We've seen a lot of games recently that deal with the theme of loss, guilt and redemption, but it has to be said that none of those games are anywhere near as pretty as Mind: Path to Thalamus. An extraordinary visual achievement, especially as the bulk of the work was handled by just two people, the game had me drooling over my monitor as soon as it started. I delved into the trippy first person puzzles to find out if there was any substance beneath the style...
The game opens with our character facing down an oncoming tornado, and a desperate race to a house to save his daughter. In the ensuing chaos, our protagonist suffers a hefty whack to the head, and it's lights out.
Waking inside a coma, our hero must come to terms with his guilt regarding not only the death of his daughter, but the eerily similar death of his younger sister many years ago.
Our progression towards redemption and a possible awakening takes place through wonderfully rendered landscapes that reflect a shattered psyche. Starting on a path of neurons surrounded by darkness, the game opens up into endless lakes dotted with mysterious ruins, forests that change between summer and autumn in the blink of an eye, and dank water-filled caves that drip and seep as you stumble through the darkness. Each different environment is an absolute joy to behold, recalling the work of Tarsem Singh, and had me hitting F12 every couple of minutes to take yet another screenshot.
The game would make a grand walking simulator, but it has other ideas. In order to progress there are puzzles that need solving. These range from generally quite simple to so hard you think you'll punch the monitor, but without fail they all contain that 'a-ha' moment that rewards a bit of lateral thinking.
The mechanic behind the puzzles is deceptively simple. Grab a ball of neurons (see above), and place it in one of four areas that activate different effects: rain, darkness, time and fog. These effects have repercussions in the environment - for example time can rebuild ruins, allowing access to previously unreachable areas, and darkness activates portals that allow travel between awkward spots.
The challenge lies in activating certain effects in the correct order to make something happen in the level. Maybe you need to activate the darkness to light a portal, but in doing so you activate a magical barrier that blocks access to the portal. No worries, simply set your neuron ball rolling down a hill, allowing yourself enough time to clear the barrier and get to the portal before night activates. It only gets harder from there...
So, all told the puzzles are difficult yet rewarding, and the scenery is visually phenomenal. If it was that easy I'd wrap up this QuickPlay and be off on my way for a well-deserved beer. Unfortunately, Mind: Path to Thalamus makes one big mistake; the voice acting. The choice of actor doesn't gel with the style or the tone of the game, which can distract from its beauty.
However, it would be a crying shame if it stopped people from playing what is otherwise a stunningly beautiful and cerebral (haha) puzzle game.
If you don't believe me, check out the trailer, which is all gameplay footage!
Mind: Path to Thalamus is available on Steam.