Mind Scanners is the kind of dystopia I fear most, where free speech, thought and creativity are squashed, and where dreams and passions go to die. In Mind Scanners, you’ll find yourself square in the middle of this nightmare, forced by the government to earn your keep by judging other citizens’ sanity and “treating” it, whether they like it or not, so you can find your daughter, who the government has taken.
Your job is like a lot of jobs these days–thankless, near impossible and inexplicable. It also requires you to toe the line, have the “right answers” even if they hurt other people, and to make other people suffer if you want to even pretend to hope you’ll see your daughter again. Resources are scarce, you get paid next to nothing, and all you do is work, sleep, and repeat. Each day you “get” to use the mind scanning equipment you get charged for it, and if time or money run out, you get kicked out of the comfort of your surroundings and out into the even colder, crueller world.
Bleak and fun don’t often come in the same sentence but this is, nevertheless, what Mind Scanners attempts to do, while also sending a pointed message about what happens when dangerous people are in power. Gameplay consists of travel to and from patients’ abodes, where you’ll scan their minds and do a quick sort of quiz that will pinpoint what’s wrong with them. She doesn’t like the bread lines? Well, she’s probably a communist who hates the government, and that sort of thinking must be purged.
You’ll purge it with the titular Mind Scanner devices you’re given, which are a collection of arcade-like minigames that remove different types of insanity from your patient to treat them. These include listening to sound sequences and repeating them a la Simon, tuning in frequencies or can be as simple as pushing a button. Some are not intuitive enough even with a manual that describes them, and sometimes, it’s not clear what’s making things work or not work, but after a few false starts I was able to mostly figure it out.
The story is pretty compelling, with an immediate tension between yourself and the people who are forcing you to be a Mind Scanner and also between what you know is right and wrong. It’s extremely hard to make enough money to survive (almost too much so, and I think this may be a balance thing more than just emphasis on the dystopian point) and it can be extremely uncomfortable to do what you have to do to make money. There’s more money in insane people who you treat than sane people who you spend the time on only to let go, but treatment is…well, awful.
Treatments you’ll administer through various puzzle elements include slowly turning a dial that uses the patient’s vocal cords against their will, as well as thought erasers. There’s a stress bar that indicates if you’re torturing these poor folks too quickly but it’s torture even when done right, and even if you do end your day having made enough to stay in “their” good graces, it certainly doesn’t feel good. It feels like the game’s not doing this pointlessly and that there could be a hell of a resolution but we suppose we’ll need to wait until full release to find out what that is.
That said, I love the retro style and the demo we received made me want to know where the story was going, and if I’d ever actually find my daughter or escape. We’ll find out soon enough, thankfully, as Mind Scanners has a planned release date of May 20, 2021 on Steam.
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