There’s something about In Sound Mind’s story that reminds me just a little bit of Hannibal Lecter. No, not the whole cannibalism thing, and not the wearing other people’s skin thing from Silence of the Lambs. Instead it’s something more subtle, of how the various novels and films seek to coax the murderous psychiatrist into revisiting his previous cases, having sought out and nurtured the impulses of other would be serial killers. In Sound Mind doesn’t go so far, and there’s a very different need for Desmond Wales to revisit the cases of his various patients: he himself is losing his mind.
Set in the flooded town of Milton Haven, Desmond awakes in the basement of a decrepit building with a mysterious voice taunting him – his own psychosis? I guess we’ll find out. It soon transpires that this is where he lived and had his office, but it’s far gone as a liveable environment.
This building acts as a hub for Desmond’s soul searching journey, first setting the scene for the story to unfold and then allowing you to explore the real world homes of Desmond’s patients. You can explore, solve puzzles in this building, and acquire certain weapons like a pistol with which to defend yourself. It’s also through exploring that you find tapes of Desmond’s patients, transporting you into their memories.
The second case that Desmond revisits is that of Alan (voiced by Sam Haft, who is also composing the soundtrack as one half of The Living Tombstone), a person who is both afraid of the dark and obsessed with it. This manifests itself throughout the environment, a more open location to that found in Virginia’s tape, with an emblematic lighthouse in the distance as a beacon of safety and the goal for Desmond to reach.
Desmond will, at various points through this memory, be hounded by the persistent menace of the Shade, an all-consuming entity that appears as a darkly ravenous hole on the ground that hungrily shifts to chase and try to eat you. You might think that treating this like a game of ‘the floor is lava’ would work, that you could find refuge on the tops of abandoned cars and the like, but no… the Shade will slowly eat those as well, forcing you to keep moving.
There’s no real way to defeat it, but you can at least stall its progress. It likes the darkness, you see, and hates the light – a pure manifestation of Alan’s fear. Using the environmental lighting can create a haven for Desmond to hide in, but you can also use a simple flashlight or flare gun to try and buy some time. Shooting it with bullets will also do the trick… for a little while – I was lightly surprised that this game features a gun – but really it’s a potent enough light that will defeat it.
Alternatively, you can manipulate the Shade into helping you progress, feeding it parts of the environment that are blocking your way, while another segment shown to us had Desmond trying to make his way along a cliffside park while a very miffed Shade decides to lob cars at you like they’re dead cows during a medieval siege.
Intriguingly, the game layers items and gameplay mechanics from one memory to the next. In Virginia’s memory, Desmond acquired a broken shard of a mirror, using this to solve the various puzzles through this area. That carries forward to Alan’s memory, as peering into this mirror allows you to reveal and highlight some of the shadowy enemies that can appear and hunt you, as well as clues and little easter eggs in the environment, and letting you cut through tape that blocks your path. That you need to turn your back on the potential dangers behind you in order to highlight them is a great twist, in my opinion, forcing a moment of added weakness.
Where the game goes from here will be interesting to see. We were provided a brief glimpse of a large old factory that will aim to provide enough scares in broad daylight, there’s some more abstract platforming elements, and through it all, you have the mysterious hallucinogenic figure from the cover art that’s haunting Desmond from a distance, like a more mischievous G-Man.
We Create Stuff has sought to create a “fun” horror game in the vein of genre classics, and it feels like they’re heading down the right tracks. Though its environs are dark and grimy, there’s an engaging atmosphere to In Sound Mind, an intriguing layering of abilities, and varied settings as you delve into the memories of Desmond’s patients. Horror fans should be sure to keep an eye out for this later in 2021 across PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, Switch and PC – or try the free demo on PC from last year!