Sanitarium on Steam

MSRP: $9.99

Platform: Windows

Release: 4/30/98

Back when Sanitarium was new, 20-something me found it mind-blowing.  When I discovered it available for digital download, picking it up was a no-brainer – truth be told, I tend to spend more on old games I remember fondly then on newer stuff.  Sadly, like a lot of games of its generation, it doesn’t hold up, although I’m undecided if that’s more due to the game itself or to the massive advances in graphics and controls since its release.

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Knowing I’d find the graphics lacking, I had hoped to play in windowed mode, but if the option exists, I couldn’t find it, and to be completely honest, I couldn’t be arsed to fiddle with command line parameters on the off chance I could make it work. Larger pixels, sadly, do not make for any easier pixel hunting. I’d lost almost all memory of the game in the many years since I played it, and I was surprised it took nearly an hour before the first time I wanted to go looking for a walkthrough.

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The playable character wakes up in an insane asylum with no memory of who he is or how he ended up here, but the power has gone out, the generator is about to blow, and there is no question that he needs to figure out how to get out of here now.  There is no way to say more than that without spoiling the earliest of puzzles, but anyone even passibly versed in adventure game logic should be able to figure things out.  At least at the beginning.  The later in the game you get, the more obtuse solutions become, and the more critical it becomes to have a walkthrough in your back pocket if you want to have a prayer of completing the game.

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Sanitarium is extremely reliant on cut scenes to flesh out its story, and relies on its visuals to build a sense of extreme unease. Unfortunately, the datedness of the graphics now leave you unsure of what was deliberate and what, nowadays, just looks like crap. The voice acting is mediocre at best, and in a lot of ways, the point-n-click adventure mechanics detract from the story telling, and the story doesn’t end up holding together all that well. This is one I likely should have left alone – I didn’t really think through how telling it was that I remember the frustrations of my first playthrough more vividly than anything else.

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Even still, Sanitarium still does an excellent job of making you feel ill at ease, and although I highly doubt it will ever happen, I feel like it would be an excellent candidate for a modern overhaul. I just can’t recommend a play through, as much as it hurts.  However, there are quite a few Let’s Play videos, and if you have some time to kill, you might want to consider a watch through instead.

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