I don’t do horror games. Never have and I had assumed I never would. While I’m still a fan of the genre, there’s something about the intimacy in playing a game that just elevates the fear factor to new levels. My usual experience starts and ends with me turning off the game within an hour or two, often due to cheap jump scares.
With all of the above being said, I somewhat hesitantly dived into In Sound Mind. And while I can gladly say that the scares weren’t cheap, was this the horror game that finally clicked? Read on to find out!
Welcome to Milton Haven
Developed by We Create Stuff, In Sound Mind occurs in the small town of Milton Haven, during the year 1997. You play as therapist Dr. Desmond Wales (Ph.D.) as he navigates the strange mystery around himself, his patients, and his town.
The game takes place in four different “worlds”, you could say, and an apartment building that serves as the central hub. The basement level of this hub, which is where you start the game, acts as a small tutorial. It introduces you to both the puzzle solving you’ll be doing and also to the mysterious figure stalking your every move. This figure haunts you throughout your playtime in various ways, such as leaving insidious notes or taunting you over the phone. Speaking of these notes, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about one of the best characters in the game, the environment itself.
In Sound Mind regularly changes the objects, rooms, locations, and sometimes even the sky as you play. Progressing though a shopping mall, for example, you’ll often find mannequins have changed positions, walls have disappeared, notes and items are left for you, and more. This serves the horror aspect of the game very well of course, but it also elevates the mystery and puzzle solving. There were times when I was completely lost but by retracing my steps, I found the location I had just left altered and ready to be explored again.
Back to the central hub, you have an office on the top level and it’s here that you “play” the cassette tapes of your patients. Doing so allows you to enter their world and progress the story. Each of these levels differ drastically from each other, which wasn’t always a good thing. The first tape, for example, felt like a tight and polished experience, while some of the later ones felt a little too open.
This is a matter of preference of course, but I enjoyed the horror focused levels more than the ones that emphasized on exploring. Each level also has a different primary threat which you either try to combat or run away from. Couple this enemy with unique level design and no two tapes feel the same.
The gameplay itself has a fair bit of variety in the number of tools you use, but it generally revolves around exploring your surroundings and trying to solve the puzzle at hand. While yes, there is combat, I’ll expand more on that later. Back to equipment, you need to use a mixture of tools to progress through areas. Such as needing to look through a mirror shard to figure out hints hidden behind walls or under the ground. This is just one example, of course, as by the end of the game you regularly make use of every tool in your disposal.
I (Shouldn’t) Need a Weapon
Graphically, there isn’t too much to write home about. The game does have some good skyboxes, and some very creative level design, but ultimately the budget and scope prevent it from looking truly good. This is also apparent at times in the game play as well, where the shooting, sprinting, and item management could clearly use some work.
Expanding on this, the weakest part of the game is the combat itself. You have a mix of long range and melee weaponry and neither of them feel particularly good to use. Hitting a target with your pistol is often a matter of luck as the mixture of the enemy movement, hitboxes, and aim assist aren’t consistent at all. This wouldn’t be that big of a deal if the game didn’t keep throwing enemies at you more and more as you progress through the tapes. And while yes, you do pick up better weaponry, that leads me to my second biggest problem: the item management.
By the time the game comes to an end you have more than seven items, or equipment, that you need to juggle through. You can hold down the d-pad and select the specific item you want, but the game still runs during this and many of the icons look similar to each other. This led to quite a few of my deaths as I struggled to select the needed equipment while being bombarded by enemies.
As for performance, I played the game on an Xbox Series X and sadly it isn’t well optimized. I found numerous locations, especially in the later tapes, where my fps would stutter. This would happen more so when destroying flammable crates, but it was also present even when I didn’t have much going on. Hopefully the game gets patch or two to prevent this from happening in the future. As for other bugs, I had a few hiccups here and there but nothing game or immersion breaking.
A Doll’s House
The audio design, particularly the voice acting, really elevates the entire game. Though yes, as you progress forward the horror elements start to wind down, that doesn’t mean they’re ever completely gone. The music and sound effects manage to jump between horror and heartfelt at a moments notice. There were times when I was running in a panic only to seamlessly transition into a somber moment as I read a note or a message on the wall. The sound design prevented these transitions from feeling jarring.
Though of course the star here is the voice acting itself. Each of the characters in the game have their own actor and they all do a great job, especially considering the sensitive topics being handled. Through just their audio, and a few notes scattered around the levels, you build an intimate understanding of the struggles and traumas these characters face. It reached the point where I was ecstatic every I heard them speak again.
And finally, the game has a unique, fully performed song for each character. You have to hunt for these vinyl’s as you play but they’re worth finding and listening to. Virginia’s and Allen’s songs were especially well done.
A Tape Worth Listening To
At the start of the review, I asked myself if this was the horror game to finally click with me. And long story short, the answer is yes. In Sound Mind does a good job in juggling both horror and mystery, even if it leans more towards the latter at the end. Although the story conclusion was a little lackluster, the phenomenal voice acting, the great level design and the creepy atmosphere make In Sound Mind a game worth playing. And yes, even for those who aren’t horror game fans.