Title: In Sound Mind
Developer: We Create Stuff
Release Date: September 28, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Modus Games
Genre: Survival Horror
Have you ever seen something out of the corner of your eye, but nothing was there? Maybe it’s always there and just barely out of sight, and no matter where you look, you swear that you still see it. Dread inching its way through your veins, slow but steady, until you finally break into a run. You are desperately trying to get away from the being. Today, we have a survival horror title that attempts to recreate that feeling in the We Create Stuff-developed In Sound Mind.
Desmond Wales, a therapist, has been trapped in what appears to be his apartment building. Although something is wrong, he feels like he is being watched, and it isn’t long until he sees a mysterious entity that torments him. While exploring his surroundings, Desmond discovers that his patients’ homes are in his apartment building, existing in taped sessions between himself and a patient. Now he must dive into the tattered psyches of his former clients. All while attempting to figure out what they had in common, besides himself.
The premise of In Sound Mind reveals itself gradually, only sharing enough through his recordings and hints about each person that Desmond treated. For example, Virginia, the first tape that players tackle, is littered with mirrors, exploring her personal trauma and eventual resolution. Each story is self-contained as each character had no interactions with the other, leading Desmond to question whether or not he is the cause.
Even though the tapes seemingly have nothing to do with the other, each story pulled me in, and by the end, I felt connected to the characters and this supernatural world. Their issues are relatable while showing how unhinged they are, which is a hard line to walk without forcing exposition down players’ throats. Instead, expertly threading the victim’s account so that everything feels cohesive by the end and draws players in naturally.
However, there is a formula followed that’s easy to notice once the second recording has begun. This formula keeps the narrative structure that neatly bookends each story and rewards players with a definitive conclusion for each tale. I would have appreciated slight variations of the formula to differentiate the stories further. This is a minor complaint but adding that little extra variety helps to up engagement. Despite the formulaic format, I was enthralled by my time spent on every session.
Similarly, the gameplay only introduces minor variations as players fumble through each session. For starters, combat needs to be avoided, as resources are scarce. However, by the time I obtained firearms, I rushed into the action, barely worrying about resources and obliterating every shadow that wandered in my direction. Even when I found myself running low on ammo, it didn’t deter me, as there was always a nearby pile of bullets that I had left behind just in case.
Enemies only have three variations: a melee, a sniper, and a berzerker type, each only differentiated by their size and hit points. Headshots are the best way to dispatch foes so long as players keep cool and stay accurate. Accuracy rewards players by saving ammunition, and with so much being given, there isn’t a need to stealth by anything besides the bosses. I feel like this could have been balanced out by either reducing the amount of ammo found as the player’s accuracy goes up or have repercussions for using weapons.
The boss encounters at the end of each stage is unique and challenging, which overcomes the shortcomings of the normal enemies. Each needs to be dispatched by exploiting their psychoses, using unique items you obtain earlier in the level. These encounters add plenty of thrills. Each time I faced one, I was forced to choose either to fight or avoid them altogether. Removing the average shadows and forcing you to interact with each entity more would have added more tension.
This doesn’t mean that tension is in short supply, though. I frequently looked around, ensuring I wasn’t being followed by something that I swore I heard. Usually, I would be rewarded with nothing but empty air, but occasionally, the Spook that follows Desmond around would be there smiling at me. He doesn’t hurt the player, nor does he even scream. Instead, he only looks at you and then disappears.
The Spook appears randomly as you explore around without alerting you until you spot him. There are times that I would only catch a glimpse of him from the corner of the screen, forcing me to wildly swing my camera in his direction, only for him to be gone. Nevertheless, these scares are effective, even if they don’t offer the player any negative repercussions.
Having the Spook follow players creates an atmosphere that encourages the player to always be on their toes. This paranoia is only enhanced by the sound design that ensures players will hear their foes before laying eyes on them, where players have to ask themselves. “Where did that come from?”
In Sound Mind excels at its atmosphere and characterization of Desmond and the delusions of his patients. Combat can feel a little lackluster, and the story structure is formulaic. However, there is a love of horror on display found in the environments and core design of the experience.
This post may contain Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate Noisy Pixel earns from qualifying purchases.