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July 2019

State of Mind

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Release Date: Aug. 15, 2018


Switch/PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'State of Mind'

by Thomas Wilde on July 27, 2018 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

State of Mind is a futuristic thriller/adventure with remarkably realistic low poly visuals where a dystopian reality and a utopian virtual future stand in stark contrast to each other.

Weird coincidence: I spent the better part of an hour planning out a theoretical retro revamp of the early 32-bit era earlier this year, when I should've been interviewing a guy. We were talking about how it would look, how we'd design it, imagining the big blocky pixels that really only suggest a human figure.

Then I went to E3 2018 and ended up face-to-face with State of Mind, which is basically what we were talking about. The first thing that jumped out at me about it is the art style, which replicates the same early polygonal style of early PlayStation games. Everyone is made of a collection of evocative triangles, whether they're human or in a virtual realm, which gives it a strange, distinct look. It's like the best guess somebody in 1994 could possibly have made about how video games would look now.

In State of Mind, it's 2048 in Berlin, and things are going poorly for everyone. The world is running out of natural resources, automation is replacing humans with robot labor, pollution and climate change are omnipresent, and two major national conglomerates are gradually divvying up the planet between them. It's the start of a dingy, augmented-reality cyberpunk future, as envisioned by the German transhumanist writer and game designer Martin Ganteföhr (The Moment of Silence, Overclocked: A History of Violence).

You begin by playing as Richard Nolan, a journalist whose wife and son have gone missing, and who's suffering from a genre-appropriate mild case of amnesia after narrowly surviving an explosion. This is somewhat more complicated than it sounds, as Richard was in the middle of an investigation of a new virtual reality environment called City 5. People are uploading their minds into the new city as an escape from the increasingly hostile real world, building a colorful, intricate utopia to make up for the vicious dystopia they're leaving behind.

Richard soon discovers that's where his missing memories have gone: the parts of himself that he's misplaced have been uploaded to City 5 against his will. There's another Richard in the City who calls himself Adam, with a life, job, and family of his own, and neither he nor the original Richard know why he was uploaded there against Richard's will. There's an entire debate in-universe here that, for Richard, has just become painfully, immediately real and relevant.

State of Mind plays out between the real world and the virtual, where you control Richard, Adam, and a few other special guest stars over the course of unraveling an international, real-versus-virtual-world conspiracy. It's an adventure game in the spirit of the last few years of the genre; there's a little Life is Strangehere, as one might expect, with a heavy reliance on the setting's augmented-reality systems to help you explore your environment. You need to interview NPCs, find items to use to circumvent obstacles, gather intelligence, and drink in the world that's been created here.

Notably, it was explained to me at the show that State of Mind isn't a branching narrative. You can find a lot to occupy your attention by digging up all the world-building and incidental information, but the larger beats of your path through the game are more or less set from the jump. You'll be going through it based upon your deductive reasoning, research skills, and the occasional challenge, rather than Telltale-style deciding who lives and who dies.

I got a half-hour guided tour through State of Mind at E3, and if nothing else, it didn't look, sound, or feel like anything else at the show. "German transhumanist/cyberpunk dystopian thriller" is a narrow genre pool, and it's good to see a few more old-school adventure games making their way back into the market. I'm interested in seeing how the whole thing plays out, if only because there are a lot of interesting narrative tricks being used here, and a lot about the game's world that you have to infer from context. As far as richly imagined, vaguely depressing, near-future stories go, State of Mind is one of the most thoughtful games to come out of this year's E3.

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