state of mind
Putting the human in transhumanism
Telling stories is hard, doubly so for videogames given that you have an active participant in the narrative process that you can never be certain will follow the path that you’ve laid out. That’s why, far too often, developers don’t venture too deeply into unfamiliar territory or try to make up for a sub-standard plot with exciting gameplay. Only the brave try something different and although it doesn’t fully succeed in all it attempts, Daedalic Entertainment is brave.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a straightforward tale of transhumanism in a dystopian future where surveillance, robots and artificial intelligence dominate the workforce and control every aspect of our lives. A world in which exists a disparaging humanity becoming increasingly disheartened with its future. And it certainly is that in part, but it quickly reveals itself to be a thought-provoking drama with themes of fatherhood, separation, forgiveness, and even happiness.
Set in 2048 Berlin, you play Richard Nolan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who’s made a career out of speaking out against the rise of invasive technology and exposing the malpractice of individuals and companies that take advantage of it. After waking up following a serious accident he discovers that both his wife and son have gone missing. Putting his journalistic investigation skills to good use he sets out on a mission to find them but at the same time uncovers a sinister plot that has huge consequences for every person on the planet.
The stylised visuals and cyberpunk aesthetic adds to the melancholic mood of the game and lends itself well to both the dystopian and utopian settings in which you find yourself. Of course, references and influence to other tales from the cyberpunk genre are present (at one point we spotted an origami unicorn), but it simply acts as an attractive backdrop for an entertaining story.
Despite being entertaining, this is where State Of Mind falls on shaky ground. Daedalic manages to conjure up a storyline that we’ve never experienced in a videogame before. One in which you play a character that you’re seemingly encouraged to dislike and realise early on that there might be more to his family disappearance than first thought, in a scenario that would feel at home in a television drama. But in an attempt to explore this and so many other different themes and storylines it fails to fully realise any of the ideas in a truly satisfying way.
Gameplay is also fairly uninspired and takes the form of mini-games or puzzles that feel as if they were included to make the game more of a ‘game’ but just ends up seeming like arbitrary hoops to jump through to progress the story.
Its saving grace is found in the closing moments of the game where you’re given a couple of important narrative choices. Regardless of its flaws, the beauty of the journey is that these choices are genuinely difficult to make and none can be seen as the ‘right’ choice. The outcomes of which vary little in terms of the cutscene you see just before the credits roll, but matters a great deal in how you picture the future of the story and the people within it in your own mind, transcending the game’s themes beyond the game itself.
“Conjures up a storyline we’ve yet to experience in games before”
right The sountrack seems to have been partly inspired by Michael McCann’s Deus Ex score but it’s beautiful and compelling in its own right.