The horror genre has many movies and tv shows that rely entirely on cheap jump scares instead of actually being scary. The few forays I’ve taken into horror games have felt mostly the same way; where for an hour I was simply moving along from jump to jump. Very rarely did I experience what I consider to be the strongest part of the horror medium: atmospheric fear. Where you have a constant chill in the back of your neck that doesn’t rely on loud noises, bright lights, or a scary face showing up behind you.
In Sound Mind accomplishes just this. It does away with cheap scares and instead focuses on keeping the player constantly at the edge of their seat. In fact, this game does this so well that I’m starting to think writing off horror games may have been a big mistake.
In Sound Mind is a game made by We Create Stuff, the developers of Nightmare House 2. The game takes place in the year 1997 in a small town called Milton Haven. You take on the role of a therapist, Dr. Desmond Wales (Ph. D), as he wakes up in a basement dazed and confused. As you explore and learn the controls, the game starts to open and eventually leads you to your office. As your character wonders if hes lost his mind, you listen to the tape recordings of various patients.
These tapes are the core of the game. The building you wake up in works as a hub, while each tape contains its own story and puzzles. As of this preview, there are a couple tapes to play through and the final game, which releases in September, will have more. Each tape explores the trauma and struggles of a different patient. These ordeals are shown to you not only through the voice recordings, but also through the level design, puzzles and little notes hidden throughout.
Now even though it’s lacking constant jump scares, In Sound Mind is very much a horror game. With the best part being the environment, which feels like its own living character. When you look away from something and look back, often you’ll find that things have changed. A mannequin will have moved, a box appears that wasn’t there before and so on. The mannequins were an especially nice touch when I realized they were trying to help me and not just freak me out.
As you play through the game you have someone constantly calling you and leaving you threatening notes. They accuse you of mishandling your patients and being the cause of their many sufferings. This doesn’t just stop with the notes though. You often catch sight of someone, or something, following you. This adds a constant air of dread as you explore through the levels trying to find your way out but also trying to get away from whatever it is that’s sticking to you so closely.
One of the most promising parts of the preview was the sheer differences between the two playable tapes. Tape one takes place in a congested mall, full of narrow paths, short ceilings and not much room to run. Tape two on the other hand, takes place on an open island, with more environment to explore and a bright moon always looming down on you.
In the second tape you still have the phone calls (this time at payphones) and the stalking, but you also have something chasing you throughout the level. This acts as a mini boss fight of sorts as you run from light to light trying to complete the puzzles as quickly as you can.
The other major difference between the tapes is that this time you’re armed with a pistol. This means you can now fight the various enemies, instead of just running away from them like the previous tape. The combat is… rough, to put it lightly. While there were only a handful of times I had to use the gun to fight, these moments were easily the lowest points of the preview. I’m hoping combat in the final release is either kept to a minimum or improved drastically.
The entire preview ran around three hours long, and minus a few moments here and there, was a great time. The creepy atmosphere, mixed with both intriguing puzzles and story, worked wondrously for me. Even though I was scared, I wanted to keep playing and solve the mysteries presented.
This is a title that was not at all on my radar, with horror games not normally being my thing. But the mystery, the exploration, and the well-done atmospheric fear have hit in a way I’ve never experienced before. In Sound Mind releases September 28th and after playing this preview, I think I’ll be there day one.