Before I begin, I have to admit that my expectations for We Create Games latest adventure weren’t set all that high. With no prior knowledge of its existence, mostly due to the heavy advertising of other upcoming games, and the trailer not really selling the psychological horror feel to me, I was fully expecting In Sound Mind to provide no more than a stop-gap experience as I, like many others, wait in anticipation for the upcoming remastered release of psychological horror game Alan Wake. Now though, having spent time with it, I would like to begin this review by offering my sincere apologies to We Create Games, as In Sound Mind is not only much more than a stop-gap experience, but an absolutely brilliant game, and one that any fan of the genre will enjoy.
In Sound Mind puts players in the shoes of psychologist and protagonist Desmond Wales, as he awakens to find himself trapped within his apartment complex. A look out of the ageing and dirty windows on Desmond’s floor is quick to show the apartment building and indeed the rest of the town has been engulfed in heavy floodwaters for as far as the eye can see – you won’t be going anywhere.
After some exploration through the eerie hallways of the darkened apartment building, which brings a comparable feel to that of Xbox 360 hit Condemned that resonates throughout the rest of the game, it’s soon made apparent that progression will require you to work your way through four cassette tapes, with each tape being home to a different tale, each of which is tailored to the story of Desmond’s patients and their inner psyche.
Each tape takes players to a unique and well-crafted environment, with different mechanics sprucing up the gameplay as you go. For example, tape one will see players dive into the inner psyche of Virginia; a young girl scarred by a terrible accident in her younger years, whose overwhelming fear of being judged for her appearance has caused the most severe fear of public places imaginable. To combat her horrible manifestation that has been left behind, you must utilise a piece of a broken mirror, the significance of which is learned early on, and with this you can disperse her attacks and cause her to briefly flee, allowing you to slowly creep around the dark and seemingly abandoned supermarket that her ghostly apparition haunts.
Tape two meanwhile takes you to an entirely new location from the history of another patient that is dark and haunting in appearance and changes things up by introducing the need to run from the shadows and ensure the lights stay on to avoid the darkness, for reasons I won’t spoil here.
Each of the environments within the game begs for exploration, be it to find each of the well-hidden collectables in the form of pills to pick up that tie into the game’s achievements, or simply to appreciate the artistic design that has gone into the creation of each area. Exploration isn’t something you’ll be forcing yourself to do either, as it ties into gameplay progression with phone calls or the acquisition of particular items or objects that must be found helping to push on with the story, whilst the surprisingly engaging puzzles that make up gameplay aspects will also see you running about the place and going to areas off the beaten path.
The story itself is something I found myself particularly enjoying. You won’t find any long FMV sequences or cut scenes here, with the story instead almost drip-fed to the player as you complete the most linear, yet engaging objectives. The pacing of which has been done perfectly with each patients story taking roughly two hours to complete.
As you progress through each level, items of interest become available to the player, including new weapons, a gas mask to help you get through the seemingly paranormal and perception-altering gasses that are present in various areas, and other important objects. These objects can then be taken into previously inaccessible areas within the hub world or previous levels to open up new opportunities for exploration. This is of course a must for those hunting down all the collectables but also allows you to fully explore and appreciate each environment in the way it deserves.
The beauty of the design lays within the atmosphere that has been created, and through brilliant audio work from the creative genius that is The Living Tombstone, known for creating audio for the beloved Five Nights at Freddy’s, amongst a growing and impressive discography, we have a fantastic blend of eerie audio to mix with the creepy and often scare-inducing visuals that really set the tone for this adventure.
What pushes this creative excellence is the clever use of jump scares throughout. Unlike the many half-assed horror attempts that have cluttered our digital storefronts in recent years, developer We Create Games, have ensured that intentional jump scares are used sparingly, and more importantly at the right moments. On more than one occasion I was seen shouting out loud after jumping at the unexpected, and in the moments I didn’t jump, I was still able to appreciate the clever placement and the intrigue that followed from the intentional fear-inducing moments of play.
Now, as I mentioned briefly at the start, the trailer didn’t quite sell to me the whole psychological horror tag that has been applied to In Sound Mind, and even now after having spent some enjoyable hours running through it, I wouldn’t quite point fully towards the horror genre for placement with In Sound Mind. Sure it has a few horror elements, however, should you be willing to accept it as a psychological thriller, then I for one would certainly assign that as amended tag, whilst also raising the expectation that In Sound Mind is a game we’ll likely see mentioned in the same breath as previously mentioned classic Condemned, in years to come.Become a Patron!
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox Series X/S. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.