Daedalic Entertainment has taken us to some memorable places, from a comical alien junk planet to a decaying fantasy world and, more recently, to 12th century England. Now, after years of development with writer/designer Martin Ganteföhr, State of Mind has arrived to transport players to a dystopian future. With obvious parallels to such science fiction heavies as Blade Runner and Total Recall, this transhumanist adventure has some lofty expectations to live up to. Unfortunately, although its praiseworthy elements certainly do shine through, the overall result misses the mark it was clearly aiming for, due in large part to a lack of compelling gameplay and a narrative that’s just too unfocused to remain invested in.
On a purely conceptual level, there are some fascinating ideas at play in State of Mind. At its simplest, the game tells the story of a journalist living in the Berlin of 2048 who must attempt to unravel the mystery behind his wife and son’s sudden disappearance following an accident that he can’t clearly remember. This is set against the backdrop of a technologically advanced society in which robotic artificial lifeforms have been integrated into many sectors of daily life, holding corporate positions alongside their human counterparts, assisting in daily households, and even patrolling the streets as armed police squads.
To contrast a dreary and depressing real-world setting that seems perpetually bogged down in darkness, the action frequently shifts to the clean and idyllic City5, a utopian virtual reality counterpart to Richard Nolan’s Berlin. Here, players take on the role of Adam Newman, a man whose life and circumstances seem to closely mirror Richard’s in many ways. It soon becomes clear that the similarities between the two men’s lives are no mere coincidence, and their paths inevitably cross when Richard’s investigation leads him to seek out Adam’s help in locating his missing family.
So far, so good; the narrative certainly sets up an intriguing web of interconnected characters and situations. However, as events unfold more and more, the story becomes at times muddled and unclear, at other times just plain uninteresting. Through occasional playable flashback scenes, you’ll learn some history about the game’s supporting cast, like Richard’s wife Tracy, and Lydia, the woman he’s having an affair with. The trouble is, these don’t add a whole lot to the central mystery already in progress.
Meanwhile, Richard and Adam’s investigations occasionally make unsettling leaps in logic, jumping across murky facts to conclusions seemingly drawn out of thin air. Richard becomes involved with Breakpoint, an underground resistance movement, though I found determining the group’s intentions or how Richard’s association with them furthered the hunt for his wife to be more trouble than it was worth. Similarly, Adam is tasked with looking for strange glitches in his world’s programming – apparent memory fragments of Richard’s that the two must send back and forth between each other to let Adam experience one of Richard’s past recollections – but this too is unclear in how it relates to the search at hand. Rather than the possibility that some things got lost in translation, State of Mind feels more like a case of a story that simply gets lost at times.
It doesn’t help matters that the principal cast of characters is sorely lacking a likeable protagonist to latch onto and root for during the game's ten-hour runtime. Richard, our main protagonist, is cheating on the wife he’s so determined to find, and his white-hot hatred for his domestic bot Simon (and apparently all artificial life) makes him somewhat abusive and ill-tempered during their interactions. There is little explanation offered for his dislike of bots, which is particularly confusing as he himself is outfitted with some digital enhancements, a clever way of integrating item descriptions and permanent hotspot highlights into the game’s interface. Richard’s long been at odds with his now-missing wife Tracy, whom we get to know in flashbacks as an addict who’s been cut off from her own family. Some characters, including Adam, come across as more benign, but still lack any friendly or endearing traits. Adam's own son, who plays a major role in the climax, may as well just be a shapeless void of personality, leading to several wooden and awkward interactions between father and child.
One of the game’s lynchpins is the concept of transhumanism, the idea of the human race utilizing technological means to evolve past their biological limitations. Humans enhancing their physical capabilities via mechanical implants, machines showing emotion and thinking for themselves, members of society looking for the means to escape their surroundings – there are some intriguing ethical implications at play here, and this aspect of State of Mind is by far its strongest, easily eclipsing the mystery of Richard’s missing family. While pursuing the latter, we discover more of the former, and I wish there had been an even greater emphasis on this area in the game’s design. A particularly memorable scene that plays out between Richard’s mistress Lydia and one of her online johns poses many questions about the implications of cyber sexuality and its effects on the human psyche, yet it is a completely standalone vignette not relating to the main plot.Continued on the next page...