Welcome to the future.
The food is worse, the people are grumpier, robots have been fully integrated into society, and the tone and hope for humanity is gray, drab, and generally non-existent. Save for the robot part, you might think I was talking about the present day. Fortunately for us (for the time being), I am talking about Daedalic Entertainment’s new, overly grim game, State of Mind, a futuristic thriller that that asks the age-old, human consciousness question: What does it mean to be alive?
It’s a big question to ask, one that many science fiction games have attempted and failed to address, and State of Mind is no exception. It’s a game that would like to include grandiose themes but has a hard enough time keeping the small things together, like bizarre character development, poor pacing, a disjointed world and characters, and a painfully male protagonist. I couldn’t help but scratch my head when the credits rolled and wonder why more time wasn’t spent buttoning up the rest rather than focusing on complex ideas that do nothing to improve the game and everything to hurt it.
The year is 2048 and, if you weren’t paying attention earlier, the world isn’t doing well. Tension between superpowers are on the rise, violence continuously breaks out all over the world through various terror attacks and military occupations, and privacy is a distant memory, as new technologies are developed to tap into the population’s personal data. The balance between man and machine steadily tips in the latter’s direction as job opportunities are scooped up by robots and more businesses push technological augmentations on its citizens. Like I said, things ain’t great.
State of Mind follows Richard Nolan — as well as a few ancillary characters you get to control — a grizzled journalist living in a Gotham-esque vision of Berlin. After an apparent car crash, Richard wakes up in the hospital with minor amnesia and learns that his wife and son are missing. Though he is more annoyed than concerned by the absence of his wife and child (more on Richard’s insufferable nature later), he soon discovers that their disappearance is wrapped up in a sinister plot to advance artificial intelligence and rob humanity of their free will. If it appears as though I am being vague, that’s intentional. The crux of the plot is perhaps the only interesting thing about the game and is best experienced completely blind. Unfortunately, though, the rest closely resembles State of Mind‘s future: frustrating, disorganized, and robotic.
As much as the game tried to get me to care about the world, people, and evil plan to disrupt the balance of humanity as we know it, everything got in the way. Every time I got close to caring about the story, the writing abruptly jumped settings to another character with little explanation of the scene prior. Whenever I started feeling sympathy for one of the many trope-y characters, they would say something overtly stereotypical, nonsensical, or infuriating. On another few occasions, I felt myself becoming invested in the mystery and enjoying the various sleuthing tasks, but then a new mechanic would be introduced, seemingly just to move the action forward, and never used again for the duration of the game. It completely broke the immersion and felt thrown in at the last minute. And if a newly-introduced mechanic isn’t interrupting the action, it’s a cutscene that has little to no weight on the world. Once, when Richard is walking through a busy city plaza, a bomb goes off in the middle of the square, throwing Richard and a dozen civilians to the ground in a ball of fire. Richard slowly gets to his feet and takes a look at the dead and wounded around him. Instead of having a typical, emotional reaction, Richard calls the police with a completely calm voice and goes about his day. When asked about the bombing later, he grumbles that he is fine and makes no mention of the injured or dead he just witnessed.
There is an incoherence between character actions and the grander conflict State of Mind is trying to address. You can tell me as much as you want that this world is bad and there is a bad man who wants to do bad things, but if one of the main protagonists watches a bunch of party goers get gunned down and then barely registers a reaction (this actually happened), then I have a tough time buying into the central conceit.
And yet, the frustration I felt throughout my playthrough is minuscule compared to the ire I grew for one character: Richard Nolan.
As I mentioned before, when Richard returns home and learns that his family is missing, he is initially bothered by the inconvenience their disappearance has on his life, rather then being immediately worried. You know, like most people would. After he learns his wife might have left because of something he did, he doesn’t reflect on what he could have done or what he can do to make it better, he gets angry and shifts the blame away from himself. This is the most apt example I can give to describe how unbearable Richard can be. He is possessive, manipulative, angry, mean-spirited, and, most aggravating of all, unapologetically male. In any given situation, he is either trying to gain the upper hand at the expense of his peers, raising his voice or yelling so he can get what he wants, imposing his presence without a single regard for the comfort level of those around him, or any number of toxic masculine traits that have permeated our society today. Although it may be the intention of Richard’s character, it feels dated and irresponsible to write a character with an outlook and personality as harmful as his. After reading stories all day about disgruntled, male fans, it left a bad taste in my mouth to play a character like Richard.
Worse yet, the female characters are equally as stereotypical, and their agency is consistently rebuked for the sake of progressing Richard’s story. For the majority of the game, whenever a woman is on screen, they are shown as jealous, frantic, mentally unstable, or unjustly severe. Not once do they get the opportunity to explain their motivations. The few scenes you do play as a woman and Richard is not involved, the characters are shown as fragile, or not given the opportunity to be the badasses I’m sure they would be. When Tracy is at a press conference (the nature of which is unknown because the game doesn’t provide any explanation), reporters begin berating her about her rumored drug problem. The dialogue options let you ignore or address the question, but when pick the latter, you’re either interrupted by another reporter or her assistant will ask to move on to the next question. She doesn’t get the chance to speak her mind or defend herself; she’s pushed over and shoved to the side. I would have loved to have a reprieve from Richard’s edgelord-ass and the convoluted conspiracy he uncovers, but fate would put me together with him time after time.
As much as I found the core plot interesting, State of Mind is ultimately bogged down by unoriginal character tropes, pacing issues, and a world that feels completely separate from its people. It bummed me out how negative I came away from this one. I really wanted to like the story, to be swept away by a sci-fi tale that dealt with the ramifications of virtual reality and the human conscious well, but it wasn’t meant to be.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Daedalic Entertainment.
State of Mind explores a future in which the world is in complete disarray and asks some difficult questions, but ultimately buckles under the weight of its own flaws.