Mind Scanners Review – An Orwellian collection of minigames

Gare – Friday, May 21, 2021 5:03 PM
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A dystopian setting is hardly anything new in gaming circles – from cyberpunk-inspired visions of the future to hopelessly apocalyptic timelines, we’ve seen plenty of examples of how disastrously the history of mankind can potentially unfold. Mind Scanners goes the classic Orwellian route, but adds a twist: you’re kind of working for the bad guys. You’re a mental health specialist called a Mind Scanner – a tool of the regime at best and a ruthless brainwasher at worst – and in order to see your kidnapped daughter, held by the authoritarian government of the Structure, you have to work your way through the system and up the corporate ladder. This, naturally, comes with its own share of ethical dilemmas, but more on that later. For now, I’ll just say that Mind Scanners, to me, felt like a rather underdeveloped, somewhat lackluster experience wrapped in potentially interesting ideas.

No time like the present

So what’s Mind Scanners like, actually? From a gameplay standpoint, I mean. Well, if you’ve read my subtitle up top, you probably already have an idea – it’s largely about minigames and time/resource management. Every single workday consists of 200 time units, which is used up when traveling to patients, administering treatment or developing new equipment. Needless to say, not every patient lives close to you, so it’s imperative that you pick and choose who to treat and when. During treatment, your aforementioned time units slowly tick away, granting you only a very limited time window for “curing” your patients before having to leave and return the next day. Here’s the important part, though: at the end of every day, you’ll have to pay maintenance or be kicked out of the city. In other words, in order to make ends meet (and thus stay in the game), you’ll have to treat patients as quickly and efficiently as possible, as only fully treated citizens will earn you your salary. This is where the whole resource management aspect comes into the picture, as you’ll constantly have to juggle your time and finances to be able to keep going.

Mental mazes

Once you actually meet up with a patient, they’ll first have to be scanned to determine whether or not they’re insane. This is done via a futuristic Rorschach test where you analyze their statements and draw conclusions, but trust me, it sounds far more exciting on paper than it is in actual practice. Here’s why: your analysis consists of picking from three potential phrases that best summarize the patient’s mental state, but the correct answer is pretty much handed to you on a silver platter, requiring no actual thought whatsoever – out of the three answers you can pick, two will almost always be blatantly wrong or outright nonsensical, making this segment almost insultingly trivial. Rather than serving any purpose gameplay-wise, this segment is more about familiarizing yourself with the patient’s backstory so you can determine if they’re really, genuinely insane. I’ll admit, there were a handful of fairly interesting individuals in the repertoire here and there, but on the whole, I sadly didn’t find much to get emotionally invested in. You honestly don’t spend nearly enough time with your patients for them to feel like real, fleshed-out characters, which is a shame, because Mind Scanners really could’ve used something to offset its disappointingly monotonous gameplay loop.

Rinse and repeat

Once all the above is done, you then move on to treatment. Each type of lunacy in the patient’s mind corresponds to a different kind of symbol, and each symbol has to be removed with a specific piece of Mind Scanner equipment. Said pieces of gear can be operated through a variety of minigame challenges, the successful completion of which will destroy a set number of insanity points in the patient… at the cost of sapping them of their personality, eventually turning them into hollow husks – mere shadows of their former selves. On the flip side, though, patients left untreated may end up doing things that will endanger both themselves and those around them.

You can, however, cure a patient without ruining their personalities, but this requires skill, precision, and the purchase of additional gear – of course, whether or not you’re willing to sacrifice your time and meager income to do the morally right thing is completely up to you. If you declare a patient sane, you’ll be given a far smaller amount of money compared to treating someone deemed “insane”, which obviously carries all sorts of moral implications. Do the ends justify the means? Are you willing to endanger, or potentially even misdiagnose a patient for the sake of a bigger paycheck? The choice is yours, but – as with all things – there are consequences. Me, I decided to go full 1984 to see what would happen. Well, let me tell you – not a lot of good things happened. Merely brainwashing the client will still net you your paycheck, but the citizens will bombard you with angry letters, and some of the more radical ones will even try to kill you (my character did almost fall victim to a car bomb, for example). What could’ve been a fascinating concept, however, is largely undermined by how repetitive the actual gameplay is, and after treating over two dozen patients with the same, limited set of minigames every single time, I was more than ready to watch the credits roll and put a metaphorical period at the end of my roughly 6-hour-long playthrough. I ultimately unlocked two of the game’s endings at the conclusion of my run, but these seemed to abandon any attempts at moral ambiguity and instead boiled down to a rather black-and-white choice. One led to disaster and utter destruction, the other to liberation and a prosperous future.

Lackluster results

As a game or even a dystopian narrative, I sadly didn’t get much out of Mind Scanners. I could most definitely see what the game was going for, though. The Orwellian setting, coupled with moral dilemmas and a commentary on mental health issues did, on paper, seem like they could serve as the foundation for something interesting. In the end, however, despite all the right ingredients, the end result wasn’t nearly as rewarding as I thought it’d be, and instead offered little more than surface-level characterization and minigames that, while fun at first, lose their novelty far too quickly.

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