Mind Scanners

Mind Scanners is to Papers, Please as Katana Zero is to Hotline, Miami: A game with noticeably different style and mechanics whose underlying theme and pace nevertheless make it feel like it’s a clone. In Mind Scanners, you are in a dystopian cyberpunk city and your daughter has the mutant power to blow up electronics, which makes her both a threat and potential asset to the government. They take her to a special institute for research. At the same time, there’s a new Mind Scanners initiative for using cyberpunk tech to scan and alter people’s psychology for mental health purposes, and level 3 mind scanners are allowed into the institute where your daughter is being held.

As you work your way up the mind scanner ranks, you come across disruptors – other mutants with the same powers your daughter has – and can turn them in or experiment on them to try and find a way to exploit or eliminate their powers. Rebels and the government alike will sometimes ask you to use mind scanning tech to erase the personality of certain patients completely, something you can also do by accident (or on purpose – there’s no penalty for erasing a personality besides being an evil bastard, and it’s faster and easier to cure people if you ignore the personality meter completely).

Like Papers, Please, you’re playing a little minigame on a timer to try and stay ahead of your rent. Unlike Papers, Please, it comes with difficulty levels, and the easy difficulty level mostly lives up to its name. I played the tertiary gameplay loop of the game – picking which patients to treat and when to set aside time to invent new mind scanning/altering devices and so forth – pretty sloppy on my first time through, because I found it very hard to resist scanning as many patients as possible even when there were more important plot things to be doing. On easy mode, though, treating patients went quickly enough that I was able to stay on top of things anyway.

I got a “the rebels are also authoritarians” vibe from the game, so I mostly snubbed them, but also ignored anytime the government asked me to mindwipe someone for being robosexual and declared a bunch of dissidents sane despite their weird tics (one claimed to see the future in a way that wasn’t clear whether she was speaking metaphorically or not but I suspected the main reason the government wanted her examined is because she was cryptically implying the government would cause catastrophe, one was an anti-government artist really obsessed with water which is weird, but we do need that stuff to live so I don’t really see how it’s a problem). There was a mad science project I botched purely out of incompetence, but that turned out to be for the best because (the internet tells me) its ultimate effect is to erase everyone’s personalities to create a world of perfectly homogenous bliss.

Two things I really appreciate about Mind Scanners is that 1) easy difficulty hits that sweet spot where I still have to learn the mechanics of the game and can’t just completely faceroll, but it’s also easy rather than demanding a ton of effort from a game I really want to get out of the way in one playthrough, and 2) generally trying to be a good person gets you a generally good ending on your first time through, rather than having the default ending be your puppy getting ground up into viscera and force-fed to other puppies and the only way to avoid that is to either play multiple times and experiment with what changes the ending or else use a walkthrough. Mind Scanners is a fun game, but not so fun that I want to replay it, and it seems like the endings get this. There is a perfect ending you can strive for if you want, but getting a generally positive outcome just requires that you not be overly gullible or murder your own daughter for the glory of the Supreme Leader.

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