Description official descriptions
Not much is known about Max Laughton at first, but it is clear that he is conducting a particularly important research and is close to reaching his goal. Eager to share the good news with his family, Max hurries home in his car. However, somebody has evidently tampered with the vehicle; failing to control it, Max gets in a serious accident and loses his conscience. When he wakes up, he finds himself in a strange tower resembling an asylum, surrounded by insane people, the shrill sound of alarm driving him mad. Max cannot remember anything from his past and is feverishly trying to escape this place. But just when he thinks he has succeeded, he is taken on delusional, horrifying trips through his subconsciousness, unable to distinguish between reality and hallucinations.
Sanitarium is a point-and-click adventure game, best described as a psychological thriller. The game is divided into nine chapters, each taking place in a different location and having its own distinct atmosphere. It is not always clear if something is happening on the grounds of the sanitarium or in the delusional mind of the protagonist. In most chapters the player controls Max himself, though in the more surreal areas drawn from his memories the role of the protagonist is given to other characters, real or fictional.
Both movement of Max and picking up items are done with the mouse. Puzzles are mostly inventory-related, with a few machine and lever puzzles. There are also a few action sequences, but even when the player dies, the game can be continued without any penalty. Talking to various NPCs will teach the player about their bizarre surroundings. The plot unfolds as Max's memories are gradually restored and the player finds out more about his past and the nature of the research he was dedicating his life to.
- Шизариум - Russian spelling
- סניטריום - Hebrew spelling
Credits (Windows version)
93 People (81 developers, 12 thanks) · View all
|Head of R&D|
|Director of Creative Development|
|Music & Sound Effects|
|[ full credits ]|
Average score: 80% (based on 30 ratings)
Average score: 4.1 out of 5 (based on 141 ratings with 12 reviews)
DreamForge, certainly an underrated developer, mainly focused on role-playing games (Ravenloft series and others), with only an occasional adventure - such as the interesting Chronomaster - sticking out. Sanitarium is undoubtedly their best-known adventure, and probably their most famous game in general.
Sanitarium begins as a psychological thriller. You have lost your memory and can't even remember your name; all you know is that you are in a very bizarre place, surrounded by equally bizarre people. Piece by piece you must unravel the mystery, but at first it seems that it would become even more complicated as you advance in through the fittingly disjointed, nightmarish plot.
Right in the beginning there's so much suspense that it took me several attempts to actually start playing the game. You have no idea about what to do next or even who you are supposed to be. The beginning Sanitarium manages to be scary and very unsettling without resorting to cheap effects. There are very few standard horror elements in the game: minimum of violence, almost no gory scenes at all, and only a few creepy monsters making well-timed appearances. What is truly frightening is the psychological suspense and the madness surrounding the hero and torturing him from within. What is scary is the inability to tell dreams and hallucinations from reality.
The first real chapter of the game is also by far the strongest one. Everything is very quiet in a seemingly peaceful little village. But then you start talking to those children... and those deformed children were probably the single scariest thing I have ever seen on my monitor. I remember feeling physically ill just from playing that chapter. I couldn't put the game down afterwards simply because of some sort of a morbid curiosity that kept urging me to continue. But the game does much more than shock you with disturbing images: it makes you identify yourself with the hero who, in spite of surrounding madness, tries to control himself and act as normal as possible.
Not everything Sanitarium does is brilliant or even appropriate, but one can hardly deny that it tries very hard to keep us in the loop of perpetual psychotic ravings. And that is no small task - after all, there is only so much pressure human brain withstand when bombarded with mutated faces of innocent kids. It seems that the developers understood that and eventually went for color and variety at the expense of horror atmosphere. This is precisely what the game was berated for: it promises unbearable mental horror and ends with a horse-faced deity chatting with decent-looking Mexican spirits. But while it is true that, in a way, Sanitarium doesn't sustain its atmosphere well enough, it attempts to compensate it with diversity. Many of us lambasted the comic book or the Mesoamerican chapter post factum - but during the first playthrough, the change of scenery was certainly perceived as interesting and even strangely invigorating.
Despite my defense of the later chapters, I won't try to deny that they cannot compare to the opening ones and even come close to ruining the game. In its aspiration to cram as much material as possible into the game in order to reflect the richness of human imagination (or whatever other reason, really), Sanitarium ends up choosing the path of gradual reduction of the horror aspect and its eventual replacement by mild and rather harmless fantasy adventuring. The dark and twisted images of the earlier chapters give way to nearly cheerful superhero adventures, culminating in the Mesoamerican chapter, rightfully regarded as the weakest one.
There is quite a bit of discrepancy between the atmosphere and the puzzles in Sanitarium. The few mechanical puzzles actually work well, and - unlike some other reviewers - I also didn't mind the primitive action sequences. In contrast, traditional inventory-based puzzles are rather weak and almost feel like an afterthought. I do not see anything remotely poignant or symbolic in riding a toy pig in order to proceed to a mysterious pumpkin patch controlled by a horrifying alien. It doesn't really get better as the game advances. You'll be forced to endure stretches of schematic gameplay with obsolete devices and a lot of backtracking, which clashes with the game's horror aspirations and renders the later chapters positively dull.
The conversations are, unfortunately, not better. You'll have to exhaust one dialogue tree after another to obtain vital information time after time; but these dialogues are not particularly interesting or well-written, lacking wit or any sort of extravagant element to match the game's original premise. There is something thoroughly mild and mundane in the entire gameplay system of Sanitarium, which feels very much out of place in a game with such strong imagery.
Finally, though the graphics are certainly good, I find the isometric perspective woefully unsuitable. The rooms are just way too small. This wouldn't be a problem in a RPG, where you have to overlook a large world with less importance assigned to each area. But here, every item is needed to solve some puzzle, so expect a good deal of the so-called "pixel-hunting". And the isometric perspective generally doesn't fit a game that emphasizes the protagonist's psychological suffering rather than world exploration. First-person view, for example, would have been much more appropriate. The control scheme is needlessly weird - why do I have to hold down a mouse button to move? The protagonist's walking speed is too slow, and he would often get caught in unskippable animations going up and down the stairs.
The Bottom Line
Sanitarium is unique and engrossing, and the first two or so chapters are truly well done. Unfortunately, it loses a lot of its atmosphere along the way, and its gameplay system is steadily a few notches below its captivating premise.
Windows · by Unicorn Lynx (180491) · 2016
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 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.
Windows · by Zovni (10504) · 2002
(eh, I'll just start by saying that I refer to the main character as "the character" as well as "you", since it is you playing it. I just can't remember the guy's name...it's been a while)
I heard nothing but bad things about this game. My uncle thought it was horrible, my friends thought it was the worst game ever made. They probably weren't alone, since at the time the only places I'd even heard of the game was through their ranting. I picked the game up out of boredom - just to see what was so bad about it, if nothing else - and was surprised to find such a great game!
This is what an adventure game should be. It reminds me of the old Lucas Arts adventure games, but with updated graphics and a story that's completely unique to the computer gaming world.
Sanitarium was one of the few games nowadays that actually brings a chill to my spine. Not necessarily because it was scary (though, there were times...), but because surprise plot elements that were revealed were actually interesting. It wasn't just a "oh look, he's a demon" or "oh wow, that guy's evil" plot twist that you find in so many other games.
The thing that adds to the game's atmosphere the most is that it all takes place in a man's own reality. Because of this, the game is not limited by what can and can't be, but every area and object you find is related to, and contributes to the game's plot. Every part of the game you see is coming from some deep recess of the character's mind, some dark, destroyed, warped, fading image of something, and it is a wonderful thing. You will journey into images from his childhood, from the insect-like world from a comic book, to a melting image of his once home, through his mind and destroyed memory all the while trying to understand who you are and what lead up to this. And the second area you visit, with the mutated children - it is one of the most chilling and memorable places I've ever seen in a computer game.
Though it becomes obvious who the real "bad guy" is in the game, you are never distracted from it, because you get the feeling the character in the game suspects as well, but he is more concerned with finding out who it is and what part it plays in his madness.
Puzzles are fairly simple, but I like easy puzzles in adventure games. I love the adventure genre because it often feels more like playing an interactive movie than just killing brain cells playing a computer game, and too many adventure games have ridiculously pointless, impossible puzzles in it.
When you complete some of the more plot-contributing puzzles, you are rewarded with fantastic cinematics. They're all high quality and very well-done. Sometimes they're just a more detailed view of what you just accomplished, and sometimes it's another journey into the character's mind. And you can go back and view them all later, if you want, which I loved.
Even though all the characters in the game were either warped memories of someone from the character's past, or a completely imagined person, most of them were quite interesting and had some actual depth to them. I liked listening to them talk about themselves and coming to realize how they might have spawned from the character's madness.
This game gets my highest recommendation. The adventure genre is dying, but it's because there aren't more games like this.
While I grew to love the character in the game, I thought that (especially in the beginning of the game) his voice was annoying. It was acted well enough (though not perfect), but it just had a certain tone to it that was annoying.
Maybe I'm just stupid, but I wish there had been more emphasis or explanation as to some of the parts of the game, particularly the Sanitarium areas, especially the second one, since it seems much less insane than the first one. Were they the character's subconscious realization that he was trapped within his own mind? Or were they spawned from coming in and out of a coma and interacting with doctors? Well, like I said, maybe I'm dumb or missed the reference, but if we were expected to just draw up our own conclusions...well, I don't like that.
Some quests involve asking dozens of characters the same questions over and over. Now, I didn't mind this because most of the characters were so interesting, but some parts had characters that were no different than the one next to it, save for a unique name or something. Though I think there were only two parts where this was necesarry, I think this is the game's biggest drawback.
The Bottom Line
Journey into the mind of a madman and follow the footsteps through your destroyed memory to find out who you are and how you got here. You'll begin to question what is reality and what is madness. This game is one of the best adventure games ever created.
Windows · by kbmb (416) · 2001
|Spine/Sides cover scans||RickTM||Sep 28th, 2022|
|problems installing sanitarium||raconteurion||Sep 14th, 2010|
Initial shipments of Sanitarium came with a game-wrecking bug that would cause the player to get locked out of buildings in level 2. A patch is available that corrects this, but there are still reports that it appears infrequently.
- Computer Gaming World
- April 1999 (Issue #177) – Best Adventure Game of the Year (together with Grim Fandango)
Related Sites +
A humorous review on PC Gamer
Postmortem: DreamForge's Sanitarium
A postmortem of the isometric adventure game, <em>Sanitarium</em>, on Gamasutra. The article is written by the game's writer, Chris Pasetto, and deals with the origins of the game's concept, pinning down an engine, their relationship with their publisher, and several other elements that arose or had an effect in the creation of the game (Dec. 4th, 1998).
These hints provide gentle nudges before the final solution is revealed, helping you solve the game without spoiling it for you.
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Contributors to this Entry
Game added by faceless.
iPad, iPhone, Android added by ZeTomes.
Game added December 15th, 1999. Last modified September 20th, 2023.