Fall is here, and the weather is finally (sort of) cooling down. That means lots of pumpkin spice, and scary movies and video games. There’s no shortage of horror-themed video games with many of those games being ones that emphasize psychological horror. To say psychological horror has been explored before is an understatement, but still, every year a handful of games have you work out your mental problems by fighting (or avoiding) literal demons and other nightmare manifestations. In Sound Mind is made by the developers of popular Half-Life 2 mod Nightmare House 2, so with a pedigree like that you’d expect something that really stands out, right? Well, sort of. While there are some clever ideas, In Sound Mind follows a well-trodden path.
In Sound Mind is a first person survival horror game. In it, you play as Desmond, a person who is trapped in their own mind and has to suffer through their memories—and that of their patients’ memories. Full of strange creatures and nightmare horrors, you have to journey through difficult memories while solving puzzles, defeating monsters, and discovering the truth of your predicament. While you’re sneaking and fighting your way through these nightmare locations, you will be pursued by a sinister, mocking presence that will criticize, challenge, and try to kill you. It sounds like a good recipe for a good time, but I fear it doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself.
That isn’t to say that In Sound Mind doesn’t have a few clever mechanics. Early in the game there’s a section where you have to use a shard of glass to scare away an apparition that doesn’t like to look at itself in the mirror. But on the other hand, this same glass is then used as a way to break through wooden boards, which is just baffling.
In Sound Mind more often falls into genre tropes all too often, however. There’s the flashlight with the batteries that deplete too quickly (even though there are batteries for it everywhere). There are the memories that are explored through found paper and audio recordings. There are the trippy dream sequences, etc. There is even an enemy avoidance mechanic—until there isn’t. Eventually you get a gun, which is a strangely refreshing change of pace for such a game. But the gunplay is mediocre, and suffers from strange not-really-iron-sight aiming where the character looks down the side of the gun instead. Why?
One of my biggest complaints of In Sound Mind is that it suffers from feeling like a haunted house. Each of the memories you explore, strange encounters you experience, nightmares you suffer through, all have a fun house attraction feeling to them. It’s like haunted house game design, with different memories almost serving as different themes for the sections of the haunted house, with Desmond’s office and apartment building serving as a sort of hub world. The further you play, the more of the apartment building you can explore, yielding more tapes, more memories, etc.
In Sound Mind encourages exploration through numerous secrets, especially the stat improving pills. Finding a number of different pills of certain varieties can increase your Speed, Health, Stealth, and Stamina—with three pills needed to increase your stats by one. I never really bothered with trying to max out my character, and In Sound Mind never felt any more difficult because of it.
In Sound Mind is a decent survival horror game that too often gets mired down my predictable genre tropes. There were a few times that I was genuinely entertained, but literally no time that I felt suspense or fear—not even remotely. Everything feels too much like a theme park attraction or a haunted house, with even most enemies feeling more like an annoyance than something to fear. If you’re eager to get your horror fix in early this year, In Sound Mind is an option—but there are far better out there.
A Xbox Series X|S key was provided to us for the purpose of this review.
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