If you like your horror psychological, then the new indie In Sound Mind will be right up your misty, definitely dangerous alley. You play as therapist Desmond, who can use tape recordings of his patients' sessions to travel to strange, slightly sinister locations to find puzzles to solve and monsters to battle. If that wasn't enough, there's a cat you can pet called Tonia.
In Sound Mind already has a generous demo on Steam if you want to check it out, featuring the tape of a patient called Virginia. Lead producer Ido Tal showed me a new level of the game recently, based around the recording of a man called Alan who is scared of the dark. You see, all of the patients have been exposed to a strange chemical, but each has their own unique issues, fears, and corresponding monsters to deal with. As a result, Alan's level is completely different from Virginia's, arriving with some serious Lovecraftian vibes. It's a gloomy beach, with mist swirling around, strange glowing barrels of something called Agent Rainbow, and a glowing fishing cabin off in the distance.
Alan's mental health issues are manifested in this strange environment as a lighthouse, and – less scenically – a black, oozing monster that will remind 90s kids of Hexxus from FernGully: The Last Rainforest. It can destroy everything in its path, and survival will depend on using that against it, by luring the creature in the right direction to destroy obstacles in your way – freeing up new paths for you to escape.
You'll need to make the most of the shard of mirror, one that was key to surviving Virginia's story, while also using light to your advantage. Environmental light or a flare gun, either will get the job done if used correctly. In Sound Mind isn't a horror game that arms you with a toothbrush, a crackly radio, and then makes you walk everywhere at a pensioner's pace.
"We don't like telling you how to feel or slowing you down," Tal tells me, explaining that the environments are designed to be eerie and open, dotted with nuggets of story among the puzzles and horrors. He also reveals that releasing the demo on Steam allowed the team to see what players reacted to, and to see how much they loved finding hidden bits of lore and Easter Eggs. This information helped the studio know where to double down as it works to complete the game, making the world a richer place.
The game is set in a town called Milton Haven, which has been flooded, and where Desmond has an office that functions as a "relatively" safe space where you can play the tapes, assemble and modify your gun, and say hi to Tonia. During the demo, she nonchalantly knocks something off Desmond's desk, proving that someone on the development team has a lot of experience with cats.
Desmond will access four tapes in total, and through them four different locations. In a sneak peek of the rest of the game, I get a glimpse of a rainy forest and a surprisingly sunny-looking environment too. Tal explains the idea is for the player to have a different experience every few hours of play, so even the easily bored should find that they just want to keep exploring the weird world.
The weird world is full of eerie sound effects, but there's also a soundtrack that, as I believe the kids say, slaps. In Sound Mind has partnered with musical project The Living Tombstone to create the music for the game. Made up of Yoav Landau and Sam Haft, "internet band" has a huge following on YouTube and mixes its love of video games with electronic and rock genres. One of its biggest songs was inspired by Five Nights at Freddy's, so it feels like a good match for In Sound Mind.
For a horror fan, there's a lot to be excited about: immersive, open locations to explore, lots of lore, and creepy mysteries to solve. Having played Virginia's section, I can't wait to dig deeper into the troubled minds of Milton Haven and run off to pet Tonia when it all gets too much. In Sound Mind will be released on PS5, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch, and PC later this year.
For a list of more games launching this year, head over to our new games 2021 guide.