by Tanuvien
December 25, 2003


System Requirements:
Pentium 90
1 MB PCI video card
30 MB free HD space

Pentium 133
2 MB PCI video card
60 MB Free HD space

Pentium IV 2.53 Ghz
Windows XP
52x CD-ROM
SoundBlaster Audigy 2.0

It seems to be a trend in modern games to try and shock you with outrageous portrayals of gore, agony and torture, just to garner the attention of the media-who-cried-wolf. Usually, this bloody exterior is often cloaking a shallow, poorly made game.

Despite how developers try, they still rarely succeed in making a disturbing game. After all, polygonal death and fake blood isn't really all that disturbing. It takes a certain artistic or demented share of ingenious to truly disturb in a piece of fiction.

By that logic, ASC Games has some sick puppies working for them, because Sanitarium is truly disturbing. Don't let the T rating fool you, its easily more content mature than most M games you will find on the market.

You play the nameless patient of a psychiatric ward, just awakened from a car accident. Your face is thoroughly bandaged, harsh burn scars peaking through the white veil. The tower around you is burning down, and you meet the first forsaken inhabitants of the game world. One man, who won't even speak to you, is busy banging his face against the wall, painting it with his blood. Another is dancing with his pants down to his ankles, only to fall a long way down to his death.

You then proceed through the dark world of Sanitarium, never really sure if what you are seeing is real or merely the illusions of a madman. Carried away by the statue of an angel who cries blood, you travel through several worlds, occasionally visiting the asylum as a sort of hub world.

The first place you visit is perhaps the most disturbing, inhabited my deformed and dying children. Even some of the puzzles, such as dealing with the corpse of a girl only so her friends can drag her around in a wheelbarrow, accentuate the unnatural game universe.

Not all of the worlds are so disturbing though, such as the circus you eventually visit (though this world in particular has one of the more dramatic endings). Despite its lack of terror, gore or deformities, however, the circus carries its own dark, sinister aura. By the end of the game, you will have played as a young girl, a comic book hero, and a servant of the gods just to find out what is going on.

The story of Sanitarium is amazing. It's hard to describe some of the raw power it possesses without spoiling key parts of the story. To make it even better, its not just meaningless despair. The worlds each have occurrences that, subtly or not, mirror what is going on with your character in the asylum, and many of them reflect his past. It is truly touching at times, and I even found myself misting up at one scene in particular.

The story is not the only good feature of the game, however. The graphics, simply put, are beautiful. Often dreary, dark and dismal, each world has its unique if sickening beauty. Each place is rich with detail, often giving a twisted view of normally regular things. The game is graphically rich, and serves to further empower the dark overtones of the rest of the game.

Character animations are smooth, and each person shows their deformities in vivid quality. Though a few animation clips are odd, and sometimes comical, they generally support the atmosphere well. The cut scenes are also fitting, flickering and covered in a rough, gray filter to give it all a rugged feel to further the representation of insanity.

The weakest point of Sanitarium is the audio. Music is occasionally nonexistent, or at least, so obscure, it's often unnoticeable. There will often be a quiet tune playing in the background you won't even notice. Voice acting ranges from good to hammy. Sadly, the worst actor is the main character, which, other than one or two places, just sounds flat and boring. The supporting cast actually comes off much better, almost always fitting their roles with the professional talent you'd expect.

It's sad that the main character is so hollow, because it actually does detract away from some of the more shocking aspects of the story. When he tries to sound surprised or interested, it just doesn't work.

I have to give special mentions to the sounds used in the menu screen. When you roll over the options there, a haunting girls voice echoes the command out to you. It is really a nice, chilling touch.

The puzzles, for the most part, are easy. Items are obvious, and you generally learn everything you need through all of the options in the dialogue trees. Occasionally, you're met with a Myst-like puzzle, which are actually the better-made ones in the game. They are never too hard, but good enough to keep you thinking for a few minutes. You won't be looking in a walkthrough for this one.

A bad aspect of the game play, however, is the movement. You have to hold the right mouse button down in the direction you want to move. While this isn't as bad as Grim Fandango, for instance, it makes it annoying to turn around corners or do precision moving. It is an annoyance not being able to just click and watch your character move himself. Even when using an item, you are first required to come into close proximity to whatever you want to use it on, or the character will be confused as how to walk five feet It also hurts you during the set of mazes and action scenes you will meet in the game

The mazes and action scenes aren't particularly hard, thankfully. Even if you fail or die, you just go back to the beginning, your progress made previously still done. While they aren't my idea of fun, they never become a hindrance to the overall game.

In the end, Sanitarium is a must buy for any adventure game fan. It has a moving story, featuring the grisly depths of human cruelty and insanity. The few quibbles I have with it are negligible compared to the fun it offers. Possessing one of the most powerful stories in the gaming industry, if you don't already own this, you should soon.

Interface -92
Graphics - 95
Sound -90
Story - 98
Puzzles -88


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