“Transhumanism (noun) – The belief or theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, especially by means of science and technology.”
Above is Google’s definition of the word transhumanism. I decided to start this review off with that so everyone is perfectly clear on the term because it is a major theme in Diadalic Entertainment’s latest adventure game, State of Mind (SoM). It is a game that touches on heavy themes of loss and a world that is on the tipping point; a world that has run out of natural resources and has replaced humans with machines across the entire public sector. Wars have left the Earth ravaged and its people disillusioned. Digital corporations run a world where everything is interconnected and everyone is under constant surveillance. It is a true dystopian future that is bleak and depressing but always enthralling. In perfect contrast to this world, is a utopian paradise known as City 5. So, why would people stay in a dystopian reality rather than join others in a utopian world? There has to be a catch, right? Of course, there is! The catch is that City 5 is a digital realm where people are uploading their minds in order to escape the horrible reality that they live in. Both of these worlds, the dystopia, and utopia, are connected in an enjoyable conspiracy story that I just couldn’t put down whenever I started playing it.
Focused squarely on the story
State of Mind is a game that is purely focused on its narrative. On the surface, it may seem very much like a Quantic Dream (Detroit Become Human, Heavy Rain) or Telltale (The Walking Dead, Back to the Future) title, but within the first few hours you will realize that the actual gameplay mechanics aren’t nearly as deep as those studios’ games; the overall experience holds up remarkably well though. It’s cerebral, ”get in your head” story, as well as the characters and settings presented in SoM (not to mention the great pacing and unique visual style), made me see past quite a few flaws and left me weirdly satisfied with what I had experienced by the end. Once I had put down SoM, it stayed in my head for quite some time afterwards. Its themes demanded more thought long after the credits had rolled. It was far from the best game ever, but it isn’t a game that I will ever forget.
Set in Berlin of 2048, SoM focuses on its characters, story, and settings more than it does on actual gameplay. At the centre of the tale is journalist Richard Nolan, who wakes up in the hospital after a car crash only to find that his wife and son have gone missing. To make matters worse, some of Richard’s memories are missing and fragmented. His quest to find his family leads him to City 5. There, he meets a man named Adam, who he shares a mysterious connection with. This journey also leads Richard to a conspiracy that could shake the world. What is the mystery of City 5? You’ll have to play SoM to find out because this is a game where any piece of information could potentially spoil the entire story and lessen the overall experience. It’s best to go into this game knowing nothing beyond the basic premise. Unfortunately, once you’ve uncovered its mysteries, it probably won’t impact you the same way twice, but, personally, I would love to revisit the title at least a few times.
Resembling story focused studios
Earlier I mentioned that SoM resembles games made by studios like Telltale and Quantic Dream, but this is only true in regards to the game’s focus on its narrative and dialogue as well as its over the shoulder adventure game style control scheme. One big area where SoM differs from those studios’ games is that you are going to be watching way more than you are going to be playing. You also won’t be given any huge branching paths or multiple endings. Instead, you will be watching a ton of conversations and making many decisions, but most of them will have no consequence beyond changing the game’s dialogue. It is a very linear experience, but that doesn’t make it a bad one. I enjoyed the fact that there aren’t any quick time events (QTEs) in the game. Most of what you will be doing outside of conversations is exploring the game’s environments and working out the solutions to many puzzles and “minigames” while playing as Richard, his mysterious acquaintance Adam, and several other characters along the way. SoM shows a great variety in these distractions. Sometimes you are piecing together Richard’s memories. Other times you are controlling security drones and cameras. You will be doing a lot of hacking and there are several other activities that I don’t want to spoil. My biggest problem with these puzzles is that the simplest, most dull tasks are used the most often, while the stand out segments are usually few and far between. Most of these segments are very simple and none of them had me scratching my head until the final portion of the game.
They did break up the game’s many cut-scenes very well and helped set a fantastic pace, but there just isn’t a lot of substance to most of them. If they had been refined a bit more, they could have helped elevate this entire package and made it more than just a memorable story. Another complaint that I have, there isn’t any type of objective log or reminder in the game. The lack of a way-point system never really bothered me, as it encouraged me to search the environments very thoroughly, but the lack of an objective reminder could hurt someone who misses a bit of dialogue or someone who steps away from the game for an extended period of time. If you forget what you are doing, then get ready to play trial and error and interact with everything you can find to stumble onto the path again. Diadalic didn’t fill the world to the brim with useless interactable objects at least. Everything you interact with tells a slice of the scenario. I enjoyed discovering this world and exploring all of its nooks and crannies.
A fragmented tale with a look to match
When you first start playing SoM, its unique visual style that places low polygon characters against much more detailed and realistic backgrounds may be very rough on your eyes. The character models look like they are pulled from the Nintendo 64 era, rather than the current era of games that strive to look as real as possible. When I first started playing the game, I honestly felt like the visuals strained my vision, but, as I played, my eyes adjusted and the art style really grew on me. The developers deliberately chose this style as a representation of one of the game’s other key themes; fragmentation. Everything tends to come back to this key theme. The look of the characters is fragmented. Richard’s mind is fragmented. The population of the world is fragmented and spread thin because they are being replaced by humanoid robots known simply as “bots”. Once the story starts rolling along, the game’s art direction really does start making a lot of sense. Even if you aren’t a fan of the visuals, I doubt you can deny that SoM looks unique and leaves an impression.
Most of the pieces that make up SoM are seemingly mediocre on the surface. Its gameplay can be shallow, the voice acting isn’t spectacular, the game’s environments are reused often, and the experience is extremely linear. Despite all of that, SoM left a huge impact on me and I just couldn’t put it down. Its story intrigued me and made me think, the pacing and variety kept me from being bored, and the characters and settings that made up the tale were all very interesting to me. This certainly isn’t the first time we’ve seen most of the game’s science fiction themes, but SoM does manage to somehow weave together an original story. The pieces may be familiar but there are enough curves thrown in to keep things fresh. The “love it or hate it” visual style adds to the originality even more and the very focused cerebral story helps to elevate the game above its mediocre components. I think that the game warrants a purchase from those of you that are fans of narrative-driven games; who are also fans of science fiction. Just keep your expectations tempered and don’t go in expecting a mind-blowing AAA experience. SoM will get into your head and leave you thinking about the evolution of our species. Will it be physical or digital? Will we even make it that far? Only time will tell. SoM is a decent way to pass some of that time.
Note: A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
- Fascinating themes.
- Striking, unique visuals
- Great story
- Environments are reused often.
- Shallow gameplay.
- More watching than playing.
- No objective reminders.