In BriefMind: Path to Thalamus
is a flawed walk-'em-up with puzzle elements, but it is so, so very pretty that it is worth playing on that basis alone.Most valuable resource:
The art. Oh my heavens the art. Mind
is the most artistically beautiful game I've ever played.Of interest to:
people who enjoyed Dear Esther
What a conflicting game. Mind brings to mind first and foremost Dear Esther
. Both are tales of a man exploring the concept of loss through imagery and an internal journey across a landscape painted in his own memories. However there is just as strong a link to Myst
: an adventure game where progress is driven by puzzle solving, but where primacy is given to the stunning backgrounds and fantastic, surreal locations through which you find yourself traveling. The couple of moments of full video integration into the game (which is done supremely well and to great effect) really do evoke the groundbreaking work of the Millers.
Before I mention the flaws in this game - and boy are there some whomping great big flaws - I want to call attention to the visuals. The quality of the art in this game is exceptional. The whole artistic theme of the game, throughout all the puzzles, all the narrative sequences, right up to the closing credits, is faultless. Every single part of the world is composed expertly in all directions, including the sky above and the ground beneath your feet (and sometimes also the sky beneath your feet). If you completely excised the story, the art alone would make for a worthy experience, like walking slowly through a surrealist art exhibition. I took so many screenshots while playing that I felt like a tourist taking happy snaps. If they release a big glossy coffee table book of the art from this game I would pay real money for it. If you're a pixel ♥♥♥♥♥ who gets off on stunning, striking, truly gorgeous art, this game is worth the entry fee on that basis alone.However
- and this is a big
however - there are several serious flaws with this game which take away from the experience in very significant ways. As with my review of The Moon Sliver
, another worthy but flawed narrative game, I hope that by preparing you for those flaws in advance they will not reduce your enjoyment of the game to the degree they did mine.
The first issue is purely one of game design. The puzzles in this game revolve around moving these gorgeous glowing woven wicker spheres to different places on the map, and about a third of the time you're in the game (or more if you find the puzzles a struggle involving a lot of trial and error, as I did) you'll be carrying one of these spheres, and when you pick one up it fills the centre of the screen, making it hard or sometimes impossible to see what's right in front of you. In a game as strongly visual as this (and one with so many bottomless holes in the terrain), the decision to give the player what amounts to cataracts for a good portion of the time is a terrible, terrible one.
The second major issue is the story, or rather the telling of it. Without any spoilers, the premise is so incredibly familiar that within the first two scenes of the game you will believe you know the entire plot, and you will be correct. I'll compare it to Dear Esther
again because that's just the most applicable benchmark game when it comes to this type of storytelling. In Dear Esther
the whole game is a blur of the real and the imaginary, you're never sure whether the protagonist is projecting onto his environment or experiencing fantastic elements in his own mind. Even at the very conclusion of that game those questions are never really answered; it is up to you, the player, to consider the narrative and interpret what you have just experienced and to arrive at an understanding of the game yourself. The story is masterfully constructed, and respects the old writer's adage that it is better to show than to tell.
The writers of Mind: Path to Thalamus
set up some imagery that is intended to communicate the bigger themes and questions to the player, but then they convey it all so heavy-handedly that they practically bludgeon you over the head with it. The biggest spoiler you will ever read for this game is the title of the game itself. There is a sequence towards the end of the game where all the imagery up to that point is literally
explained to you - they have a voice-over sequence that literally
lists the metaphors you've encountered and tells you what each one meant. It is atrocious. In a game that is visually so subtle and well composed it causes me actual pain
to see the story - whose premise is not original but is certainly not bad, and is certainly worth exploring - butchered so bluntly. Either the authors were so keen that their lovingly-crafted narrative be understood that they could not help but explain it, or they lacked confidence in their writing and over-compensated, or they thought so little of their audience that they felt they needed to be spoon-fed. I charitably hope it's the former; I hope it's not a case of an auteur game designer too wrapped up in himself to allow the players to control their own experience of his artistic creation lest they experience it wrong. Whatever the medium, good artistic narrative flows naturally; if you need to put it on rails, you've not crafted the narrative well enough.
Although all credit to the developers for the way they handled the release; it has to be noted that when community feedback suggested the story was a bit pretentious, and "too wanky", they responded to the critique like true professionals, took that information on board, and deployed changes to the game when there really was no expectation that they would, or should, so they deserve props for that. For such a new, loose collective they managed such an ambitious project, and its release, impeccably.
However putting those two concerns aside, the game is a perfect length and is technically without problems (except for a little screen tearing I couldn't resolve), the puzzles have a gentle gradient that offers a fairly unique challenge that is the perfect mix of simple mechanics guided by logical, deductive reasoning, and as much as the conclusion of the story is mishandled, the final scenes in the game are visually and in terms of gameplay truly epic. Get Mind: Path to Thalamus
to experience walking through a gorgeously detailed, artistically flawless, stunningly beautiful surreal landscape, while dealing with organic, natural, thoughtful puzzles. If you prepare yourself for the issues with the narrative you will be able to put that aside and just enjoy what is - and I can't use this word enough - the most artistically gorgeous
game I've played.
Support this game and these developers; even though Mind: Path to Thalamus
is flawed, it is still a great game, highly recommended, and the sort of game we need more of.