“When I met Freud I found him extremely shrewd, intelligent and altogether remarkable. But I could not quite make him out.” – Carl Jung
Freud’s Bones is a narrative-focused adventure in which the player infiltrates the mind of Sigmund Freud and must act as his inner voice, guiding him as he treats patients and attempting to save him from himself. It aims to pay homage to the father of Psychoanalysis and its founder. Created almost entirely by a single game developer, the game began life as a Kickstarter project, it was the winner of the Red Bull Indie Forge Award 2020 as well as Italian finalist in the Nordic Game Contest 2021.
Developer: Axel Fox
Released: 25th May 2022
Available on: Steam
In Freud’s Bones, the player essentially possesses the titular character in order to manage his well-being, take care of daily tasks such as reading letters, the occasional trip out and of course, diagnosing and treating patients. The gameplay can be divided into two sections, the point-and-click aspects where the player can move Freud around to explore, examine items and solve the occasional puzzle related to strange Egyptian artefacts and the sections involving patients which are more conversation-based and analytical.
Whilst situated in Freud’s mind, the player must monitor his stress levels, indicated by an illustration of Freud in various states though the lack of specificity or an actual meter means this is a little unclear. Smoking cigars helps Freud to overcome stress and promotes concentration, using cocaine also has benefits and these are the primary methods to assist his mood. Whilst presumably historically accurate, engaging with a mechanic that rewards substance abuse feels a little odd.
Freud has a clinical report for each patient containing relevant documents as well as notes and a section for a diagnosis. During therapy, the player must guide the conversation to elicit information from the patient, pick key details from the session and use it to analyse documents and give a diagnosis. Whilst this is both interesting and fun, the different aspects of this are many, with some seemingly quite arbitrary. This is in part due to the verbose and ambiguous instructions, for example, the game features ‘ratio’ and ‘intueor’ points but does not make it clear how to obtain them or what the tangible benefit of having them is.
The game’s story focuses on the day-to-day life of Sigmund Freud, his own well-being and the ailments of his various patients. The narrative is well-researched and full of fascinating information and curious characters. It is delivered through the gameplay itself, monologues, conversations and lots of documents; there is no voice acting so there is a lot of reading involved. Freud’s Bones has some really beautiful writing, however, if playing the English version some things seem to have got lost in translation and this along with the small mistakes dotted throughout unfortunately breaks the immersion somewhat.
Although the game’s store page does not appear to contain any content warnings, it is worth noting that the game explores psychoanalysis and therefore subjects of a sexual nature as well as featuring uncomfortable moments that depict the anti-Semitism of the time.
Freud’s Bones has an interesting 2D art style with a nice amount of detail and great use of cool and muted colour palettes that really fit the themes and feel of the game. The music is slightly sinister-sounding but upbeat. Whilst it makes for pleasant background music it does get a bit repetitive and doesn’t always reflect the tone of the game and its more serious subject matter.
Freud’s Bones is clearly a passion project; there is an obvious enthusiasm for the well-researched subject matter, originality and tons of interesting information that help to draw the player in. The characters are varied and their conditions and situations are diverse and the visual aspects are pleasing and suited to the style and themes of the game. Additionally, the combination of play styles across the different sections of gameplay help to keep things engaging.
The game is multi-faceted with many different aspects, such as managing Freud’s life, his mood, his finances, interacting with mysterious artefacts, both the detective and conversational style aspects of treating and diagnosing patients and much more. However, the lack of clarity in both the narrative and instructional elements really hinders the enjoyment of the game and results in it feeling like an experience to be fumbled through rather than a coherent set of challenges and mechanics.
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