Portraying mental health and psychology from a critical perspective in video games isn’t very common. While players may see their characters undergo stress or change their mood throughout a story, it usually doesn’t extend to the more alarming and enduring states of mental stress from which some people suffer. There could be several reasons for this, but one of the undeniably strongest arguments is that it’s hard to tackle this sort of issue and retain entertainment value through traditional game mechanics.
But the issue has been gaining traction as it’s becoming a more openly discussed topic, and even top developers have decided to tackle it with games like The Last of Us and the upcoming Hellblade. Thermo-Dynamic Games is an indie studio working on Echoes, a game dealing with the journey through counseling and overcoming mental issues.
The game will be released episodically, with the first release, titled Episode 1: Diagnosis, exploring the beginnings of the protagonist and introduces the game’s “mind break” game mechanic. According to the developer players will have to “overcome challenging and alien sections of the environment in order to progress and discover the story behind it all.” Making use of a well established storytelling device, dreams, the player explores the main character’s dream states. The further you progress the more challenging it gets, and the player is supposed to be charmed by the game’s initial moments.
It seems that the game takes visual inspiration from some of the more stylized games of recent years. It bears a strong resemblance to The Witness, which was released for PlayStation 4 in January this year. Admittedly there’s a more bleak tone here, but it seems to work in the game’s favor. Nothing here disappoints visually.
The developer says there will be more news to come in the next month, and episode one will see a full release later this year. Anyone looking to try the game before its official release can look into Itch’s Refinery program where the game will be found (presumably soon) as it moves towards the release date.