How to begin a review about a game that has been around for so long, a game that has become sort of a “cult” classic? How do you describe a game that is everything but ordinary?
When you first start Sanitarium, you will be treated with a very cool introduction movie – a man driving, talking to someone, telling that he ‘got it all figured out’ – all of a sudden, the car crashes and you find yourself in a wrecked-up asylum with a severe amnesia. You don’t know who you are, where you are, and why you are there. Sounds cliché, but believe me, the game is far from that. We have all heard this amnesia story a hundred times over. A character forgets everything, then either by touching a magical ring or seeing their worst enemy or a beloved one, they remember it all! That is not the way it works in real life. That is not how Sanitarium works either. You will very, very slowly pick up the pieces of your own past and put them together, one by one.
Controls are quite simple. You move your character by dragging the mouse in the direction you want him to go and access the inventory by clicking on the character. He moves very smoothly through the world, although there is one bug that appears at random places causing your character to get stuck. He won’t be able to move or do anything. You could try saving and reloading, but a better way is saving often and just reloading the last one. Fortunately, players should not encounter this issue very often, it happened once or twice to me throughout the adventure.
As you progress through the world, you will be thrown into different settings – VERY different from what you’ve seen so far – getting a chance to play as characters other than the nameless protagonist. When you start controlling a different character, the transition may not initially make any sense. But by the time you reach the end of Sanitarium, nothing is left without explanation.
Your journey through Sanitarium will take you a wide array of different locations. You will visit a town with no grown-ups around, an absolutely mad circus level (with clowns on top), an ancient Aztec city, a fantasy Hive and many, many more. As you play through the game, try to spot Elvis if you can ;)
One of my favorite levels is the one you get to play right after ‘tutorial’ level that takes place at the asylum. You will find yourself in an eerie town populated with only children. Although YOU will certainly ask yourself where the heck the grown-ups are, the children will not seem to care about it. And not only that – they seem to be terribly messed up as well. It will be up to you to understand what is going on at the town.
Interacting with characters is easy, all you have to do is click on them and a chat screen will pop up at the bottom of your monitor. Every character has a unique voice, and the conversations are accompanied with subtitles. If you don’t feel like listening to the dialogues, you can easily skip through the lines by clicking on them. However, it is not recommended to skip a lot of the dialogue, as some of the characters will give out important information. But even if you miss something by accident, you can always go back and ask them to repeat it for you.
On the left side of the chat box you will find a small bust portrait of our nameless character (his expression will change depending on his mood, which is a very nice addition in my opinion) and on the right is a portrait of the character you are talking to. Just be careful, because some characters will freak you out when you see their faces.
Sanitarium does have some action sequences. At the end (or near the end) of certain levels, you will encounter a mini-boss. They usually aren’t too hard to beat. Even if you die, the game will zap you a few steps back and let you continue the battle. After all, it’s an adventure game, not a shooter. Some bosses will require you to hit them with some weapon, while others will be beaten after you solve a puzzle. The game is all about variations.
Even though the game is locked on 640x480 screen resolution, everything looks great and incredibly detailed. The colors are very vibrant, but at the same time they appear sick and mysterious. The atmosphere is quite sinister, with some subtle touches of a gothic mood. I don’t recommend playing the game if you’re touchy and easily frightened, as some portions appear extremely gory and even violent.
The last bit, but the most important one: the story. From the beginning until the very end, you won’t have the clearest idea what is going on – the game is full of little flashbacks and hints, packed in beautiful full-motion videos. The plot unravels slowly, often throwing you in deeper lack of knowledge. [Editorial Note: It is also worth noting that Sanitarium has a number of powerful emotional moments that fit very well into the game’s underlying theme of self-discovery.]
Constant puzzle-solving is going to keep your brain busy for hours, but don’t worry, none of them are very hard (hey, *I* solved them alone!) and they won’t ruin your gaming experience. Yet at the same time, they will not bore you either. Each puzzle is unique and while there is a number of inventory-based puzzles, you will encounter a great variety of logic ones as well.
Overall, Sanitarium is one of the best games I have ever played. If you love dark, twisted tales and find the idea of exploring a variety of different worlds and personas appealing, make sure you do not miss The Sanitarium. You will not be disappointed.