Sanitarium (Windows)

Teen
ESRB Rating
Genre
Visual
Gameplay
Narrative
79
Critic Score
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
4.1
User Score
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Zovni (10667)
Written on  :  Jan 03, 2002
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars

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Summary

Has some big problems that get partially forgiven because of it's unique-ness.

The Good

There's a lot to like about Sanitarium, it's creepy, it's got a simple and easy interface, it's got fairly decent graphics and sounds but most importantly it's got a remarkably grim and deranged world in which to play in.

The horror in the game is displayed not by gore or massive killing sprees, but with unsettling and disturbing imagery that brings a breath of fresh air (actually decaying, stale air ;D) to the computer monitor. Most of it is really wild, with deformed children, bottled babies, some disturbing examples of how the insane people can get, etc. etc. and it's all very original stuff, with some "homages" paid to several horror movies and novels (I recognized the "Children of the Corn" pretty early on, which is devoted an almost entire sequence) It's all pretty hardcore though, so don't expect to see Freddy Krueger references, try some Lovecraft or stuff like that.

In essence the horror of the game happens more on a psychological level, with the use of suggestive imagery that reaaally puts you in a somber mood. It's no coincidence for instance the recurring theme of children: caged children, mutilated babies, kids having their blood sucked out, deformed kids, etc. As you know, children are the future, the pure representations of hopes and illusions so... well, I'll let you connect the dots yourself while I applaud the designers for making something so utterly disturbing. Oh yeah, and the plot also revolves around dying children... that tell you something??

Speaking of the story itself, the game casts you as a patient in an asylum who can't remember nothing about himself, yet several hints point out that he may not belong there, on the other hand he does suffer from some reaaally twisted delusions and traumas that make up for the bulk of the game. As you move along the story, you'll move between the "real" world where Max tries to come to terms with what's happening to him and a series of weird realities product of Max's insanity... or not?? A lot of these illusions spring from the traumatic mind of Max, but there seems to be some other supernatural events afoot too... This element is really the star of the show the way I see it, the constant ping pong between what seems to be a clear illusion which turns out to be firmly rooted in reality, which can only be explained via some supernatural implications... Is Max really mad?? Is reality (if you'll pardon the pun) really real? This stuff is great!!!

Unfortunately....

The Bad

...Unfortunately the designers chose not to run with said premise and you can actually see the game abandoning that idea around mid-game, and focusing on a sort of "whodunnit" plotline where you become a victim of corporate interest... This effectively "yanks down to earth" the whole game and is a big mistake, since you effectively kill the element that brings most intrigue and power to the game! It is not enough to just throw some freaky images your way to scare you, you have to get involved in them, and you have to have a reason to "want" to see them, as the game started the reason was that what you really didn't knew for sure that all the freaky stuff that happened was part of Max's imagination, after a few chapters that is all abandoned for the sake of giving your character a motive, and making some sort of "possible" plotline... Screw possible! Go with the supernatural!! Go with the unexplainable!! There's where the horror really lurks!!! Ah.... what a waste...

This quite literally killed the "fright factor" for me, and also the immersion with the game, which was already paper-thin. You see, the game uses an isometric perspective from which everything is seen faaaaar, faaaaar away. Things don't happen to you in this game, they happen to a little guy that's a mile away in the computer screen, always in the same angle... Most 2D adventures at least use changes of perspective every now and then to give a more cinematic experience but you get squat here. Add to that the extremely bare-bones way in which dialogues are handled (a small text box which pops up from below with still faces of whoever is speaking on either side), a complete inability to run which forces you to play an adventuresque version of Diablo (except you can't whack monsters around for fun in here) and you've got yourself a game that can't be pretty exhausting if played for a long while.

Other problems come in the form of inconsistent voice-acting. Sometimes it's great, sometimes you skip it as soon as you read it. For instance the kid actors in the game make a remarkable job and come off very natural and realistic, but your character sounds like he overacts each line! He must have attended the William Shatner school of voice acting or something... And I challenge anyone to tell me that Grimwall or Olmec (especially Olmec) sound TOO much like Buzz Lightyear on steroids.

Aside from that there's the fact that the game is pretty simple and straightforward, which I haven't really decided if it's good or bad... maybe it's both.

The Bottom Line

Well, Sanitarium is unique, Sanitarium plays good, Sanitarium works without major problems... Is Sanitarium the best horror adventure ever made?? Nope, neither horror-wise nor adventure-wise. But it is a wild ride, and required playing for lovers of the weird and unique.