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SummaryAn interesting, but unfortunately very eclectic experience
The GoodBizarre. That is the only word that can summarize this game. You play Max, an amnesiac who may or may not be insane, in an environment that is either his subconsciousness, or a hallucinatory version of the insane asylum he is in. Or both. Sounds like a good idea for a video game? Of course it does!
This basic idea is easily the strongest point of the whole game. I'm not sure it is completely unique, but at the very least games dealing with minds of the insane are not particularly common. "Sanitarium" is divided into several chapters, some of which manage to display the mess that is inside human brain wonderfully. The others, unfortunately, don't, but I'll return to that later. The atmosphere and the subtle details linking the chapters together (like the recurring circus and clown motif) are very impressive (even though the graphics are not particularly so, especially in the cutscenes) and seem to show that someone was really thinking when putting the whole game together. The interface is very simplistic and easy to use. And of course there are several very creepy and disturbing (which does not mean frightening) moments.
Unfortunately, there are flaws, and quite a lot of those. The most obvious design mistake is that the by far strongest chapter is the second one. And if that wasn't enough, the second best follows almost immediately afterward and from there on it gets steadily worse. Partly it's because the writers (as mentioned in other reviews here) desperately try to find a sensible plot, reducing all the madness to a hallucination, which essentially means that you stop caring for your hero and, well, about the game as such.
The other thing is that especially the later chapters are connected only very loosely to the rest. This is particularly true of the "comic book" chapter and the incredibly annoying "Mayan" chapter that feel like completely different games that have been added for some very obscure reason as an afterthought. They are different not only visually, but also in overall style; I even think the Mayan chapter was actually supposed to be funny - and I have to stress I did not register anything even remotely resembling a joke in the rest of the game! And if it wasn't meant to be funny... Well, that's even worse.
Then there are the puzzles, which are terribly easy and with very obvious solutions. If you ever get stuck, it is quite likely because you overlooked something (which happens rather a lot). Mostly you just walk around and talk to everyone about everything; the first part of the Mayan chapter in fact consists of virtually nothing else but endless walking and talking. To make the game more difficult, it is seasoned with some "action" sequences that just show that the interface that was more than good for an adventure game is otherwise completely useless (and yet again I point to the Mayan chapter - as if we all didn't know mazes in an adventure game have never ever been a good idea).
What's also incredibly irritating is the walking pace of your character. Almost all of Max's incarnations you will control (yes, there are more than one) are incredibly slow, considering you spend vast majority of playing time walking around. If there were a way to speed him up, the game would be much shorter - and it actually is quite short even as it is. And a last point, though I agree this is nitpicking, the savegame files have a completely ridiculous size for an absolutely linear adventure game - averaging about 1.5 megabytes each (easily RAR-able into about 15 kilobytes). I know that's not really an issue on modern machines, but I think that tells you something about the game's programmers.
The Bottom Line
The beginning of the game is very good and unique, but as it progresses, it becomes more and more annoying and I quite frankly finished it just because I knew I was almost at the end.
Nevertheless, I heartily recommend giving "Sanitarium" a try - but if you can manage that, stop playing after the end of the Mansion segment. You'll have a gaming experience to remember and save yourself a lot of disappointment.