Claustrophobic and hidden in the darkness, a small flashlight beams the way to your salvation. This, my friends would be my worst nightmare, and In Sound Mind had all the potential to be a horrifying trip for me. Unfortunately, it all resulted in a messy, frustrating experience that I won’t be going back to when the game fully releases in August. This is covering a preview build that was sent to us a month before release with 2-3 hours of gameplay, but there is far too much to fix with its foundation that it will be hard to change my mind.
Horror, by its very nature, is subjective. Everyone has different fears and monsters they would rather not think about at night. In Sound Mind attempts to play with your expectations, and put you in suspense, but it never quite hit for me. The voice acting from the lead actor is hollow, and it doesn’t help that he barely reacts to anything that’s happening on screen. A gasp for breath or a cuss word would have really helped establish the dire straights that your protagonist is in. It also doesn’t help that he states the obvious as a matter of fact when there’s a locked door or a place he can’t reach. Despite some decent sound design for the environment around you, In Sound Mind so far disappoints as a horror game with very few jump scares or anything that truly creeps you out.
Scary for all the wrong reasons
Instead of a terrifying horror gameplay experience, you’ll be going through a frustrating maze of environments that your brain can’t handle. Unlike the Resident Evil series, there isn’t a map to guide your way, and your vision is obscured with just a flashlight within darker levels. It’s more like the Outlast series, in which you try to find objects in the level and then proceed forward with them in hand. You’ll find hidden objects, obstacles, and level details with the flashlight. Unfortunately, when the flashlight goes to 0%, it isn’t as bright as it used to be. You collect some batteries scattered across the game to recharge the flashlight. They’re fairly common, but if you get lost for an extensive amount of time, you’ll be even more lost with the lack of clear sight as it barely flickers in the darkness.
At first within the one-hour mark, the game did a fairly good job of explaining what to do. There are notes that give you hints as to what to do next, but then, you feel like you’re a headless chicken. There isn’t a clear method to proceed through the puzzles, and the game does a bad job at explaining to the player what it wants to do in a supermarket level. With a lack of an in-game map that you can refer to at a moment’s notice, you’ll be running around in similar areas once, twice, three times, maybe even more before you finally know where to go and what to do to progress to a new area. There are items you think are important, but you’ll find out eventually that they just give you buffs instead of any sort of gameplay progression. The level design isn’t as immaculate as its contemporaries in the horror space as its concepts for puzzles are a little too outside the box. Perhaps, you should wait for guides to release before you buy the game.
There’s an annoying ghost-like presence haunting the supermarket, and while it does give details on her past, you won’t feel invested enough to care or get spooked by her. What makes things worse is that it’s tough to avoid her. Part of what made Outlast work is the ability to see or hear where the monster is and creep around them to not be spotted. With In Sound Mind, it is unclear and will often lead to your untimely death or significant loss of health. The next creature, the Shade, is also frustrating as it doesn’t give you a chance to breathe. You’re in a situation where you need to figure out how to use fuse boxes to proceed to the next section, but the Shade constantly harasses you. It won’t leave you for a second to figure out what the game is asking you to do. It makes me want to tear my hair out as I know there’s a decent game underneath the harassing game design.
An element of game design that was a highlight is a section in which you have to avoid a lighthouse’s beam. It turns around with a menacing red-tinted glare and can deal damage if it hits you. You’ll have to avoid it by hiding behind rocks and buildings, and this element made the slightly open world of the second act way more interesting.
There are some shooting scenarios that come up with In Sound Mind, While they have so far been uninspired with enemies simply walking up to you in a creepy fashion, it feels relatively responsive. Don’t expect it to feel like the Call of Duty series though; it’s a bit stiffer than that.
While the graphics won’t set the world on fire, In Sound Mind does have its moments. There is a particular scene set within multiple television screens that was incredibly striking. Also, as you play through In Sound Mind, you’ll be collecting audio tapes that transport you into a nightmarish world. They look gorgeous and pull you into the harsh mental stability of the patients that your character has poorly administered. For the majority of the game so far, however, the environment settings have been fairly dull. The office building you initially step into is bland, and the supermarket feels like a dark maze that you’ll likely get lost in. The decrepit nature of both of these post-apocalyptic-looking scenarios is established to a tee, and perhaps the bland nature of these environments is exactly the point. In the second act, it does start to open up as you’re in a dark seaside setting, but it’s still as drab as the rest of the game.
Room to grow
There has been a lot of negative points within this preview, but In Sound Mind certainly has its highlights. Trying not to spoil a particular section, the way the developer We Create Stuff uses manikins is creepy, yet hilarious. And receiving a call from a devil-like monster is also quite chilling, adding to the mood and the atmosphere that In Sound Mind is going for. Despite the wooden voice acting, the story is intriguing as you venture through the mental mind of the protagonist and the patients he’s tried to “help.” Hopefully, the payoff in the final release will be worth the troublesome game design so far. Hopefully, this preview isn’t as scatterbrained as my time playing In Sound Mind.
A preview code was provided by Modus Games