More than a decade ago, We Create Stuff development team gained significant respect with a Source engine modification called Nightmare House 2. The small disturbing map pack for Half-Life 2 became a horror fan favorite through the years. Instead of jump scares and shocks, the mod utilized tension and a sense of being constantly targeted by the environment. Having proven their expertise for subtle, unsettling horror, We Create Stuff raised the stakes and went on to produce a full game of their own. While In Sound Mind’s assets now look just slightly updated compared to the (already) dated Nightmare House 2, its themes provide a much-needed refreshment in the survival horror genre.
You play as a shrink who wakes up in the basement of his psychiatric institution. A mysterious unnamed “Jigsaw” voice greets you and begins unloading metric tons of guilt on your shoulders while you try to figure out what the hell is going on. Equipped with just a flashlight, you venture into the blackness of this uncanny place. Soon enough, it becomes apparent that the building is a complex hub where you will embark upon various adventures, uncover secrets and assemble equipment. The unnamed Jigsaw’s cousin goes on to vaguely explain that your patients have met their maker in the most gruesome way possible and that you are to blame.
Once you reach your office, it won’t be long until you start investigating the cases of the patients you seemingly failed. By locating the cassette tapes of their sessions, you’ll unlock doors into strange dimensions where you will investigate their cases. The first case (of the two available) revolves around a severely anxious young woman who slaughtered her family and caused mayhem in a local supermarket. Crippled with fear of being observed and judged in any way, Virginia flipped and went on the rampage, and now you must fix the residue of all that.
The ravaged supermarket is the first significant set-piece in the game, where you will have to defeat Virginia’s spirit and bring her tortured soul to peace. That is where In Sound Mind shows its first moments of excellence. The constant sense of being watched and followed never leaves you while you go through the dark and dank corners of the market. The game successfully emulates that moment when you expect a jump scare, but the cliche shock never arrives. Since this level’s boss/victim is deathly petrified of being looked at, she needs to face her fears in a series of mirrors. Quite suiting, your weapon against her is a piece of a broken mirror. The sharp reflective object will come in handy as a classic mirror and stop her attacks behind you.
Since the paranormal stuff is already going on, the game decides to crank it up with absolutely terrifying conscious mall mannequins. Luckily, while they might scare the living daylights out of you with their Amnesia-like off-screen movements, the grey plastic humanoid shells are not there to hurt you. Instead, they are a helpful piece of the environment, providing hints and directions. However, ISM is not devoid of quite explicit enemies. Besides the mentioned Jigsaw’s cousin that looks like a knock-off Freddy Krueger and who only appears out of nowhere to troll you, the preview version also has the inkblot monsters mindlessly scanning the surroundings for you. Soon enough, you will assemble a gun, and these freaks won’t be much of a threat.
IMS will have you do some rudimentary platforming, crawl through spaces, solve basic puzzles and soak in the dark atmosphere while trying to figure out what in the world is going on. On that journey, your guide will be your cat Tonia, who suddenly can talk and who spends her paw-licking hours in your office in the hub.
In Sound Mind stands out by tackling mental illnesses fitly, and I must commend its approach to the intricacies of the horrors of the mind. Due to the 2005 Half-Life 2 mod roots, the gameplay is simplistic yet highly effective. Even with its basic approach, IMS hits the bulls-eye in the pure horror sense. The retro graphical assets, nostalgia-inducing mechanics, and the late 90s setting make In Sound Mind somewhat equivalent to Netflix’s Stranger Things. Contrary to the popular show, the game never dips into cheesiness, and its horror and psycho-thriller elements remain pretty convincing. There are no forced frights, no over-the-top gore – IMS projects an environment that sends shivers down your spine. In Sound Mind also boasts a hell of an audio package. In the moments where the music by The Living Tombstone (Five Nights at Freddy’s soundtrack talent) is silent, you will be immersed in some creepy soundscapes a la NIN’s “Ghosts” material.
However, several technical aspects leave a lot to be desired. Much like the graphics department, the interface also comes from the first decade of the century. While functional, the game’s UI would sure benefit from a significant modernization. But much like the washed-up, desaturated pointy graphics, the UI is not the main focus here.
In Sound Mind is a full-blooded indie game in all respects. The technical side almost seems like an afterthought, but the atmosphere and story are spot-on. Mechanics is rudimentary, but the basic premise shines like a lighthouse on an already overcrowded horror indie shore. Only time will tell if this will be the much-needed harbor for your horror wanting boat.
If you don’t want jump scares and gore, In Sound Mind will provide creepy horror through gruesome stories of despair with a dash of good ol’ panic when you’re out of batteries or ammo. The demo content makes us believe that, once the full version arrives in September, In Sound Mind will prove to be the low-budget indie horror gem we need and deserve.
- An intriguing setting and interesting approach in depicting mental illness.
- The sense of horror is slowly built and never out of taste.
- Tragic stories and creepy atmosphere are almost perfect.
- Technical side of the game might put you off.