STAFF REVIEW of In Sound Mind (Xbox Series X)

Tuesday, October 12, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

In Sound Mind Box art I feel I need to be completely honest from the start; I wasn’t looking forward to playing In Sound Mind at first. Not because of any fault of the devs or game itself, but I’m simply not good at handling scary horror games. Oddly enough, scary movies don’t phase me at all, nor does gore, but when it’s in game form I turn softer than a newborn kitten and generally don’t enjoy myself because of my nerves. But when duty calls, I put on my big boy pants and do what needs to be done, which is what I did for In Sound Mind, developed by We Create Stuff.

Having seen what they’ve worked on previously, best known for a popular Half-Life 2 mod, Nightmare House 2, I too must be honest and will admit my expectations weren’t all that high. I have no problem admitting when I’m wrong though, as after playing through In Sound Mind, I came away quite impressed with how clever it was made for a number of reasons, as they’ve really stepped up in quality with its gameplay and soundtrack.

I initially thought that as a horror game I’d simply be running away and hiding like in most, but instead experienced a psychological thriller that was designed well, strung together with an interesting story and given new mechanics as you progress. This isn’t your typical horror game, so don’t expect completely dark rooms, hiding from enemies, jump scares, blood all over the walls and tons of gore. Instead you’re treated to some really abstract imagery that could only happen in one’s mind, so it’s a good thing that’s exactly where much of this takes place.

You are Desmond Miles, a therapist who wakes up in his apartment building. As he looks out the window you see that the city has become flooded, but there’s something else in the water that looks toxic, essentially trapping you within its walls. This isn’t the building you remember though, as there seems to be many dark manifests blocking certain paths and you notice that some of the other apartments are the homes which seem to be former patients of yours. As you explore these dwellings you’ll find an old cassette tape that has a recording of your therapy sessions with them. Playing these tapes turn back time, allowing you to go through a doorway into that world, their world and mind. It’s clear these patients had some serious trauma happen to them, and as you uncover each story you get a feeling for how their lives and struggles really were, even if it’s told in an unsettling manner.

As you explore each tape for answers, you’ll find a connected story that is quite interesting, so I don’t want to spoil anything given its 10-ish hour playtime depending on your desire to search levels for hidden collectables. It seems someone is watching you during all of this though, calling you randomly through the payphones or landlines you come across during your journey, almost taunting you every step of the way? Who is this antagonist and what does he have to do with everything? Patience and grace will be how you piece it all together.

As you journey from one tape to the next, each of which will have its own unique setting, weapons, puzzles, mechanics and boss fights. Desmond begins with only a flashlight, more for lighting the way in dark places instead of a form of offence, eventually finding weapons along the way such as a pistol and shotgun if you take the time to explore. Each tape also introduces new mechanics and tools in a way that makes sense to the story that allow you to explore the hub apartment area further once you have them.

For example, the first tape that deals with his patient, Virigina, is a young girl who had a terrible accident and doesn’t want anyone to look at her due to her disfigured appearance. You can’t combat her by traditional means, so instead you’re given a piece of broken mirror. This allows will scare her away from you if she sees herself in the reflection. This mirror shard also is utilized to uncovering many secrets that can only be seen in its reflection with hints and notes on the walls that you won’t see in the real world. Each level and tape introduces a new tool like this in a clever way that relates to the story and will be needed to defeat each boss, playing out more like a puzzle rather than a normal firefight. These new tools will also allow you access new areas, such as the shard being able to cut away police tape or smashing boards down, so you’re constantly making progress in the main apartment hub each time you come back from finishing a tape at a logical pace.

Each level is very unique and differs from one another because each is a about a different patient and their experiences. The second tape for example is nothing like the first, having you dealing with dark and light whereas Virginia’s story is set in a rundown grocery store, so there’s always some variety that takes place from tape to tape. Each tape takes about two hours or so depending on your puzzle solving skills and how much time you want to spend searching for collectable pills that can permanently increase your stats like health and stamina.

The majority of the cannon fodder enemies don’t pose much threat once you have your pistol, acting more like deterrents and tension building. Ammo, health and batteries for your flashlight are generally pretty plentiful if you take the time to look around. What I did appreciate was that instead of straight up giving you direct waypoints or blatantly telling you how to deal with certain enemies or bosses, you’re instead given just enough clues and hints that you’ll put two and two together yourself.

There are a few minor issues though that I did frustrate though. Instead of having a simple way to choose your weapon or specific tool, you have to cycle through your inventory, which of course can be a pain when you’re being chased and you’re fumbling as you try to choose your pistol. Lastly, being played in first person, you’re going to detest whenever you need to jump across any gaps or want to ‘climb’ up onto other objects; it’s very clumsy and just doesn’t work all that well.

I was expecting a very dark adventure filled with blood lined walls and such, as that’s generally the go-to for horror games. Instead, In Sound Mind does have some interesting sights to take in, and there’s a surprisingly amount of color in its palette, even in the darker sections. While textures and animations won’t impress, its overall colorful aesthetic is satisfying. The soundtrack however was the best part, performed by The Living Tombstone, there’s some great tracks to be found and enjoyed.

In Sound Mind was a psychological thriller that quite surprised me. Instead of relying on gore or jump scares, it utilizes its atmosphere and setting to form a certain tone and tenseness. There are some serious subject matters that are dealt with here, but respectfully and in a thoughtful way that was interesting and made me want to move onto the next tape once I completed one. Oh, and you can pet the cat too.

**In Sound Mind was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.8 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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