The psychological horror of In Sound Mind feels years out of date

In Sound Mind horror game
(Image credit: We Create Stuff)

One of the first words you hear in In Sound Mind, growled with malice as the camera sweeps back across a cityscape flooded with oil-slick water, is “curiosity.” It’s something the game is confident you’ll feel. Aren’t you curious about how you’ve woken without memories in this nightmarish apartment building? Don’t you want to find out what’s up with the talking cat, or the hostile entity who refuses to stop bullying you over the phone?

Sadly, my answer was never more emphatic than “I guess?” In Sound Mind can’t quite manage to generate that curiosity. Instead, as I muddled along as amnesiac psychiatrist Desmond Wales to piece together a series of psychological terrors and tragedies, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was playing the same kind of horror game I’ve been playing for a decade or more. Once again, I was trailing the long march of games in the lineage of Layers of Fear, Amnesia, and Condemned, to the same destination: the same grungy hallways, the same scrounging around for flashlight batteries, the same obligatory fascination with insanity. In Sound Mind colors well within the lines.

There are things to like though, many of them visual. The imagery as Desmond’s apartment contorts itself into a surreal mindscape can be genuinely arresting. As you wander beneath whale carcasses and phantom lighthouses, titanic cassette tapes loom over the horizon, their tape reels spinning while audio logs play.

(Image credit: We Create Stuff)

The pools of toxic pharmaceutical sludge are lovelier than you’d expect, and I loved the inky, distorted silhouette of the basic enemies, despite the stiff character animations. Mechanically, some interesting ideas present themselves, like a shard of glass that reveals hidden items behind you when you look into its reflection. There’s a shopping cart that’s more fun to kick than it has any reason to be. 

And yes, you can pet the cat.

But otherwise, while it’s perfectly playable, In Sound Mind struggles to make any lasting impact. Its writing and vocal performances land somewhere between corny and melodramatic—although they provide one of the game’s main joys, as you can hang up on the antagonistic voice who calls you throughout the game at will. The puzzle designs are enjoyable enough, but it can be tedious having to fumble with an inventory you can only navigate with directional keys. Especially when I had to reenact a nonsense sales promotion, scanning items on a sequence of abandoned cash registers to match specific prices.

There’s a good amount of mandatory backtracking, often without the kinds of discoveries or revelations that make retreading the same areas feel justified. Instead, your main reward for exploring is the pharmaceutical pills which serve as character progression: collect three of the same type, and you get a stat boost.

(Image credit: We Create Stuff)

If I’m really disappointed by anything, it’s that In Sound Mind never felt particularly horrifying. There are plenty of little jumpscares and spooky thuds, occasional brief glimpses at lurking threats, but nothing that spiked the heart rate as much as I’d hoped. Maybe most damning is that its enemies, including each area’s boss, felt more inconvenient than scary.

It doesn’t help that when In Sound Mind tries to paint with psychology as part of its horror palette, some of its attempts dip from clumsy to tasteless. During a sequence in the nightmarish reflection of a shopping center, it was hard to ignore that the game was asking me to defeat a ghost by repeatedly exposing her to the trigger for her psychosis—essentially asking me to weaponize a woman’s own fatal psychological trauma against her to progress. It felt gross.

Ultimately, In Sound Mind is walking some well-worn paths—the horror equivalent of competently made comfort food. Trust me, though: when you find that shopping cart, give it a few boots from me. You’ll be glad you did.

Lincoln Carpenter

Lincoln spent his formative years in World of Warcraft, and hopes to someday recover from the experience. Having earned a Creative Writing degree by convincing professors to accept his papers about Dwarf Fortress, he leverages that expertise in his most important work: judging a video game’s lore purely on the quality of its proper nouns. With writing at Waypoint and Fanbyte, Lincoln started freelancing for PC Gamer in Fall of 2021, and will take any excuse to insist that games are storytelling toolkits—whether we’re shaping those stories for ourselves, or sharing them with others. Or to gush about Monster Hunter.