In Sound Mind – Puzzles Before Scares
PS5/4, Switch, Xbox One/Series, PC
The year is 1997; the world is mourning the death of Princess Diana, children are reading again thanks to the launch of the first Harry Potter book, and Desmond Wales is trying to save the world in a psychologically thrilling indie title called In Sound Mind.
In Sound Mind describes itself as “imaginative horror”, and though I didn’t find it very scary, the imagination and creativity that’s gone into this title cannot be denied. At the beginning of the game the horror elements are strong; the hallways are dingy and dark, there’s creepy enemies stalking around the place and the world outside is flooded and shaking apart. There’s a whole lot of crap going down, and it becomes pretty obvious pretty quick that if we can’t figure it out, we’re going to die.
When I play a horror game I like to be terrified to the point of tears. I want nightmares, I want adrenaline rushes, I want to be so scared I need to turn all the lights on just to feel safe, and unfortunately In Sound Mind just doesn’t deliver this kind of self-prescribed torture. As the game progresses the horror aspects ebb further and further away, and the game becomes more of a psychological puzzler with thrilling elements and the occasional jump scare thrown in. If you’re not a huge fan of the horror genre then this might be right up your alley, but I need the sort of terror that makes me hurl the controller away and go ‘nope!’
My constant source of fear in this game came from the music; the music and sound effects in this game are powerful, they are creepy, and I am here for it. The music forces into you a sense of apprehension, a constant feeling like something bad is just around the corner. And for the first part of the game, it is. With creepy monsters and apparitions littered through the game, not to mention the GODDAMN moving mannequins, In Sound Mind knows how to create a profound sense of fright.
Unfortunately, as you go through the storyline you soon realise that the scariest part of this game is that it’s overshadowed by an onslaught of glitches and technical hiccups. I can overlook the graphics looking dated, but having my framerate drop every time something slightly exciting happens isn’t something I should have to experience on a PS5. I sincerely hope this is something that can get patched out because trying to stay alive while the game chugs along at a staggering 10FPS certainly puts a damper on the ambience the devs have worked very hard to achieve.
In Sound Mind is certainly good at drawing emotions out of its players (anger at frame drops aside) and the barrage of feelings you’ll experience whilst going through the story is no joke. Playing as Dr Desmond Wales, you jump into the minds of some of your most vulnerable patients and experience their horrific nightmares firsthand. It’s hard to share too much of what goes on without giving spoilers away, given how story-driven the game is, but In Sound Mind does an excellent job at personifying mental anguish and the diminishing shards of mental health. Each patient I encountered left me feeling sad, hopeless, and longing for a happy ending. Obviously, none of those emotions are exactly desirable, but the fact this title was able to draw such a sense of grief out of me is a testament to the storytelling.
In order to survive the terror going on inside the world of his patients, Desmond has to navigate each person and scenario differently. The tactics and strategy you use in one level won’t do you a lot of good in another and having to tackle every level with a fresh mindset and newfound curiosity keeps the game from becoming stagnant and boring. For instance, one of Desmond’s patients cannot stand the sight of herself, so by holding a mirror up to her whenever she comes at you, you banish her for a little while, buying yourself some more time to navigate through the puzzles the game has in store. Though this lady clearly just wanted to gouge my face off and leave me for dead, there was part of me that still felt like forcing her to confront her triggers (the very thing that put her in this state to begin with) was a bit insensitive. But maybe Desmond is just a bit of a crap therapist.
In Sound Mind is not all doom and gloom, and the devs have done an amazing job at balancing dark humour on a razor’s edge amidst all the psychological fuckery. This humour is prevalent all the way through, but some of my favourite scenes involve the creepy mannequins you come across in one of the early levels. Sure, usually mannequins with caved in faces that move of their own accord creep me out, but In Sound Mind actually managed to make these bastards endearing and funny, so kudos to that. For all the overarching darkness, In Sound Mind doesn’t take itself too seriously all the time, and these little nuggets of humour gave me a good laugh throughout the bleak tapestry that makes up the storyline.
In Sound Mind is a dark, psychological puzzle adventure game that easily stands up against other games in its genre. Technical failings aside, it delivers a compelling story and entertaining gameplay experience that I’m glad I got to see. It may not be the horror story I was hoping for, but if the worst thing I have to say about this is that I’m not going to have nightmares tonight, then I’d say we’re doing pretty good.
In Sound Mind was reviewed on the PS5 with code kindly provided by Dead Good Media