrace this newfound reality? Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? That’s because this trope has been overused so many times in several forms of media since 1999, that at this point it feels like an obligatory addition to begin a story. But in The Matrix, the ‘digital’ world was set in the late ’90s, rife with low wages, filthy apartments and Y2k. But what if you’re living in a distant future where poverty and illness seem like they perished along with the dinosaurs? A digital utopia so immaculate and glistening that you can’t distinguish dreams from reality. What would be your… State of Mind then? Would you still take the red pill?
State of Mind- The Good Parts
Drawing influences from narrative-intensive games like Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human, Daedalic Entertainment‘s cyberpunk thriller, State of Mind, dabbles in subjects like transhumanism, corporatocracy, sentient AI and the likes. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It further makes us question as how much life is there in something that’s artificial but can think for itself. Is a code, a milligram of silicon residing in a virtual city in the avatar of a man, really alive? True these ideas have been explored countless times before in games like Deus Ex and Shadowrun, but very few of them address the issues that the protagonists face on a personal scale, something which State of Mind does ingeniously well.
For starters, your primary protagonist is Richard Nolan, a Luddite and outspoken journalist who’s a Pulitzer prize winner. But even though he’s voiced by Doug Cockle (Geralt of Rivia), he’s far from your likable bastard that Geralt ever was. Residing in 2048 Berlin, a rain-soaked city pulled straight out of Blade Runner, Richard’s a pompous, hypocritical jerk who openly cheats on his supermodel wife with a young cyber-sex worker from New York. Everyone, from his colleagues to his wife’s best friend, know of his strained marriage. And even the woman with whom he has affair calls him a hypocrite for saying “I love you” to his wife in front of her.
But that doesn’t deny the fact that his home is absolutely gorgeous to look at! And the low-res polygons only enhance the effects, making up for minute details while keeping things minimalist. Furthermore, by 2048, every citizen has been equipped with an inbuilt AR that allows you to read a short description of the object or the person you’re interacting with, and Nolan’s apartment is riddled with such objects. From a box that can 3D print food to crayon paintings drawn by your 7 year old son, from your Cloudhub PC to your hologram bulletin board, the world-building in State of Mind is totally immersive. But you need to have the patience to take it all in to further understand the plot.
For example, there’s this visionary guy named Raymond Kurtz, the CEO of Kurtz Robotics which manufactures almost everything to run a metropolis. He’s planning to enable citizens to reside on Mars, and for that, they have to undergo a ‘Nanoscan’ for a ‘Marsset database’ so that their health and psyche can be better monitored by AI. Now this subplot exists only in the background, across holographic TV channels, across Neon-signboards, but if you miss it focusing only on getting from Point A to Point B, you’ll be left scratching your head when it becomes central to the plot.
But Richard’s not the only protagonist here. There’s Adam Newman, a resident of City 5 which is a far cry from the bleak and depressing city of Berlin. Adam is the polar opposite of Richard. He’s got a loving wife and son, a well-paid job as a journalist, and disease is the last thing he recalls. If I were to describe how Adam’s apartment looks in contrast to Richard’s, I’ll be running out of words, It seems as if the devs consulted the Art Director of Deus Ex to construct the triangular architecture of City 5.
Unlike Berlin, fractal geometric patterns are the norm here. And everything is embellished in this halcyon whiteness, immaculate glass panes and holographic projections, that it will feel nothing short of a digital utopia, a matrix from which you won’t be thinking of escaping anytime soon. This coupled with a soundtrack so serene and tranquil, that you’ll be wishing to download it and play it in your room 24/7.
Speaking of OST, it’s divided into two parts – the generic tech-noir soundtracks you hear in Berlin and New York and the surrealistic, calming piano ambience you hear in City 5. This is by far the most soothing music I’ve heard in a cyberpunk game (closely followed by Mirror’s Edge OST). Top it that with an incredible voice acting that accurately portrays the gamut of emotions that the characters go through (because the low-poly textures fail to do the same). Even the dialogues are well written and based on the dialogue choices you make(yes, you can choose), the tone in which the characters speak also changes.
State of Mind- The not so good parts
You must be wondering why I said the narrative’s not really that good. That’s because despite all the underlying questions that State of Mind aims to address (like: Is a robot thinking for itself okay? Is cyber-sex using AR still intimate? Is a virtual world better than the real?), it’s still a tangled clutter for most parts. It’s like the jack of all trades, master of none. Too many ideas bundled up together but none of them resolved satisfactorily. There were moments when the pace slowed so much that I just wanted to rush through, and then there are moments when so many things were thrown at my face that I had to use a notebook to connect them.
In essence, despite its twists, the plot goes like a sinusoidal wave – alternate highs and lows. Choices are mere illusions, too much of loose ends, and the ending is quite blandly projected.
As for the gameplay, its basically a walking-sim with mild puzzles like hacking doors and cameras, controlling drones to scan people, eavesdrop or move objects; turning a cablecar, and my personal favorite, piecing together clues from various news clippings and online articles to gather the required information. These instances are spaced wide enough to keep you engrossed in the core gameplay i.e. exploring and gathering information.
Since there are no objective markers, you have to interact with each and everything hoping that it guides you to the next objective. This goes without saying that for most parts, you’ll be wandering in an area looking to interact with the right object (a curse which most walking-sim fall prey to). And worsening the immersion is the terrible character movement (god save your soul if you’re using a controller). The characters move like a goddamn tank; if you want to turn them, they do that in a circle. This is particularly annoying when you are walking through narrow corridors and then want to backtrack. The movement controls are by far the worst aspect of this game. It’s like these games never came out of the late 90s when it comes to the controls.
So why recommend this?
Because the pros (artstyle, voice acting, themes, OST) outweigh the drawbacks in story and gameplay. Because State of Mind is more than just its surafce-level plot. It’s about the moral dilemmas that the characters face in a dystopian society. It’s about the ethical question that distinguishes a man from a machine, Its about the existential crisis when you realize you were never alive in the first place. Even though the plot doesn’t answer these (just like Remedy’s Control), at least it makes you think, which very games do in this era of linear storytelling.
State of Mind might not appeal to everyone. But if you’re lore junkie, then the noob absolutely recommend this.