Technophobia, the fear of technology, is a fairly common (and understandable) sentiment that many humans share, but it affects all of us differently. Some might describe themselves this way just to excuse their own incompetence with Microsoft Excel. Others, meanwhile, are actively losing sleep over the increasingly plausible prospect of a violent robot uprising. Like I say, it varies.
State of Mind is a game that leans towards the more extreme end of that scale, portraying a future in which scientific “progress” hasn’t so much bettered society as it has engulfed it, chewed it up, and spat it back out into a million little pieces. As a cyberpunk story, it very much maintains the genre’s skepticism towards technological innovation, but my latest preview with Daedalic’s new adventure title suggests it has enough interesting ideas to stand out against the swathe of cyberpunk games, movies, shows, and books that it owes a great heritage to.
Set in Berlin in 2048 (in case the allusions to Blade Runner 2049 couldn’t be any clearer), you’ll be playing as an investigative reporter seeking to uncover a worldwide conspiracy that threatens both his family and the future of humanity at large. Like Ready Player One, conditions have become so dire in the real world, that many prefer to spend their days in a VR utopia. Like Detroit: Become Human, the ever accelerating sophistication of artificial intelligence continues to blur the line between man and machine. And like Altered Carbon, our beleaguered protagonist is suffering from a serious case of an identity crisis.
So the backdrop to State of Mind is an extremely familiar one, even to those with a merely a basic comprehension of today’s science fiction landscape, but what’s there to set it apart? You’ll get your first answer to that question just from glancing at a single screenshot of the game, which looks quite unlike any contemporary cyberpunk title out there.
Daedalic readily admits that its modest indie budget was never going to allow for the kind of breathtaking sci-fi cityscapes of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided or detailed facial animations of Anthem, so the studio took a shrewd sidestep towards thematic stylism instead. Environments are still fairly rich and detailed, but they’re a stark contrast to the low-poly character models that populate each explorable area, who all look like they’ve had a nasty run in with a Windows 95 screensaver.
Though some characters could use a little bit of a touch up to look a bit more human and less three-dimensional Picasso portrait, the art style works in State of Mind’s favour for the most part, endowing it with the kind of striking imagery that cyberpunk stories are known for.
Martin Ganteföhr, State of Mind’s creative lead, explains how this curious aesthetic syncopates with the story that he wanted to tell. “At a distance it looks realistic, but up close you can see the actual style more clearly, and that illusion is quite fitting”, he says, describing the story as a meditation on the idea of disconnection and artifice in a post-material society. The geometric character models themselves also evoke “allusions to shattered glass”, says Ganteföhr, which is a motif that runs throughout State of Mind’s multi layered narrative.
Gameplay wise, State of Mind looks to be a routine adventure game, in which you navigate your character through various environments, interact with objects, and talk to NPCs to achieve objectives and move the story forward. These tasks can range from making noodles for your hungry son to crafting a stun stick to take out a hostile robot, and there’s definitely a focus on making each play space feel as tactile and interactive as possible.
During one scene set in the idyllic virtual reality universe (Ganteföhr says about 40% of the game will take place here), I was able to leisurely tinker with the lighting and sound system in the area to manipulate the ambience to my preference. It wasn’t something I needed to do to progress to the next area, but the fact that I willingly spent several minutes doing it anyway shows that State of Mind knows how to capture the player’s attention in a way all good adventure games should.
Otherwise, the point and click style puzzles I came across weren’t particularly difficult, with nothing that didn’t take me more than a few minutes to solve. Make no mistake, the story comes first in State of Mind at every turn, making it an experience for interactive narrative fans rather than those who prefer their games to be more involved.
It’s hard to say whether that story is strong enough to keep the game afloat for the entire length of its undisclosed runtime, but Ganteföhr comes across as someone who has clearly done his research when it comes to the subject matter, and that philosophical backdrop bodes well for State of Mind’s plot-driven prospects.
"The writings of transhumanists have been a great inspiration.” he tells me. “Their words and thoughts actually sound fundamentally religious in tone. Becoming one with the universe, immortality… it’s the great promises of religion brought about by science. Of course, It would be stupid for me to deny that I also love stuff like Blade Runner, but I’m quite delighted that there are so many entertainment mediums dealing with these issues.”
But on which side of the debate around transhumanism will State of Mind’s story ultimately fall? You’ll have to play the game when it releases on August 16 to find out, but Ganteföhr promises that there are no easy answers when it comes to the question of humanity’s uneasy and ongoing relationship with technology.
“Without a doubt, it is exciting what’s going on right now in that sphere. Technology has great promise, but it’s become obvious that it also poses great danger; this is the first time in my life that I feel like technology could get out of our control.”
Even if a robotic revolution is on the horizon, I hope for Daedalic’s sake that it happens after State of Mind’s release date. This has the makings of a true sci-fi game that as many people as possible deserve to try out.
For more cyberpunk action, head over to our rundown of the best cyberpunk movies you can watch right now.