(This is part of my journey playing through Sanitarium. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)
The gargoyle in the fountain at the asylum not only sent Max into a bizarre circus, but it put him in the shoes of his younger, probably dead sister Sarah. At least I think we’re still Max. The game isn’t explaining much right now.
The circus of fools is disturbing from the start. It’s entirelly located on an island, around which partially flayed corpses float about. The ringmaster seems surprised that someone showed up and encourages me to check out the attractions and have a good time. Bobbing for corpses, always a good time in my book.
Even though I’m the only attendee here, I still have to pay tickets for the attractions (um… that makes sense). And the only way to get tickets is to play a bunch of Squid Smash, the exciting game that isn’t a game at all. It’s a series of dialogue repetitions as I have her smash the squid and see if she gets more tickets or not. After about 25 tickets, I call it a day and move on.
In the big top I meet several of the circus troupe, including Inferno — a lady who triggers a Max Flashback(tm) of him getting married to his bride. It’s a weird flashback in that the bride is first topless and then has her face turn into a skull, but hey, random manniquin-like nudity.
These characters spell out the dire situation of the circus. The troupe got trapped on the island after a great flood (that hasn’t since receded) and can’t leave because there’s (why not) a giant squid in the waters killing people. The squid is growing larger and larger, and it’s only a matter of time before it can reach everyone on the island. Understandably, everyone’s a little morose about their impending doom.
After accomplishing a typically strange set of adventure games tasks, Inferno teaches Sarah how to breathe fire. Because that is totally a skill that a responsible adult should teach any little girl. Sarah then goes into a fun house, where a mirror shows a freaked-out Max trying to rip off his bandages.
After the fun house, I visit the fortune teller. She indicates that Max is actually the one piloting this Sarah avatar, and tells me that it’s my destiny to face off against the squid boy. Hey, squid boy, squid smash — lovely ham-fisted foreshadowing there, game!
Down at the freak show, a wolf man asks me to free him, and because I’m both nice and realistic in the fact that the game won’t progress otherwise, I do. He bounds away, looking for bones, and I follow. He digs right into a cave full of human skeletons and starts chomping away happily. Considering that Timber (the wolf-man) is part human at least, wouldn’t that constitute cannibalism? It’s a moot point, as the cutscene CGI is really stiff and not scary at all, and Timber gets yanked into the Shadows of Doom by the squid boy.
The confrontation with the squid boy — Iggy — is another one of the game’s haphazard action sequences. Sarah uses her fire baton to blow plumes of flame at him, and after three spurts he burns up. I get hit once. Why were the residents so scared of this guy? A little 8-year-old girl was able to whoop him!
The cave exits out into a mansion, and it’s here that I’ve lost all my will to keep on playing. Why? Let’s go to the final thoughts to find out!
Against all its advantages, Sanitarium is just not that enjoyable of a game. By about the second session, I was really reluctant to load it up to play, which is not a good sign at all. By the fourth, I knew I was done. I didn’t want to see how it turned out. The promise of more story wasn’t enough of a reward to put up with this game.
It’s driving me nuts that this is the case, because it has some neat ideas, pretty striking graphics, and creepy locales. But working against it is some of the worst writing and voice acting that I’ve encountered in an adventure game. How the story is being written and portrayed fails what the story is trying to do, and that is a shame. Hearing these awkward, sometimes monotonous, sometimes childish, sometimes screeching voices bombard me pushed me away from the game instead of sucking me further into it.
Not every adventure game can have stellar voice acting and writing, I know. And I’m probably spoiled by my time in past great games like The Lonest Journey, the Monkey Island series, and pretty much everything LucasArts and Sierra did.
So yeah, I’m bailing pretty early into this playthrough, but I always reserve the right to do that because there’s no fun in slogging through miserable games. It’s so lackluster I can’t even get good snark going to tease it, which leaves me with dry descriptions of what’s going on. Thus, let’s move on and try another title, shall we?