As a poor college student, I recently found myself skimming down long lists of Underground adventures, nothing really appealing to me...until the title Mental Repairs, Inc. caught my eye. Not only is this game free, but it also deals with my major, psychology. I've always been on the lookout for games dealing with the inner mind, but previous games I’ve tried haven’t really dealt with actual psychological problems like I thought they would, so I was pleasantly surprised when I came across this little gem of a game.
Mental Repairs, Inc. is the new title from Renzo "Eshaktaar" Thönen, a German indie developer. His first game, Murder in a Wheel, won the “Best Short Game” AGS Award in 2007. Thönen then began work on Mental Repairs, Inc. as the final project for his Bachelor's degree from Zurich University of the Arts. This time using the Wintermute Engine, Thönen has made a game exploring the minds and neuroses of machines.
Gamers play as Henrik Liaw, a "machine psychiatrist", who helps repair mechanical equipment who have psychiatric problems. Mental Repairs, Inc. takes place in the far future, where machines have artificial intelligence, giving them personalities that include psychological issues. Machines can diagnose and repair themselves when there are small problems, but like everything that tries to eliminate work, they sometimes need help anyway. That’s where Henrik and his company, Mental Repairs, Inc., come into play. Getting an emergency call during the night, Henrik rushes to a local business, Rhosonit Engineering, where the main computer is having a nervous breakdown. Unfortunately, Henrik soon finds himself locked in, alone in the building. With only his PDA, Goggles, as a companion, he braves the darkness to help repair machines throughout the building which are malfunctioning, on his quest to unlock the doors and get back to bed.
In his travels, Henrik finds instruments with depression, low self-esteem, and multiple personalities. He fixes them with the use of a Katharsis Interface, a tool shaped like a wrench which allows human MPs, or machine psychiatrists, to enter the “psyche” of the machine and try to solve the problem it’s having. Problems are presented as a human analogy which the MP must try to conquer, either by using the appropriate items or by picking the correct answer in a dialogue tree. There are no timed sequences or any action minigames involved, just those that require the player to think.
Puzzles in this game are a bit easy, although not too realistic. They are mostly inventory puzzles built around fetch quests, like “go get an item to help this machine, which will in turn help you”, leaving the player to think of what object would be best to solve the problem. There are only a few objects Henrik can pick up, though, which removes much of the challenge. The puzzles themselves are pretty creative, except some of the solutions will leave players scratching their heads, wondering how that actually worked. One of the puzzles deals with citing color names to a colorblind machine so it can see in color again. The puzzle’s solution is hard to decipher, and the choice of different color names the player can pick from is immense. Those players who are not good with naming different types of the same color may have some trouble on this puzzle; I know I did, enough so that I had to peek at the solution. The rest of the puzzles are more enjoyable; some solutions making sense, some feeling like they came out of nowhere.
Although the game deals with psychological problems, it is actually very lighthearted, with lots of comedy mixed in. The game does not shy away from making fun of clichés, and even itself. The ‘evil mastermind’ behind all the problems declares that Henrik will die…after, of course, he tells him his whole plot of world domination. Henrik himself has comical remarks for most everything, including funny comments for stupid actions the player can instruct him to do. He even says he sounds like an advertisement when explaining what an item is. These cute ideas help steer the game away from falling into the very clichés it pokes fun at, providing a breath of fresh air. As a word of warning, there is a bit of cursing in the game, but it's not excessive.
Henrik is a great character, and a bit of a mystery until the player starts to learn more of his background and childhood while conversing with the machines. He’s easily likeable, as are the various gadgets he encounters on his journey, including the likes of a photocopier, an air conditioning system, and of course the main computer. Psychoses vary according to the machines’ specific use. For example, the coffee dispenser has become self-conscious from people kicking it, the elevator has gotten confused about its own personality after being told to go either up or down so many times, while the main computer has a deity complex. These “characters” all have their own unique personalities which are fleshed out well and really set them apart from each other, so meeting them and helping them with their problems is the real heart of the game.
In addition to being Henrik’s trusty companion, Goggles is also a subtle hint system, so players might want to talk to him often. He’ll comment about the psyche Henrik’s currently in, and addresses anything that Henrik doesn’t understand. The hints weren’t very useful to me, since the actual “help” Goggles provides didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know. He does have interesting dialogue to add to the story, though, and there is one puzzle that you must talk to him to complete.
The point-and-click interface is pretty simple, even offering instructions on the start-up screen. Single-clicking moves the character around the scene, while double-clicking on an exit jumps automatically to the next screen and right-clicking skips dialogue. To interact with an object, holding the left mouse button brings up a menu with action symbols to choose from, like 'talk' or 'pick up'. A score system is present at the bottom of the screen to tell you how well you are progressing through the game. A hotspot revealer, which shows all interactive items in a room with just a press of the Spacebar, is a great addition to avoid any unnecessary pixel hunts. Some items do blend into the background, so it was nice to check sometimes what I could and could not pick up. About the only real drawback to the interface is when the player tries to use a wrong inventory item on something, as the game gives no indication that it's wrong. Nothing happens, nothing is said, so the player is left with no feedback to possibly benefit from.
The graphics in this game are very good, even compared to some commercial games. The scenes are rife with all kinds of different colors, adding depth and character to the backgrounds. Although the environments are static and not particularly varied, they are full of detail and look quite real as Henrik moves through hallways, elevators, and of course the various machine psyches. These psyches look like regular rooms with each machine’s real life appearance depicted somewhere within it, and they're all well done, without looking too goofy or unrealistic. Some part of the machine will move to look like it is talking, without stretching the imagination too much. Speaking of characters, the character models are also nicely done, although a little more cartoony than the backgrounds.
Sound in Mental Repairs, Inc. is more of a mixed bag. Background noises are very realistic, from Henrik's footsteps to printer sounds. Funky, fun music plays in one of the psyches, which is very catchy and sets the right mood. The rest of the time it’s pretty silent, but the lack of music does not detract from the enjoyment of the game. Unfortunately, there are no voiceovers, though this is common for Underground games. Instead, dialogue depends completely on subtitles, which is another minor problem. Although the story is great, the German-to-English translation of the game shows in the subtitles with awkward sentence structure at times. The good thing about the subtitles is that if you miss something that was said, you can pick the same option and hear it again. Conveniently, dialogue options that have already been covered are grayed out, easily telling them apart from the choices you have not yet picked.
Overall, for a free game it’s easy to recommend Mental Repairs, Inc. as being well worth the few hours it takes to play. With memorable characters players will grow to like and a unique premise for the game, along with an easy interface, creative storyline, and lovely graphics, Mental Repairs, Inc. is a surprisingly delightful look into the insecurities of both man and machine.
Mental Repairs, Inc. can be downloaded from the developer’s website.