An emerging genre in the past couple of years is the first-person exploration game, in which the player-character interacts with a game space in ways other than killing enemies. Notable titles such as Gone Home, Dear Esther, and The Stanley Parable have opened the door for bold new gameplay and storytelling ideas, and Mind: Path to Thalamus is the latest attempt at this style of game. It was created using the Unreal Development Kit by Carlos Coronado. He is a modder of note, having designed the Warcelona maps in Left 4 Dead 2. With Mind, he sets out to create an experience that comes across like a combination of Myst and Portal that, in general, does a pretty decent job of filling those big shoes.
Mind: Path to Thalamus is primarily a puzzle game in which you manipulate the world between states of darkness and light, fog and clarity, etc. Doing so opens paths and gateways to new areas. In some ways, this game is similar to Portal, in that both evoke a sense of feeling that a puzzle is impossible only to make you feel like a genius when you discover the deceptively simple solution.
Where the comparison falls short however is that Mind doesn’t have as seamless a difficulty curve; there are a couple of frustrating puzzles early on that force you to do a ton of backtracking as you figure things out, which didn’t give much of a first impression. Once past them however, they become much more fun. Built using the Unreal, this game is really quite beautiful and it makes use of a variety of weather effects and environments: mountains, deserts, rain, fog, nighttime… If nothing else, Mind is a wonderful demonstration of Coronado’s adept eye for visual design.
As you can gather from the title, Mind: Path to Thalamus takes place within the player-character’s mind as he navigates his regrets and failings. As a concept, it works pretty well and definitely has potential to be very moving. Its execution however is the game’s greatest downfall. Falling into the trap of other indie games attempting to deal with serious topics, it doesn’t trust the player to figure out the story for his/herself. Instead, you are subjected to the character’s non-stop monologuing.
It isn’t necessarily the talking itself that is the problem, but rather it’s the poorly written and painfully on-the-nose text which comes across like a 14 year old’s diary. Thankfully, you can turn off subtitles, turn down the volume, and pretend it’s not there, and it doesn’t take away from the experience at all.
At the end of the day, Mind: Path of Thalamus is a solid puzzle game that is well worth a playthrough. It’s challenging enough that you won’t blow through it, but quite accessible once you figure out the basics. Along with that, its laid-back pace and beautiful environments make for a great experience. Narration aside, this game is as put-together and well-designed as just about anything else you can find in the indie space. Here’s hoping it finds an audience because I’d like to see what else Coronado has up his sleeve.
[+Beautiful looking game] [+Clever puzzles] [+Decent challenge overall] [-Bad narration, overbearing story] [-Slow start may turn off some]