mri_logoAs of January 2009, I played a fair amount of indie adventure games released in 2008 (well, just a few of those that were heavily lauded actually). While there are still some last year highlights out there waiting for me, Mental Repairs Inc. is without any doubt the best one I came across so far. What’s more, although it’s completely freeware it matches (and in some instances surpasses) the technical quality of games that require some kind of financial investment before playing.

First of all – no glitches! It’s a flawlessly working piece of software created using the free and popular Wintermute engine. The prerendered backgrounds present classy, art-decoish interiors of a corporate building from the future. We also get cinematic angles, well conjured atmosphere, super-professional designs of the various company and product logos (possibly inspired by some real ones) and an interface stylized to look like from some electronic gadget. The main character is equipped with an impressive 3D model and the other “characters” have a presentable appearance as well. As for the music, it fits and helps the atmosphere, but doesn’t stay with you – very backgroundish. And that would be about all there is to say… Oh, I should write what it is about and how it plays too?

Well, let’s just say that someone has finally realized that the great concept from Psychonauts of entering psychotic minds as interactive game locations can be much more interestingly explored in an adventure game. The major difference in the premise is that the subjects of the main hero’s “mental repairs” are not exactly human. Probably even soulless. Yet all this is quickly established in the game’s beginning, so don’t consider anything spoiled. The actual tale is short, but fully embraces the short story medium and turns into a twisty, little piece of sci-fi that matches the quality of writing for a decent Star Trek or Twilight Zone episode. With a touch of… Nah, that would be telling.

On the surface the interface resembles the verb coin from Curse of Monkey Island. However, it reminds me more of the very fun, but unfortunately lost in the mists of time interface of Return to Zork. In short, the different command symbols you get to choose from depend on the clicked object and they are not the same if you approach the object while holding an item. This is quite refreshing after the simplified simple-click-solves-any-problem interfaces of  todays commercial adventure games and should be applauded. You don’t get the enormous variety of action choices that Return to Zork provided, but let’s not be too nitpicky 😉 .

The puzzle’s difficulty is medium/a bit on the easy side (very little on that side though). You receive plenty of hints from both character conversations and object descriptions and (if you want) also additional ones from Googles (come on, you must know Googles, and if not, then google it 🙂 ). The various combinations and uses of inventory items (100% of all puzzles besides dialogue puzzles and operating Googles) while not awfully ingenious, deliver quite a bit of fun by delving away from the straightforwardly physical interactions common in “non-mental” adventure games. My favorite puzzle involved finding some kind of fuel for a symbolical representation of a stove.

mentalrep

the slick looks of this game somehow bring the System Shock series to my mind

Without a doubt the game provides several hours of very solid escapist entertainment. In the end, though, I wouldn’t say that I felt as strongly about the overall experience as I had in the cases of some much more amateurish looking indie games with more old school approaches to things (although there’s nothing truly experimental here either). Perhaps this title is too polished, professional and technically smashing (undoubtedly a tremendous effort – it’s been all done by a single person!) for its other qualities to equally shine. Yet I definitely recommend Mental Repairs to everyone and in my opinion it puts to shame a lot of commercial adventure games we see nowadays.

My score: 3+/5 starks

Note: The game’s author – Renzo Thönen – has cut his teeth in game design putting together several mods for the original Thief games (this series is one of my favorites too) and creating an award-winning adventure game Murder in a Wheel using AGS (Adventure Game Studio). All this in the last few years, so I guess he’s only warming up :).  Hopefully he won’t give up on the adventure gaming kind of gameplay for future projects.

Advertisements