On its website, Sanity of Morris is billed as a “psychological horror game” with some stealth and detective elements, a far cry from Alterego Games’ previous game, indie puzzle title Woven. This attempt to try something different, however, has not paid off, as the developer’s newest game fails to deliver in any way. Crucially, for a horror game, none of the three levels provide any sense of terror, as clunky mechanics and poor world design prevent any sort of suspense. The story can’t redeem the major faults in gameplay either; nonsensical writing and unconvincing voice acting keep players from getting invested in the plot. For a game which has an interesting, supernatural premise, Sanity of Morris falls flat everywhere.
Story – Weird, wacky, and worthless
Sometimes an opening is indicative of the quality of an entire game, and that’s certainly the case here. From the very start, Sanity of Morris‘s writing and voice acting seem a bit off, giving players no way to connect with the plot. You’re introduced to Jack Morris, the protagonist, as he contemplates a mysterious voicemail he’s received from his father, who he’s driving to meet. Although this might seem like a solid place to start – after all, classics like Silent Hill 2 have used similar introductions – it’s all downhill from here. Even in the first moments, problems start to emerge with pacing. Jack is rammed off the road by a van, flees from government agents, and explores an abandoned house, all within the first few minutes of the game.
There’s little improvement plot-wise throughout the game’s three chapters. With a narrative that feels like a poorly written X-Files, complete with supernatural occurrences and government conspiracies, the main narrative doesn’t have enough engaging moments to get players invested in Jack Morris’ plight. Large amounts of backstory are given through audio logs found while exploring, and these don’t add any depth – instead, they highlight inconsistencies with the game’s tone.
The voice acting in these audio logs – all being recollections and commentary from Jack’s father – feels disjointed from the rest of the game; rather than adding extra suspense, the seemingly casual nature of these logs dissipates any existing tension. Overall, this is the problem with Sanity of Morris‘s story: it fails to add to the intended horror experience.
Gameplay – Good ideas, poor execution
The gameplay in Sanity of Morris is based on a fairly interesting, if not entirely original, combination of styles. Putting together detective elements with stealth sections in which you avoid unstoppable foes was a premise that seemed to me (before playing the game) like a pretty entertaining pairing. After all, stealth has often gone hand in hand with excellent tension in horror games, with sleuthing providing the extra element to make this gameplay stand out. However, Alterego Games hasn’t delivered on either part of the gameplay, providing neither a terrifying atmosphere nor any satisfying detective moments.
The biggest issue with this game is its inability to provide any sort of consistent horror. None of the sneaking sections evoke any sense of dread, as both enemy and area design are simply not scary. Instead of trying to build an atmosphere of tension, the game offers up a couple of cheap jump scare mechanics that fail to get a reaction after the first use. Turning items that the player picks up into far more grotesque props may be enough to get a scream initially, but once a player knows it’s coming, it has little effect.
Part of the reason that stealth sections have little suspense are how broken some of the game’s mechanics feel. Players can only sprint in a few quick time event sections where the game directs the protagonist, meaning that in regular gameplay, players have no means of fleeing from enemies. Once an alien or agent spots you, it’s essentially game over; there’s no point in trying to get away. Furthermore, the levels really aren’t designed for stealth, containing few obvious hiding places.
Even when hiding, enemies can sometimes see the player character, or the light from the flashlight, through objects, completely breaking what little immersion there is in the stealth experience. With horrible death animations on top of all this, you might as well go through the level out in the open.
Puzzle problems and pinched mechanics
Puzzles are another staple of the horror genre that Sanity of Morris fails to get right. Little problems that block progression occur pretty frequently, but are almost all convoluted and unsatisfying to complete. Many objects can only be interacted with with the flashlight on, even in well-lit rooms. While this might seem like a small gripe, the game never explains this mechanic, making the opening sections in the Morris house far longer than necessary. Beyond this, most sections involving any sort of challenge or mystery are just poorly designed; the game doesn’t nudge players towards the solution, leading to frustrating minutes spent trying to figure out where to go or what to do.
Perhaps the nail in the coffin for Sanity of Morris is its badly implemented sanity mechanic. This concept feels like it was ripped straight from games like the Amnesia series, but without any of the polish. Remaining in the dark for too long will cause John’s vision to blur, and he’ll die instantly after too long without light. Turning on the flashlight will help him regain sanity, in theory creating a risk/reward system for the player to manage. However, because of the bugs with enemies detecting the flashlight through objects and walls, the sanity system falls apart.
Graphics and Audio – Muddy and confusing
In the realm of visuals and audio, there’s nothing to save this game. While shoddy graphics aren’t the be-all and end-all for a horror game – after all, classic horror titles can still get a scream today, even with outdated visuals – but combined with poor design choices, they drag this game down even further. None of the environments or enemies look remotely scary, and the assets look like something out of an early PS3 game.
On top of this, what starts off as a haunting set of creepy noises that accompany exploration become stale fast. While the sound of footsteps may have got a jump out of me when I heard them in the early house section, I later heard them reused in an outdoor section. Most of the sound effects, like the mechanic with picking up items, are good for a jump scare early on. Beyond this, the game’s sound lacks anything to provide horror.
Sanity of Morris reviewed on PS4, with a key provided by StickyLock.