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Sanitarium is a point-and-click adventure game and psychological thriller released for Microsoft Windows in 1998 by ASC Games. In 2002 it was updated and re-released to be compatible with Windows XP, and in 2015 a mobile version was released for Android and iOS devices.
The game has a small cult following and is often praised for its atmosphere and originality. The dark mood and graphics of the game are matched by an equally ominous musical score by Stephen Bennett and James C. McMenamy.
Sanitarium tells the story of a man named Max Laughton who finds himself in an ancient and bizarre asylum suffering from amnesia after a car accident. Throughout the game he frantically tries to unveil the details of his institutionalization, recover his identity, and find the truth behind sinister events and mysterious visions. Within the grounds of the sanitarium, through nightmarish worlds, delusions, and flashbacks, he confronts the ghosts of his past and searches for the keys to salvation.
The game is separated into different levels or "chapters". Each is typically a self contained vignette with its own style and atmosphere. The player must find clues, solve puzzles and interact with other characters to reach a final challenge. This challenge may be a more difficult puzzle or combat. When the player overcomes the challenge, a cinematic is played and the game proceeds to the next chapter.
Though it is used infrequently the game does have a very basic combat system. The player is given an improvised weapon for a very short time and must click accurately on enemies to kill them. This might be challenging if Max could die but he can't. When Max is sufficiently injured he is transported back to a safe area so the player can try again without losing any progress. Thus a Game Over in this game is non-existent.
The game is point and click so primarily uses the mouse. The keyboard is used only to access the menu and save. Movement is simple. The player controls the character in a bird's-eye view perspective and moves by right clicking and dragging the mouse in the desired direction. The player's inventory is accessed by clicking on the player character and items are used by selecting them and then clicking on the target object.
The game graphics feature detailed 2D backdrops with basic 3D models and animations. During important story moments in the game cinematics with higher graphical quality are played. Though they are nothing by today's standards they were truly impressive in their day.
Dialogue is an important part of the game as many clues and objectives are communicated through it. The player can usually choose which topics in the dialogue tree to select but some are necessary to progress the game. New dialogue topics may appear after certain game events or after selecting certain topics. Similarly, topics may also trigger game events.
The game is fully voiced and even memos are read and summarized by the player character. The voice acting is of good quality and most likely done by professionals. However, subtitles are also available for cinematics, game play, and dialogue.
Mad programmer outburst
Inside the main program file, sntrm.exe, on the XS (pre-patched) version of the game there exists an outburst as a possible error code, on what would be line 774 if the file were interpreted as text, when searched by the utility grep:
c:\sntrm_k.txt ERROR: Invalid NPC ID --> All resources == 0 Stupid Dumbshit Goddamn Motherfucker! Unable to find encounter keyword %d '%s' in encounter %d No portrait for this encounter. Goodbye.
Some headstones in the game contain the names of people associated with the game's development. Clicking on the stones will trigger a narration of a name and a funny epitaph. These graves are distinguished from other headstones in the game by the last names which are abbreviated to a single letter.
Three literal examples of red herrings exist in the game. The second chapter features a hut with a large painted impression of a red herring on the roof. Max initially believes that it must contain some clues but is disappointed when he discovers that it contains no useful items or objects.
The third chapter features a man holding a large red fish in the asylum courtyard. The man will begin dancing when a certain record is put on, but otherwise offers no real help or aid to gameplay.
The last instance of a red herring exists in the eighth chapter or "The Lost Village" and is found inside the water temple. Olmec (the character the player controls) mentions its importance due to its "blood-like coloring" but when given to the fisherman's wife inside her hut she replies she "has not much use for it" and says that her husband claims they're just "useless things that simply take up space".
Inside the file RES.001 (entry #40) there is a music remix which is only played during the credits after the game is completed. It won't be played if the credits are viewed from the main menu. This remix is composed of various NPC dialogue clips.
- Sanitarium at MobyGames
- Sanitarium review, Adventure Classic Gaming
- Sanitarium, Quandary
- Postmortem: DreamForge's Sanitarium, Gamasutra
- Inferno's Adventures (Windows XP setup and technical issues)
- Adventure Gamers Forum - Hints for starting Sanitarium with Windows XP
- Asylum - Sanitarium Fan Community, The very first Sanitarium fan community.
- Open Source, Asylum Engine, An attempt to create the sanitarium engine from scratch, supporting multiple platforms