Many would not think of playing a game to be an exercise of the mind. Frequently, even gamers associate their past times with running and gunning, resource management or saving the world via their console or mobile device. But there was a time where brain-related activities, cognitive stimulation and even note-taking were integral to an entire genre of games. Games like Myst, the Monkey Island series and Planescape: Torment challenged the player not with combat and acts of superficial fictional heroism, but with slow and methodical puzzle-solving that awarded immense amounts of satisfaction should one fine their way through the trials presented.
It is from this grand tradition that Sanitarium for the Android emerges. It’s not a grand or epic JRPG where you are tasked with controlling a ragtag group of heroes in order to save the known universe from some horribly immense evil. Nor is it a story of grizzled space marines venturing into the unknown expanse of the universe to splatter alien brains all over the place. Rather, it tells the very personal story of an amnesiac (the player character) on a bizarre journey to find out who he truly is, through genuine guile and wit possessed by the player.
That isn’t to say that their aren’t moments of combat, but they are few and far between and the most important thing that this point-and-click adventure has to offer is its genuinely creepy atmosphere. The game starts out with the serious injury of the player character, who wakes up in an asylum filled with (you guessed it) insane inmates who are being experimented on by a mysterious figure known as Dr. Morgan. Clearly, there is something afoot from Jump Street and the game follows to the player in their investigation on just what the hell is going on.
The game’s biggest strength is probably what most modern gamers would claim is its biggest weakness: after all, there was a time in gaming when not everything was told to the player and much of what had to be done was up to you to figure out through exploration and trial-and-error. If you are not one to sit down and really dig into something for a bit, this may strike as you frustrating, but for anyone who remembers the older days of gaming with nostalgia, this will be a breath of fresh air. You will have to play detective: gathering clues, talking to NPCs, interacting with the environment, and yes, sometimes breaking out the old steno pad to write down some important clues for later on. If this all sounds like busy work to you, it may be in your best interest to move on to something a little more modern.
However, even for more modern gamers, I would strongly urge to give the game an honest effort anyway. Although the difficulty of the puzzles is not particularly kind to the uninitiated, you may find yourself simply enthralled by the challenge they present. Certainly the feeling after solving a hard-sought after puzzle is something that can’t be replicated in any other way. It also is heartening for a gamer such as myself, who has had experience in these types of games, to see that there is still a place in our fast-paced (often overly-superficial) gaming culture for slower-paced, more thought-provoking gameplay.
The real selling is the visceral horror that it pulls off without trying too hard. It’s genuinely disturbing when you open up on the first level and the screams of the insane serve as the ambient noise, and there is a man slamming his face into a brick wall over and over again on the floor above. And if you think that’s disturbing, just wait until you get to the second level – a town filled with deformed children, with not a parent in sight until you pry open the entrance to the only boarded-up house in town…
Since this is a port of a PC game from the late 90s’, you may notice that the graphics are a bit dated, but if you put that aside and just play the game itself, you will find an engrossing, personal narrative that is both horrifying and heart-breaking. The only flaw in the game that I found was the truly odd voice-acting for the main character. For someone caught in a literally nightmare, he seems more amused by the terrible things unfolding around him than anything else. That being said, this is a classic experience that older gamers will fawn over and newer gamers should expose themselves to. It is one of the best Android games available in the adventure genre to date.
But is it Hardcore?
Old school experience with a truly enthralling horror story.