state of mind

Putting the hu­man in tran­shu­man­ism

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START - Adam Bryant

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.

Elec­tric dreams

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.

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