True fact: nothing good has ever happened in an Asylum. Every media form short of the Etch-A-Sketch has worked tirelessly since the dawn of time to drill this into my head, so it must be true. Senscape's long-awaited Asylum, unsurprisingly, is no different. What is surprising, however, is the sheer amount of detail that's gone into each and every inch of this beautifully hideous locale. At its heart, the dread-soaked playable not-exactly-a-demo is a point-and-click adventure, but I found myself not really caring about searching for items or getting from point A to point B. I just wanted to, well, look at things.
Asylum's playable teaser - which isn't actually a demo of content that will make it into the final release, apparently - really is a feast for the senses. Granted, it's a rotten-to-the-core, writhing-with-maggots feast, but that's sort of the point. The whole asylum is a cesspit - lousy with dust, mold, grime, and furniture that'd sooner explode into a hail of splinters than support a human body. Meanwhile, via the main character's ragged breathing, fits of coughing, and frightened protests, the game does a great job of conveying world-building bits that the sense of sight can't quite reach out and touch. For instance, he hacks violently near dust and begins drawing short, sharp breaths in cold areas. This building is the most miserable goddamn place on Earth, and Asylum goes to incredibly admirable lengths to drive that point home.
It is, however, an old-school point-and-click adventure at heart, so all the hallmarks are there. The teaser, at least, struck me as a bit vague in terms of direction, so I just ended up wandering around for a while and clicking on everything. Admittedly, I didn't mind so much since the environment's so detail-rich, but I hope Senscape does a better job with that in the final release. Because goodness, there's potential here for something special. This bit from Asylum's official FAQ, especially, has me slowly-but-surely losing my mind, eventually going mad, and hallucinating tearing off chunks of my face in anticipation.
"You will have complete freedom to explore the main body as you see fit, all four floors. Furthermore, we aren’t showing the basement (of course there is a basement!) and all the secret areas in this render. All in all, you will be able to explore about 100 rooms, and note we’re counting long corridors and large areas (such as the central courtyard) as rooms."
"One of our main goals has always been to accurately reproduce a rundown asylum and, you know, asylums are pretty large buildings. On top of that, the game has a complex story that is intimately connected to the environment, so we have additional requirements to address besides modeling the realistic building. We’re also quite stubborn when it comes to accuracy and we’re making sure that the Hanwell Institute is as “architecturally correct” as possible. Suffice to say, the project scaled way out of proportions. But we’re managing OK."
On top of that, Senscape's concurrently developing its own engine for the (so far) sole purpose of powering this dying beast of a building. And, once it's in the wild, that engine will be fully open source. So basically, Asylum's taken ages to get this far and it won't be out until 2013, but someone at Senscape still deserves a high-five. Or, based on the near-masochistic level of work this endeavor involves, a trip to a mental ward. But then again, maybe not so much, seeing as those are places where bad things always happen.
At any rate, try the teaser. It's pretty excellent. Also, keep an eye out for a fourth-wall-annihilating Easter Egg or two. I can't say if anything of that sort will be in the final game, but there's actually some solid laughter to be found in this asylum's dingy depths. And not just the totally insane, horrifically creepy kind.
If you for some reason need more convincing (perhaps because you cannot read), here's a cinematic trailer from a while back. I still definitely recommend the playable teaser, but this video does a pretty solid job of conveying Asylum's general atmosphere.