Review by Toger
"Where Am I? What Am I Doing Here?"
Some days, it just doesn't pay to get out of bed. You know what
I meanthe long day at work is finally over. So you head
for the car and head down the mountain toward home. It's not a
bad drive, but it's raining and the roads are slick. As you enter
the one bad curve in the road, you pump the brakes and the pedal
goes all the way to the floor! This does not bode well. You bounce
off the guardrail a couple of times, then your car plunges through
the guardrail and over the cliff and your world goes black.
The good: You awaken with your head completely swathed in bandages.
The bad: You have amnesia. The ugly: You're in an insane asylum.
To quote the game box, this is "a journey through the depths
of one man's consciousness to confront the demons from his past
and escape the imprisonment of his mind." Sounds like fun,
Uh ... By the way, are you the squeamish type? Easily upset by
animated horror or the sight of bodies and blood? If so, then
you might want to steer clear of this game. Being raised on a
steady diet of Outer Limits and Saturday nights spent watching
Creature Features, not much fazes me, so I'm pretty warped
and twisted. On the other hand, gentle reader, if you're faint
of heart ... This game is rated Teen for a reason.
"See You in Hell, Freak!"
From the moment the publisher's logo splashes across the screen
wrapped in bandages and you hear the screams and cries of the
inmates, you know you're going to be in for some psychological
fun and games!
Sanitarium begins in earnest when you awaken inside the
asylum and must find your way out of the Tower Cells before the
generator explodes. Once you've gotten out of the tower, you'll
navigate your way through eight more chapters of mind-warping
"worlds." Each chapter takes place in either a part
of the asylum or one of several other locations, including a "Children
of the Damned" type town, an Aztec village and an insect
Sanitarium's story is imaginative, dark, creepy and malevolent.
It's the kind of game you'll want to play with the lights off
and your headphones on. Chapters that take place in the asylum
are accompanied by the wailing, screaming and crying of tortured,
For me, the creepiest part of the game was the options screen,
where a pair of evil eyes followed my every move. Also, in keeping
with the atmosphere, there's a big green eye staring wildly out
of a bunch of gauze on the box and the jewel case.
"I Can't Do That from Here"
All of the puzzles within the game are relevant to your current
situation and make absolute sense. Need to get out of the morgue
before you freeze to death? Better figure out how to open the
hinges so you can open the door! There were no puzzles thrown
in there just to pad the game. In some cases, the puzzles take
place in the world-at-large, such as returning a child to its
parents, whereas others will offer an up-close-and-personal view.
Can we talk about the myriad puzzles? There are the usual inventory-based
puzzles. And then there are the fetch-this-for-that-person-and-receive-something-in-return
puzzles, mechanical, anagrams, matching symbols, music, and one
... drum roll, please ... maze. Don't hyperventilate! The maze
is pretty easyit's an open maze, no wallsas long as
you don't do what I did and push all of the buttons (subtle
hint), you'll do just fine.
The only problem I encountered with any of the puzzles was that
sometimes the item I needed looked just like some of the background
objects. So there is a wee bit of pixel huntingminor gripe.
But then, I've got old eyes.
"It Looks Like a Giant Eye!"
Sanitarium is contained on three CDs with virtually no
disk-swapping. Once you've moved onto the next CD, you stay there.
The game also will start from any of the CDsnow there's
a refreshing change!
The game itself is fairly linearyou cannot move on to the
next chapter until you've completed everything in the current
chapter. Also, inventory in one chapter doesn't follow to the
next, so you're sure to find what you're looking for in the immediate
vicinity. For me, that's a good thing. As much as I loved the
King's Quest games, I really hated all that traipsing back
and forth or the fact that I'd get all the way to the end only
to find I was missing a crucial object. Is that heartless or what?
The interface is traditional point-and-click with a slight variation.
To move your character, click and hold the right mouse
button, then drag the arrow cursor to where you need to go. Once
there, release the mouse button. Personally, I disliked this method.
It was especially bothersome in close quarters, in which case
I either ran up and down stairs, a lot, or got trapped by objects
when I was trying to go elsewhere. Everything else, such as interacting
with objects or people, is accomplished by using the left mouse
Should I mention Sanitarium's arcade-type sequences? Don't
panic! There are only two such sequences and they're really not
that bad. Would I lie to you? Once you've gotten rid of the lesser
critters, they stay gone even if you should die when you face
the Big Bad. Oh, dear. I've said the "d" word. Yes,
you can die in the arcade sequences, but you're immediately revived
and you have an infinite number of lives. Plus, with the save-anywhere
feature, you can choose to reload from your last save instead
of starting at the beginning of the sequence!
Inventory management is really simple. A left-click on your character
will bring up all of the objects that you currently carry in their
own individual circle, which in turn circles your avatar. When
you hover over an object, Max will tell you about said object.
Oops! Did I give away that your character's name is Max? Not
to worry, I don't think that's a spoiler. After all, Max will
remember his name rather early in the game.
"Only Good Bug Is a Dead Bug"
Graphically speaking, some of the scenes can be pretty graphic.
A couple of times I found myself saying, "oh, ewww!"but
you'll notice that it didn't stop me from playing! Sanitarium's
graphics are in beautifully detailed prerendered 2D. The circus
level had floating balloons, empty vodka bottles and bits of trash
scattered about the grounds, while the hive level was suitably
squishy and organic-looking.
As Max travels through the various levels, events or objects
will trigger a memory. Memories are done via cutscenes with a
wonderfully old, faded, sepia-toned, eight-millimeter-film look
and feel, even down to the pops, lines, stray hairs, stutters
and shaky camera angles found in home movies.
Voice work for the game was very good. At first, I wasn't really
enamored of the actor who voiced Max, but then I decided he seemed
a little dead in the beginning because he was confused and didn't
understand the things that were happening to him. Conversations
with NPCs are spoken as well as subtitled. You can also toggle
subtitles on for the cutscenes and observations that Max makes.
Ambient sounds were excellent. As Max walked on different surfaces,
the sounds of his footsteps would change accordingly. Heavy metal
doors clanked with force. Don't get me started on the hivethat
whole level was disgustingly gross! We're talking wet, slurping,
slithering, squishy sounds! And I loved every nasty moment! Curiously
enough, there's not a lot of background music during most of the
game. One chapter has especially haunting music to make the chapter
very sad, sweet and poignant. During the final two chapters there
is background music, which heightens the tension quite well.
Traveling through the game, you'll meet all manner of characters:
Aztec warrior shades, disfigured smart-alecky kids, disgruntled
circus performers, insectoids, the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl and
some seriously funny inmates. You'll even play various incarnations
of MaxGrimwall, a four-armed, hoofed, horned Cyclops; Olmec,
Mighty Aztec God; and Sarah, Max's sister.
"Well, They Do Say You Really Can't Go Home Again"
Sanitarium is a wonderfully creepy, psychological thriller/mystery
of a game where the sole purpose is to discover who you are, why
you're in the asylum, who's done this to you and how to get out.
I found the story worthy of an Outer Limits episode with
all of the twists and turns that one would expect in such a story.
The reverse mouse movement notwithstanding, Sanitarium rates
the FFC gold star from me!
If you haven't already played this game, you should. You know
you want to do it. Have you checked your car's brake line of late?
How's that for psychological manipulation?