I’ve played a huge number of first person horror games of vastly varying quality and they generally occupy one of two extreme positions: either spooky jump-scare puzzlers or full of high-octane gunplay. In Sound Mind breaks the mould here by offering a well measured balance of both of these styles. There is an enjoyable mix of environmental headscratchers and explosive combat to be found here, all wrapped up in some impressively polished presentation and a memorable soundtrack. In short, In Sound Mind is a really pleasant surprise after the likes of Those Who Remain and The Inner Friend.
In Sound Mind starts off in very familiar territory as you find yourself trapped in a dark building with no idea of how you got there. So far so predictable, but things soon take a turn for the more interesting. Once you’ve got your bearings and solved the first few environmental puzzles, the narrative really picks up. Fixing a broken elevator opens up the top floor of the building and reveals you to be a practicing therapist who must look into what has happened to his recent patients and find out how their plight is related to his own.
There is a comforting gaming loop to be found here. You explore the main building, find a parallel version of each patient’s home, locate an audio tape of your therapy sessions and then enter their respective level through listening to this tape. This successfully makes the hub building feel like an evolving space rather than a static one and there is even a light Metroidvania feel to the whole affair. Many rooms and areas tease you from early on as you can see collectables that you won’t be able to get for a long while. Even more pleasingly is that there are often multiple approaches to some environmental dangers which opens up alternative ways of playing.
Puzzles are frequent and well devised. Some require you to utilise vents and short cuts to move around the various levels, whilst others take the form of finding keys to unlock doors, but a few really rise above the norm. The first true level makes great use of a mirror shard as you have to use it to reveal hidden secrets or disguised items whilst a later one gives you a radio control switch that opens up some innovative electricity-based puzzles.
Narratively, the game develops pretty well, and the links between the various patients and your own situation is slowly revealed. Each patient’s area has its own distinct style and look meaning that they all feel enjoyable to explore and are less bogged down by the repetition that often afflicts games in this genre. So varied are these levels that I genuinely struggle to pick a favourite, with each having a particular atmosphere or mechanic that stands out.
One aspect that isn’t as pleasurable, however, is the inclusion of quite a lot of first person platforming sequences. These are most common in the narrative introductions to each level, so fortunately have little consequence for failure, but they do suffer from the usual lack of precision. They are greatly improved from the original demo, though, and the final boss battle makes good use of a floaty atmosphere to help ease the need for precision.
Still, the overall presentation here is impressive for an indie game, with some lovely lighting effects and good enemy design. There is a lack of variety in the standard enemies, but this is less of a problem given the mixed nature of the game’s style and the excellent bosses. These boss battles take place in a good range of locations that closely mirror the psychological issues of each patient.
Sound design is also very strong and I’d definitely recommend playing through decent headphones, especially as one of the key advertising points of the game is the involvement of ‘internet icon’ The Living Tombstone for the soundtrack. I’ll freely admit to not being familiar with their previous work, but the music included here are fantastic. Each character has a theme that can be unlocked by finding the relevant vinyl record in game and these offer a great reward for full exploration. Getting these collectables requires you to make full use of the various items and abilities that you gain throughout your adventure and it is a nice surprise for them to be actually worth the effort.