The thalamus is a region of our brain that controls consciousness, alertness, and sleep. It’s interconnected with other regions like the hippocampus, which is responsible for the consolidation of short term memory to long term memory through the process of LTP (long term potentiation). Damage to either of these brain regions can be fatal, and in the case of thalamus, that means permanent coma. That is the precise feeling you get when you begin playing Mind: Path to Thalamus, which is not just a first person puzzle game, but an epic journey of the human brain.
Developed by Carlos Coronado, Dani Navarro, Luka Nieto and José Ladislao, Mind tells the story of a man haunted by the death of his sister Sophia, something which he is indirectly responsible for, and as such is absolutely desperate for redemption. The game opens strongly with a bleak shot of the neighborhood, and a line that is as spine-tingling as it is distressing: “How many times will I kill her?” he says, before he is thrust abruptly into a howling storm, as a car recklessly speeds off into the distance. Your whole world shakes violently. The sense of fear is tangible. Bracing yourself against the chaotic wind, you shout out Sophia’s name as if by some miracle that will belatedly save her. Mind is very good at quickly creating a tense, gripping atmosphere that leaves you aching for more.
I should also mention that you never actually see your character-you only hear him speaking, which considerably heightens the general tension and mystery of the game. Soon you find yourself fading into blackness, deep inside the confines of your mind with only the faint bleep of a heartbeat in the background for company. It’s weird and it’s surreal, almost like you’re in a deep sleep. I often found myself thinking that I got trapped somewhere in Salvador Dalí’s imagination. Either that, or I was traveling on a highway of neurons and I had been transformed into an electrical impulse. You use the white threads of fate as pathways, and continue moving about this realm towards the exit, which leads you to a sort of cabin with a floating paper. It flits about, always just out of your reach, just like the memory of Sophia itself, but it also acts as your guide through an otherwise meaningless world.
Mind’s premise is without a doubt abstract and perplexing, but there are just enough clues in your environment to make sense of things. Take for instance the crystal blue orb, which at one point during the journey must be carried and then deposited in an small region between two trees. That action triggers another part of the world to unlock, allowing you to walk through a tunnel only to be met with the blaring sound of a train before everything fades out again. When you regain consciousness this time, it’s in a soft and picturesquely rendered landscape where the sky merges with the ground.
The artistry behind this game, both literally and figuratively, is phenomenal. You’re fed more information about Sophia as you progress, learning the circumstances of her death and why her brother is left feeling responsible. The puzzles, of which there are over thirty, are obscure and unconventional, but always manage to arouse your curiosity. At one stage, you’ll be confronted with a bunch of mirrors that you need to flip over in order to generate a network of beaming lights. Granted, sometimes you’ll have to do a bit of guesswork to figure out how to reach them, since you unexpectedly fall through what seem like stable pathways. These were the times I drew inspiration from our old friend Indiana Jones when he was taking the walk of faith across that canyon in The Last Crusade.
One thing you absolutely cannot ignore about Mind is the music. It has this atmospheric charm and weaves into the gameplay without a trace. My favorite moment in the game was when the soundtrack transformed into a triumphant, dark lullaby, at a point where the man was trekking through an icy river while it stormed above him. It was a moment of nothing but beauty. I really enjoyed the ability to change the weather, as well as the chance to swiftly change the day/night cycle at certain sections, but the latter also made me wonder whether it would cause this guy’s melatonin levels to go severely out of whack. Mind does become progressively darker as you go on, especially as you gain more insight into how Sophia died, and begin to grasp the extent of your own turmoil and regret. But you’re never left without a glimmer of hope. That much becomes clear when you learn that Thalamus, a sacred tree and a place of forgiveness, is frustratingly nearby, but finally within your reach.
The game feels rather deep at times. It dares to reach out and touch you on an emotional level with brutal honesty and harsh realism. And even long after you’ve walked away from the screen, the experience resonates within you. By living through a single man’s never-ending nightmare, you learn that the path to redemption lies not in walking backwards through a path covered with eggshells, but in looking inward. So if you’re longing for a mind-bending experience that gets you to think outside of the box, Mind: Path to Thalamus is the game for you. It is currently available on Steam for $12.99. Should you be interested in any more information, just head over to the official website or follow the game on Twitter.