Okay, I admit it. I was losing faith in the whole 2D adventure genre as a whole. Sure, I loved games like Full Throttle (and its 2D origins), but after a peek at the horde of 3D games coming down the road (including adventure titles like Grim Fandango), I had serious doubts whether Sanitarium would still keep me interested.
Well, I was wrong. While, visually, Sanitarium is nothing special, its intriguing story and twisted plot make it one of the most original games yet. Just trying to explain Sanitarium's plot is a bit of a challenge.
At the onset of the game, you find yourself in some sort of a run-down asylum, covered in bandages as a result of a car-crash. A case of amnesia (and perhaps a bit of brain damage) prevents you knowing where you are, what you are doing there or how you got there. After talking to a number of insane characters, the game starts to get weird.
The different chapters of the game are based on "demons" and hellish beings from the unconscious mind of the main character, as he (and a she at one point...) searches for his self-identity. Deformed, demented children, a run-down circus, and 4-arm cyclopes are just a few examples of the many twisted characters making appearances throughout the story. Also, as odd as these beings get, they are usually tied, somehow, to the mind of the main character through a variety of pre-rendered cutscenes.
Playing Sanitarium is made extremely simple and involves clicking the mouse to move, use item, talk etc. The only drawback I found was with movement: when the player clicks at a certain point where he wants to move, the character makes a straight line to that point (while the mouse is held down). In the end, there will be many unwanted stair-ascensions (a process which cannot be interrupted) and other awkward maneuvering.
Like most other adventure games, Sanitarium consists of a variety of puzzles as well as a few simple action sequences. All action sequences are pretty basic, involving the use of an object on an enemy while moving around to avoid its attack. Puzzles, on the other hand, range from simple tasks such as finding and using objects to more complicated ones such as altering and rotating the pipes in a watermain. In general, while puzzles don't get as intricate or complicated as in games like Myst, they do a good job of testing the intellect of the gamer while maintaining the freaky gaming atmosphere.
Sanitarium basically looks like most other adventure games currently on the market. All backgrounds are 2D, pre-rendered scenes, and characters are obvious 2D sprites. Sounds, like the graphics, are what you would expect from a well-done adventure. What DreamWorks did do a good job with was the fact that all audio and visual facets of the game, from the opening menu to the ending cutscene, always maintain the constant eerie mood of the game.
While Sanitarium does have its minor drawbacks, it is one of the best-executed adventure games on the market. The plot, described by some as being "sick-made", keeps the player involved until the end of the game. In the end, Sanitarium is one of the most weird, twisted sick games that you will ever play. Bravo.