Same PR Problem As EST: GoG Sanitarium

By Kieron Gillen on November 11th, 2009 at 10:58 pm.

How many of you have been into a mental ward, really? I mean, this is clearly after hearing some bad news, but Psychonauts MENTAL ILLNESS AS COMEDY FEST suddenly seems really in bad taste.

When Chris SmallGods mailed me about this, I was determined to post about it. Primarily… well, to cover old sins, really. Not that I ever reviewed it – Sanitarium only was released when I first inched into Staffwriterdom – but it was pretty much ignored and/or brutalised by the British games press, and slowly climbed to a cult-status ever since. It’s basically – if you squint – John the Baptist to Planescape Torment’s Jesus Christ in terms of the failure of UK critical response of the period. Anyway – this psychological adventure game is now available on GoG. I’ve never played it, but – from what I’ve had grasped from God knows how many conversations about it from friends – that it’s basically Psychonauts if the designers didn’t find anything funny about mental illness. The examination of Lucasart’s influence on the adventure is manifold… but in reducing suitable topics for adventure games to “gags” if probably the most noticeable, were I to be critical.

Anyone played it? Do you think it’s still worth playing? And similar! The ever-handy youtube Footage follows…

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79 Comments »

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  1. Amqz says:

    I remember playing this game as a little kid… it scared me away from adventure games for life.

  2. bigredrock says:

    I played it when it was released, and I loved it. Great to see it available again.

    In many ways it’s a standard point-and-click, and it can be a bit clunky to play. But the story is great, and it maintains a distrurbing atmosphere throughout.

    And at least one bit made me cry.

    • phil says:

      Was the bit in question (spoiler, natch ), the monochrome ghost house when you, as your happy-go-lucky dead sister, revisit family memories? That bit was sadder than Bambie.

  3. UK_John says:

    This is certainly up there with the best adventure games ever released on PC. A harrowing adventure with a story to tell (no pun intended). I still have my big box copy of the game and remember just by looking at the box how harrowing the story was, a horror game of true horror. Everything in the game was astounding, from the graphic design to music to interaction in the world. I can highly recommend it. This, in terms of intelligence you need to bring to the game, up there with Planescape.

  4. blaargh says:

    Excellent. I’d tried in the past to play this, but it wasn’t working on XP.

  5. tapanister says:

    Oh man, I wish I could play Prisoner of Ice, that was the awesomeest. I know it probably wasn’t actually, but in my mind it still registers as that one game I’d like to play again. If GOG has it, I’m drunk enough to buy it right now.

    • Dominic White says:

      Trust me, you don’t want to play Prisoner of Ice in this day and age.. nostalgia is a bitch.

      However, you can watch someone else suffer through it, and laugh at just how little sense ANY of it makes!

      http://lparchive.org/LetsPlay/prisoner/

    • tapanister says:

      Man, don’t say that. I actually found it, uh, on a torrent. I’m torn between spoiling my memories of it and playing it again. Except for old lucas arts games played through scummvm I kinda agree that all old games fucking suck nowdays.

    • Dominic White says:

      No, a lot of old games were actually quite cool, if overly difficult. Prisoner Of Ice sucks on levels beyond the reckoning of time and space. It was possibly designed by the Great Old Ones to weaken our mental resistance before their coming.

      Just watch the LP. It’s hilarious and lets you skip over the boring parts, too.

    • tapanister says:

      By the way, I watched the footage from the link you provided. I”M< FUCKING GETTING IT RIGHT NOW! Just seeing those horrible pre-rendered characters again makes me instantaneously cream my pants. Also, do they really pronounce "leutenant" as "leftenant" in England?

    • Dominic White says:

      Old pronounciation, not often used these days. But yes, it’s valid.

      Seriously, I hope you plan on playing PoI with a walkthrough, because none of those puzzles make any kind of sense. Especially the ones near the end which just seem to be incoherent to the point of gibbering insanity. It’s not quite the legendary cat-hair mustache, but it’s close. And worse animated.

      Seriously, in a lot of scenes, they just forget to animate characters at all, and they just kinda float around the screen.

    • Martin K says:

      @Tapanister: I agree with all of those others in the gibbering gelatinous mass that, when looked at through a sufficient amount of alcohol resembles the rational Internet. Prisoner of Ice is startlingly dumb, and much better in screenshots than in action, and much better to watch being played by other people than actually engaged in. Despite that, I still retain a warmth towards it for being so fascinatingly ludicrous.

      Speaking of Cthulhu Mythos stories, I present…THIS. Charlie Stross’ “A Colder War”, in my opinion the most important Mythos story published in the recent history of ever. http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/stories/colderwar.htm

    • TeeJay says:

      “Old pronounciation, not often used these days”

      ‘left-‘ (as opposed to ‘loo-‘) is the standard UK/British pronunciation, especially in the military. Also used by the BBC etc. For example: http://vodpod.com/watch/1848747-tributes-to-outstanding-officer

  6. syllopsium says:

    I've still got a copy and played it a couple of years back – it worked fine on XP.

    It's a great game, although some of the action sequences and puzzles are a bit annoying.

    It's not quite in the league of Planescape:Torment, but it's definitely worth playing.

  7. nhex says:

    I really enjoyed it at the time. It was a little clunky gameplay wise, but there was a lot of effort put into it and it showed. Definitely one for adventure genre-heads.

  8. arrr_matey says:

    Definite favourite that I played a few years ago after hearing so many in the adventure community rave about it. What I remember liking is the way it breadcrumbs the story so that these little details in the background art of the early parts foreshadow some of the revelations to come later on.

    Biggest weakness though: a lame-ass attempt to integrate some “action” parts in which you have to click out some terrible combat.

    • lhzr says:

      biggest weakness? guess that’s a compliment, since there is ONE action sequence, which you can’t fail, you just spawn again if you die. takes 5 minutes to pass. and you get to kill crows with a scythe.

    • malkav11 says:

      There are actually multiple action sequences, although they’re all pretty easy and they just restart if you fail them.

  9. Red Avatar says:

    I remember the PC Gamer review that panned it and me being in disbelief because I utterly loved it. Sure, some bits are weaker but this game was one of the most moody and scary adventure games up till then! It’s really worth giving it a go.

  10. Metalfish says:

    I remember playing the demo, including the slightly insane, er, insane asylum you find yourself in.

  11. Shih Tzu says:

    EST? What’s that? Not Eastern Standard Time, I presume, and Google doesn’t help.

  12. -Spooky- says:

    If you love dark, twisted tales and find the idea of exploring a variety of different worlds and personas appealing, make sure you do not miss this “Sanitarium” goodie. You will not be disappointed.

  13. Rath says:

    I got the demo from a PC Format coverdisc if I remember correctly. Enjoyed, wanted to play more, but couldn’t find a retail copy anywhere for some reason and then forgot about it until right just now.

    • Rei Onryou says:

      The exact same thing happened to me! It’s like we lived the same life!!!

      ……GET OUT OF MY HEAD!!!! *smacks head against wall repeatedly*

  14. LewieP says:

    I’ve had this on disc for a while, never played it though (It came in a 2 pack with Planescape: Torment in fact), perhaps I shall.

  15. Theoban says:

    HOLY CRAP *buys buys and buys again*

    God I adore this game. Yes there’s some really stupid action scenes in it, but the atmosphere makes up for everything. And the fact that it’s FUCKING BRILLIANT.

    Yeah I should write reviews.

  16. hydra9 says:

    I’m tempted to buy this. I picked up a copy years ago, did quite like it (despite some annoyances) – never finished it (for no particular reason) – sold it. Time to atone for my mistake?

  17. Sumantra Lahiri says:

    I remember playing it when it first came out and at the time I thought it was pretty unique because of the way it dealt with mental illness. I also remember it being a pretty solid adventure game, despite its reviews. With all that said, I feel ten dollars might be a bit steep, considering there are absolute classics on Good Old Games for much less.

  18. jeremy says:

    Not Very Good

  19. Ashurbanipal says:

    I remember the demo too. This and I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream are two adventure games that I wish I had purcased back in the day so I could look fondly back on them now.

  20. Nexxus9 says:

    I loved this game when it came out. A fairly straightforward adventure game, but the story & game worlds were delightfully twisted. I recommend it.

  21. Morningoil says:

    Naw, in the UK, ‘leftenant’ is what is said; I’ve never heard anyone on this side of the pond say ‘lootenant’ but would surely correct them right sharpish if I did. As to whether it’s a good thing or not, I shall remain silent.

    :)

  22. Cooper says:

    I got this off one of those not-very-legal ‘abandonware’ sites a few years ago. I remember I loved it, but can’t remember completing it.

    From what I remember, it does sit up there as one of the most atmospheric adventure games I’ve ever played. I remember the characters and the world being exceptionally well written. Think most of the puzzles were a bit shite though.

    Will atone for my past sins and get this from GoG to see if it is as good as I remember.

  23. Morningoil says:

    Boo, replyfail.

    Anyway, Sanitarium, I remember being rather entranced by the demo, but when I came to play the full game didn’t get very far. I also just remember it being very vertical …

  24. Taillefer says:

    I remember a bug meant I couldn’t finish some part of it and never really went back after that. I was enjoying it until then and remember it fondly, though. Must replay it.

  25. yaster says:

    The funny thing I heard about the game is the idea behind it. The makers couldn’t agree what kind of game they want so they thought out of hammering all of them in a single one and connect them by the main-character-is-a-loony plot. To be honest It worked out way better than it sounds (not horrible). Beginning is rather nice. Thought latter on It shows its roots. Some stage near the end are really bad, I mean REALLY bad – kind of Fahrenheit bad. The aztecs appears etc.

    The other grip I have against the game is It’s mechanic – bad is also the word here. From slow moving character and the design encouraging walking back and forth to some atrocious puzzles, like ‘take one of the rock and hit church tower’s bell – one of? not really, THE one to be exact, the rest of the dozen are just pretty terrain pal’.

    In mine opinion it just fall short of most good games, certainly not the PS:T level. I’m rather surprised how big fallowing it got over the years, seems overrated to me. Worth a playthrough though? Can’t tell – It has some unique stuff about it and as I said the beginning is rather nice but – still – nothing outstanding. It depends how much you’re into horror genre and how much you’re willing to suffer.

  26. wererogue says:

    Loved it. It’s pretty easy, makes you think here and there, and it’s heeby-jeeby disturbing.

  27. Carra says:

    I remember that this game got some good reviews. I prefer my adventures colorful and filled with humor. This adventure game only seems to have half of that.

    I added it to my gog.cm wishlist. If it ever gets on sale I’ll happily buy it and try it out. The 2D graphics still seem to hold up very well.

  28. hausplant says:

    a very pleasing ride. yes, very much like psychonauts from an entirely different, and humourless, angle.

  29. invisiblejesus says:

    Looks interesting. Anyone know if there’s a widescreen hack out there? It’s not a make or break thing, but it’d be nice to have.

  30. novica says:

    I love this game. It manages to create a feeling of dread even though it’s very cheesy. The first bit in particular, the one with the town full of children, sticks out in my mind as a very sad and scary bit of storytelling and probably the highlight of the game.

    I played it recently, and I feel it holds up as long as you’re willing to deal with the occasional tedium of the genre.

  31. Cosmo D says:

    This is a great game. It’s not too difficult, but it’s twisted, macabre and definitely satisfying. The ending isn’t as good as the game as a whole, but it disturbs and unsettles the way few games do. Play it.

  32. Joey says:

    I remember getting it for Christmas in while in middle school. Great game. I remember it being incredibly creepy to me. Have nothing but positive memories about it.

  33. David says:

    Of all the mid-90s horror/thriller-ey adventure games*, I’d say Sanitarium nailed it best. Don’t know how it plays now, though. Downloading from GoG as I type.

    * Other games would be Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller, I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, and maybe Gabriel Knight.

    • Subject 706 says:

      The problem with “I have no mouth and I must scream”, IMHO,is that it doesn’t manage to catch the horror of the novel enough. AM comes across as more comical than hate-filled-psychotic-sadistic-omnipotent machine. Reading the novel was extremely disturbing, but the game seemed to have been toned down in comparison.

    • David says:

      Subject 706: I agree absolutely. IHNMAIMS *could* have been incredible; its moral craziness totally lends itself to the rigidity of point-and-click storytelling. Alas.

  34. Veldjes! says:

    Good game. Also admitting this ‘nostalgia is a bitch’ course… want to see Myth: the fallen lords review here. one day. *sigh*

  35. Snarboo says:

    I got this game in a budget jewel case release years ago and loved every minute of it. It's one of the few adventure games I've finished to completion. Definitely a favorite, and worth playing today if only for the story.

  36. Alaric says:

    I’ve played it and I still own the original CD. It is a brilliant game. Not without its shortcomings of course, but brilliant nonetheless.

  37. Lars Westergren says:

    This is a game I felt really guilty for pirating, but by the time I heard it was good it was no longer available in the stores. Unfortunately my ripped version didn’t have any of the films on it to fit on a single CD, so I missed out on large parts of the story.

    Even so, I thought it was a great game at the time, I played it non-stop over a weekend. As others have said, the first “world” you visit was the best, both in atmosphere and puzzles. A village where all the adults are dead and the surviving children are all slowly becoming monstrously warped from a horrible disease while worshiping some unholy master hidden somewhere. Sort of Children of the Corn meets Shadow Over Innsmouth.

    In another disturbing world you found yourself inside the mind of a worker inside some sort of reptile-insectoid fleshworld hive society where individuals have to submit to being consumed by their queen-mother. Like “Prey”, if you were playing as one of the aliens.

    The character you play, who wakes up in an insane asylum with memory loss, realizes that these visions must be caused by something that has happened to him in the past. (For instance, he finds a comic he recognizes from his childhood hidden in the alien flesh-world) He has to continue through these nightmare worlds and try to understand what they are trying to tell him if he is going to regain his memories and get out of the asylum.

    I seem to remember that the puzzles where quite easy by adventure game standards, which was ok because it was the story which was important anyway.

    I also remember there being a circus with a werewolf… possibly the friendly circus director. Just like in the film Big Fish? Coincidence, or do I remember wrong?

    • Subject 706 says:

      I actually had the same experience, not finding any place to buy the game, except that I found the ISO images on the net, so I didn’t have to miss parts of the story.

      One of the best adventure games ever, in my opinion. If more modern adventure games were as dark and serious as this one, more people might be interested in them.

      The part were you find the teddy bear for your dying little sister has to be one of the most tear-inducing moments in gaming…

  38. mirdza says:

    Amazing game which I played at least 3 times but was never able to finish, because of the recurring problem of screwed up third cd.

  39. Joe says:

    Played it ages ago, thought it was a bit m’eh. It didn’t feel like there was a real way to end the game and, where Psychonauts platforming treatment of mental spaces felt inventive and interesting, a predominantly grey and drably voice point and click that’s as sedentry as a sleepwalker didn’t provide the same excitement. It didn’t help that it’s so slow, with few consequences to an action and a plot that accelerates out of nowhere in the last chapters.

    It was OK as a point and click – worth taking a peek if you’re a fan of the genre and get it at cheap-o GOG prices. On it’s own merits though it primarily relies on a fascination with the macabre and the mystery of the main character at the start of the game, just like PST. Problem was, the macabre quickly evaporates into the surreal when you’re having to fight pumpkin men that make you just endlessly respawn and the character turned out not to be someone interesting and grounded but some super-genius who could save the world.

    It was…interesting, but it pretty much skipped over all the strengths of the adventure game genre in favour of quote-unquote wacky levels and puzzles that didn’t always make sense.

    • Joe says:

      As someone above mentioned, if you’re into this sort of thing then I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream (the story or game) are what you should be playing, not this.

  40. Maëlig says:

    I played this game a few weeks ago (being a bit young to play it when it was originally released), and enjoyed it quite a bit.
    Sometimes you have the feeling it’s just weird or going over the top for the sake of it (eg the aztec part, which didn’t really seem to fit in), but all in all the story’s well told. You should definitely play it for the ambience if you’re into this kind of psychologically disturbed tales.

  41. Solivagant says:

    This game is very good. The dialogue and the voice acting are very well done, particularly the children in the first chapter. Great atmosphere and an eerie tale. The puzzles can’t have been too hard, because I actually finished the game (I suck at adventure games). Recommended!

  42. Megazver says:

    I’ve played it a couple of years ago for the first time and I’d say it aged decently enough. I really enjoyed it.

  43. Sunjammer says:

    One of my favorite adventures ever. Everyone should play it.

  44. AsubstanceD says:

    I really like it overall despite certain sections, and some of the levels are really beautiful and interesting. Plus the game is really funny in parts. Definately one you will love or hate, but everyone has to give it a go.

  45. Risingson says:

    My 2 cents… great game. It is the best case of a game that tells you things in an orinic/metaphoric way, so when you end it then you have to decipher all that you have played to understand what really happened. And it is not very difficult either. And has a great atmosphere. And has some bugs too, I remember, and a very annoying walking engine.

  46. Reverend Speed says:

    Played it. Fun. Overall story’s not great, but the story STRUCTURE has enormous potential. Some side-tales- especially one about the infected children in the blasted remains of a village – are very nicely written. Puzzles are fairly straightforward. Can’t remember if it’s got combat, but it’s well worth investigating if you want to see an adventure game system applied to a story that isn’t set in a magical kingdom or about a student investigating a historical conspiracy in EUROPE.

  47. WJonathan says:

    It was the classic “overrated underrated” game. It starts well enough, though typically clumsy with a few illogical puzzles, with a great atmoshpere. And it deteriorates. I turned on the game around the awful Aztec level, for which I could never see any point. It ended on a bad note, and therefore I have a poor opinion of it.

    • Risingson says:

      Nowadays everything that isn’t “put the key in the door” is considered an ilogical puzzle… :P

  48. Name Taken says:

    @ Shih Tzu

    EST = Electro Shock Therapy. The line, incidentally is a reference to a Manic Street Preachers song (You love us, iirc)

    Also, Sanitarium was awesome.

  49. Sinnerman says:

    The Rhianna Pratchett review in PC Zone was fairly positive and actually convinced me to buy it.

    Sanitarium is a pretty silly game but also one of the most disturbing games at the same time. It walks a line between the sublime and the ridiculous. It also features one of the most frustrating adventure game puzzles ever if you happen to be tone deaf like me.

  50. Kerry says:

    Misses the mark for me, which is a shame as it had potential.

    Overall great atmosphere and some really memorable setpieces, but marred the progressively sillier bits towards the end, TERRIBLE Shatneresque voice acting and incredibly slow, clunky movement of the main character.

    Worth a look, but by no means a classic.