State of Mind Review: Digital Neverland

State of Mind is one of the best games this year. Yet, it also will be far from a game for everyone. Fans of narrative-driven adventure games will find that while State of Mind dabbles in familiar science-fiction themes, it does so with distinctiveness. It’s not wholly original, it’s not issue free, and it’s not groundbreaking in any single measurement, but it’s cohesive, thrilling, and tells a compelling sci-fi story with well-realized characters, an immersive world, and topics that will drag your mind into a state of rumination.

State of Mind is a narrative first, gameplay second type of deal. Much of its thought-provoking journey is dialogue, character development, and contemplating involuted ideas as an intricate story unravels over 15 hours. Gameplay is a means to an end. If you stick with State of Mind after your first sit down, it’s because it has sunk its narrative hooks in you. Hooks that never let go, and sink deeper the longer they are in.

In State of Mind you play as Richard Nolan, a grumbler, a wet blanket, who’s trapped between a constant state of melancholy and waspishness as he battles a losing fight against transhumanism in a world that is technologically advancing, as quickly as it is falling apart.

A bit of both biopunk and cyberpunk, the world of State of Mind is defined by a disruptive technological revolution that has the future of humanity teetering on the fine line between digital utopia and utter dystopia. Governments threaten each other with weapons of mass destruction over basic resources, illness and pollution is rife, advertising floats invasively from bedroom window to bedroom window, people stream parts of their minds, the wealthy are trying to cheat death with genetic manipulation and body augmentation, and bots have taken over civil service. It’s nothing new, but it’s an enthralling world that was exciting to get lost in, and once or twice had me shuttering at the state of our own world and its future.

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(Photo: Daedalic Entertainment)

The story of State of Mind is largely driven by mystery, after Nolan wakes up in the hospital following a dubious accident with no recent memory and with his son and wife inexplicably nowhere to be found. In his hunt to find his family, and as his memory reforms, Nolan stumbles into a much larger world conspiracy, into the epicenter of a revolt against transhumanism, and staring down an unpropitious future for humanity, or its salvation, depending who you ask.

Because State of Mind is such a narrative-driven, heavy game, I’m going to refrain from going into any further story details other than the above general synopsis. It is one of the best stories you’ll have the pleasure of ingurgitating this year, and you should experience it’s twist and turns, it’s mystique, and discover its finer details for yourself.

But I will tell you why it’s so excellent. For starters, the writing is simply of considerable quality, which isn’t very surprising when you consider Martin Gantefohr is the pen behind it. Many adventure games are riddled with filler and congested with forgettable and inconsequential conversations. But I never felt this was an issue in State of Mind. Almost everything I read or listen to felt like it served another narrative facet: whether world-building, character development, or enriching the story. And it's all helped along with excellent pacing, and a story that takes its time to unveil itself, but also is mindful of your time.

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(Photo: Daedalic Entertainment)

One of the best parts of Daedalic’s sci-fi adventure is its cast of diverse characters. There's an endearing robot named Simon who could warm even the coldest Luddite heart; Dr. Kurtz a Einstein, da Vinci-level visionary whose ambition knows no moral limitation; Lydia, a young searching soul trying to break through the walls of circumstance; and many, many more. And of course there is Richard Nolan, who despite being unequivocally unlikeable, you’ll find yourself rooting for.

There are not only many memorable characters, but each is believable and perfectly fleshed out. There’s never too much to chew on or drowning details. There’s just enough to hook you on the game’s characters, on their worlds, and then slowly reel you in towards a satiating conclusion. It also doesn’t hurt when you have quality voice-acting across the board, including Doug Cockle as the protagonist, who you may recognize as the voice of Geralt from The Witcher series.

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(Photo: Daedalic Entertainment)

If State of Mind's story is a front-seat view through a realistic and rich depiction of a cyberpunk world, then its gameplay is the point-of-view of a dog in the backseat sticking their head out the window of a car driving 65 MPH. State of Mind's gameplay moments – the parts where it briefly comes up for air from its narrative – are a blur and indistinguishable. Like a dog with its head out the window, you're not really there to take in the view, you're just there for the ride.

And that's how I felt almost every time I had to engage in State of Mind beyond attentively absorbing its story. I wasn't engaged because the gameplay was good, I was engaged because everything built around the gameplay had sucked me in. The moment to moment was irrelevant, I was simply enjoying the ride.

That said, the few, more, “traditional” gameplay sections are more run-of-the-mill and uninspired than severely unsatisfactory. Like many Daedalic adventure games, State of Mind embraces more of the new-wave, Telltale-style approach than the classic puzzle-heavy, sometimes obtuse, adventure games of yesteryear. Puzzles are scarce, and the times they impede progress are even scarcer. More of your time will be spent talking to characters and piecing together different observations and information in an investigative manner to advance the story.

One of the game's more interesting features is its “CloudCalls,” the evolution of the phone call to allow hollowgraphic face-to-face interactions at the press of a button. Throughout the game you will use CloudCall when you need to talk to a character, or when they need you they will leave a voicemail for you to call back. It's a small feature, ornamental-almost, but a very effective tool of immersion and a nice illusion of interconnectivety.

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Cyberpunk has a reputation for being a visual feast. Opulent corporate towers juxtaposed against dark alleys of a city's seedy underbelly and narrow streets suffocated with neon and obtrusive advertising never gets old to look at. Cyberpunk rarely disappoints visually, and State of Mind is no exception. There are multiple opportunities to overlook the game's 2048 Berlin with a cyberpunk makeover from tower windows, and I took every single opportunity to take said moment to worship the visual holiness. That's the power of cyberpunk.

However, while the stimulus of bright colors and cool robot arms is strong, even flashy cyberpunk can't distract you from the immediate techno elephant in the room: those low-poly character models. Visually, one of the most striking parts of State of Mind is its plastic-y faced characters with gazelle legs and long torsos that look like a snake dancing when they walk.

And at first I found the look of the characters distracting and glaringly uncanny. But then I got used to them, pretty quickly in fact. And then I grew to like kinda like the look. And by the end of the game, I thought the design was quite fitting with some of themes that were tackeled. Humans and robots look similar, and this is surely on purpose. There's a subtle uneasiness about the look of the characters in the game, and it matches the atmosphere and vibe perfectly.

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(Photo: Daedalic Entertainment)

What doesn't compliment anything though is the substandard animation work. State of Mind wears its budget on its sleeve in this regard. Facial and walking animations are far from egregious, but in a story and character driven game, they are doubly undermining, and stick out like a jumbo band-aid. In short, tolerable but in another ballpark of ideal.

There's other minor issues as well, such as slight pacing issues towards the end of the game that get a little bit too much gameplay in my story, which wouldn't be an issue if said gameplay wasn't environmental puzzles that feel more like tasks to do than something to solve. There's also the occasional bad transitional cut, the sometimes unnaturally long pause during dialogue, and a camera that can get real, real wonky when maneuvering tight spaces. But the chief smaller issue is that the controls aren't as tight and acute as you would like. But luckily the game never demands that you use them efficiently.

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(Photo: Daedalic Entertainment)

What's impressive about State of Mind is how well-realized and cohesive it is. It feels like the product of years of gestation and of a team all on the same wave-length. Even the music doesn't feel tacked on, and rather fits right in like another piece of the puzzle.

Daedalic Entertainment has made a name for itself over the years delivering some of the industry's best adventure games. And State of Mind is another notch in its belt. In 2018, there's not many better story-driven games to plunge into, and unlike the others, State of Mind has an awesome robot butler that will tune your piano for you.

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ComicBook's Score: 4/5

DISCLAIMER: a (PlayStation 4) copy of the game was provided by the publisher.