Frank Morgan tries to redeem himself in Broken Mind.
Another first-person horror game! I’ve been handling quite a few of these recently, finding that the genre’s historic decline thanks to the glut of dreadful games on Steam has turned a corner in the last few years. Broken Mind is a console-only release from one-man team 2Bad Games that fits neatly enough into this genre, but brings a fairly unique art style along for the ride.
You play as Frank Morgan, a police investigator. Five years ago his young daughter was murdered, and since then his life has, understandably, fallen apart. He’s lost his family and is now plagued by terrible dreams and waking nightmares. However he still has a job to do, and in present day he leaps on the opportunity to investigate the kidnap of a teenage girl whilst she was livestreaming online. Clearly seeking redemption from the events that he still blames himself for, Frank wants nothing more than to rescue the young Laura from whoever has taken her. The plot comes together from conversations with other characters and finding notes in the environment, and is nothing special but does at least give a good framework for the plot. It’s nice that Frank has more motivation than simply being a police officer doing his job.
Throughout the story you play as either Frank or Laura. Frank is frequently equipped with a fairly effective pistol alongside a torch and needs to confront enemies directly. These will either be people in fox masks who are working for the kidnappers, or shadow demons that Frank faces when he slips into one of his waking nightmares.
Laura, on the other hand, doesn’t have any form of weapon available and needs to sneak, hide, and flee from any enemy she finds. Both characters will need to solve puzzles to progress, disarming bear traps, completing circuits, and finding keys to locked doors. None of them are too taxing, and aside from needing to find keys, these types of puzzles are rarely repeated more than once which is rather nice. None of these will tax you a great deal, but it’s nice to have the variety there. Laura has a particularly neat section in which you play through her kidnapping, acting out her livestream as the house is broken into, solving puzzles to get the lights back on whilst she responds to her viewers’ comments.
Frank’s sections include a few puzzles too, but are much more combat heavy. Every time an enemy approaches you, your camera sort of locks onto them. You can move around freely, but that crosshair will follow them closely enough to allow you to get a shot off quite easily. Bullets are hard to come by though, so you’ll normally spend most of your time fighting in melee, and this is pretty weak. In a nice touch, you can attack high or low by using different buttons, but whether you hit or not seems to be governed by chance. I would frequently be toe to toe with an opponent only for my attacks to not register, and my foe would swing and not land a blow either. It’s incredibly hard to gauge the distance you need to be at to manage to score a hit. Then the enemies can block attacks and instantly counter attack. They show you whether they’re blocking high or low, but they can change their mind in an instant, so it becomes more luck than anything else. Thankfully, other than the final boss, most go down quite quickly once you can hit them and don’t cause too much damage themselves.
If you do get hurt you can find health kits here and there, although they aren’t too plentiful to maintain that supposed survival horror motif. You need to access your inventory to use them though, and the action doesn’t pause when you access it. Perfectly fine if you want to heal between fights, but there’s really no way to top up your health mid combat which was a little frustrating.
Checkpoints are generous enough so that a death won’t set you back too far, but you can’t skip cut scenes that you’ve already seen, leading to a fair bit of lost time if you’re struggling.
As I’ve mentioned, Broken Mind describes itself as a first-person survival horror, and has many of the tropes associated with the genre: Few recovery items, limited ammunition, and minor puzzle solving. It lacks the horror element though. Yes, there are tight environments and enemies that can kill you fairly quickly, but the bright locations and continually repeated enemies do little to build any atmosphere. I was rarely surprised or tense, even during sections in which Laura had to hide from pursuers. The game relies on the same sort of thing over and over again, where you open a door and an enemy charges at you, but that alone isn’t enough to build fear. You’ll visit a school, an abandoned hospital, and a forest, amongst other areas, and none of these ever really felt stressful or elicited a sense of dread. Enemies aren’t scary, you are never really being hunted, and the story didn’t fill me with fear or curiosity over a big mystery. As a linear narrative adventure, there are a few reasonable elements thanks to some fairly well written notes that can be found, but there’s nothing to be afraid of here.
More positive though, is the presentation. All the characters are hand drawn, and mostly look very good. They’re sprites and present in the way that enemies in old fashioned first-person shooters would due to being flat characters in a 3D world. At first it looks odd, but once you get used to it you’ll find them very endearing. It’s very impressive that all of this has been made by a single developer over the course of the last few years. The voice acting is also quite solid, although the scary voice that comes through the occasional phone call is really quite hammy. Everyone else comes across as fairly realistic in their mannerisms, with Frank being more frustrated at his waking nightmares than afraid of them, as though he’d grown fed up with them over the years.
The music is a bit weaker, not because it’s bad but rather that there isn’t a lot of it. I heard the combat music so many times that I was tempted to turn it off by the end of the game. On its own it’s fine, but by the 20th time in half an hour it had become tiresome. The sound effects are functional, but nothing special. I think a bit more ambient sound could have done something to at least add some sense of fear to the proceedings, but what’s there is fine.
Broken Mind is an interesting game to talk about. On the one hand, it’s an impressive game to put out when being made by a single individual, as the amount of time put into each character design alone must have been significant if the unlockable art gallery is anything to go by. On the other, there are far better first-person survival horror games out there for a similar price. I don’t want to dissuade Tony De Lucia from pursuing this career as he’s clearly got some talent. Hopefully this game will do well enough for him to build a team to create something more significant in future.