Playing an early beta build of Mind Scanners, a new game from the creator of Yes, Your Grace, I feel... uneasy. As an employee of a dystopian society called The Structure, I've been tasked with scanning people's minds and determining whether they're sane or not. If I decide they're not, I use a series of bizarre machines to root around inside their brains and 'treat' the illness.
I don't feel good about stamping INSANE on their files based on a few scraps of information gleaned from an invasive brain scan. But feeling uneasy seems to be what the developer is going for. It doesn't take long to realise that this government does not have the best interests of its subjects at heart.
"For normality and the mind!" reads The Structure's sinister slogan, illustrating the party's desire to rid the world of anyone who thinks out of turn or shows any signs of what it considers mentally deviant behaviour. But I have no choice but to play along because The Structure has my daughter placed in 'quarantine' (read: held hostage) and I need to earn money to visit her.
Playing Mind Scanners, I can't help but think of Papers, Please. It has a similar tactile drag-and-drop interface and quietly creepy atmosphere, and makes you feel bad for dehumanising people through cold state bureaucracy. But Mind Scanners is its own thing too, with a distinctive colour palette, a crunchy retro-futuristic aesthetic, and a uniquely disturbing dystopian setting.
When you scan someone's brain, the subject takes a digital Rorschach test. They tell you what they see in the pixelated splodges, and you pick one of three answers that will, in theory, help you decide if they're 'sane' or not. Sometimes it's fairly obvious the person in question is disturbed in some way, but other times it's more vague, which makes your job extra difficult.
When it's time to treat a subject, erasing all the thoughts and neuroses deemed unacceptable by The Structure, Mind Scanners suddenly gets very gamey. You have access to several devices designed to treat different symptoms, all of which involve an enjoyably tactile interactive minigame. One involves slowly rotating a dial, failing if you move too fast. Another, turning knobs to repeat a musical pattern. They're all really fun to use, dark as that sounds.
All the characters I encountered in this beta were both interesting and deeply weird. The offbeat writing in Mind Scanners has a lot of character, and the 'radiophone', through which The Structure contacts you in an eerie mechanical voice, is brilliantly sinister. The development team has really nailed the atmosphere and presentation. And it seems, based on a fax I receive from a resistance group called Moonrise, the story will take some interesting turns.
Mind Scanners is due for release sometime this spring, but you can sign up for the beta right now.