Looking Back: Sanitarium

  • Name: Sanitarium
  • Platform: PC
  • Developer: DreamForge Intertainment
  • Publisher: ASC Games
  • Originally Released: April 1998

Point and click adventure games have a tendency towards the strange. From Deponia to I Spy (yes, it is a game that exists), point and click adventures are unusual, to say the least. They tend towards the quirky, the imaginative, the eccentric, and other fun buzzwords.

But few can match Sanitarium in that department. Seems Halloween is coming early, kids.

Where many point and clicks tend towards, say, crime, fantasy or sci-fi, and other subjects that make it relatively easy to design puzzles for, Sanitarium decided to go with horror. Not that this game is particularly scary – its graphics in particular are almost laughable, but it has a pervading sense of darkness and mystery that characterizes the best horror games. It just makes for a fascinating thing to behold. And the subject matter is pretty grim as well.

You play as Max, a man whose car takes an unfortunate tumble off a cliff. He subsequently wakes up in an insane asylum with no memory whatsoever and covered in bandages, making him look shockingly like a mummy.

Surprisingly, given the title, you spend very little time in the Asylum. There’s only three levels of ten or so. All of the others take place in Max’s hallucinations and dreams, each of which has its own mini-story that ties into what happened to Max and the deeper mysteries present.

Like practically all adventure games, the gameplay of Sanitarium is primarily puzzle-solving. There’s almost no combat or anything like it, and only one real boss fight at the very end of the game. Even then, it’s beaten by solving a puzzle.

The puzzles themselves vary a lot. For example, in an early level, you play hide-and-seek and tic-tac-toe with some creepy children, while later on you have to memorize rhythms to destroy some pumpkins (don’t ask), and others have you solve some very abstract riddles. Naturally, you’re going to have a great deal of trouble with at least a few of them. Some of them will make you want to pull your hair out, but it’s all manageable, if not necessarily easy.

As I said earlier, each level is more or less self-contained, with some repeating patterns that factor into the back story, such as an emphasis on children, parents, sickness, etcetera. And many of them are fantastic.

The Asylum, though you don’t spend all that much time in it, is very gothic, very old, and while it’s clear people can and are still living here, it has a tinge of the run-down to it. Broken tiles, moss and discolouration at the edges of the walls – things like that. It’s very eerie, especially when you start talking to the doctors and inmates.

There are plenty of other fun levels as well, such as a (shockingly not evil) carnival trapped on an island and a strange hive of intelligent, evil insects.


But by far the best level is, oddly enough, the second one. After a statue of an angel comes to life and hugs you (I did say this was a strange game), you are transported to this village in the middle of a forest. Everything is dirty, vegetation is growing everywhere, and there are no adults whatsoever, just children playing in the streets. Creepy, deformed, sociopathic children to be precise. The eeriness from the Asylum is taken much further here. The children are petulant, as you’d expect, but they’re coherent and willing to talk. But when you try to ask them where their parents are, they immediately clam up, saying that ‘Mother’ told them not to – and that she’s the one who made the parents go away. And that you should totally stay out of the spooky-scary pumpkin patch. You go into the pumpkin patch. Spooky-scary things happen. To say anything more would spoil the lovely, horrifying reveal of this level, and it is worth getting through some unpleasant puzzles to see it.

The music is mostly forgettable, standard fare, though I have a personal love for the song that plays while you’re in the village of creepy kids. The graphics, in general, are decent, and have a pretty good amount of detail for the time, though obviously not up to today’s standards. The FMVs have not aged well, and in fact can get pretty hilarious with some of the weirder bits. Max is fine as a protagonist, and his voice actor is surprisingly good – especially compared to the rest of the cast, who range from acceptable to drek.

However, Sanitarium more than proves itself an excellent addition to the horror library. It’s a fun, dark tale, and I would recommend you try it this October to get you in the mood for further terrors.

There’s nothing beneath your bed, there’s nothing in your closet, there’s nothing in your drawers – right? Perhaps you should stave off the monster (that totally doesn’t exist) by placing a comment below. We look forward to hearing from you. Sleep well.


Share this post

No comments

Add yours

Got something to tell us? Leave a reply!