Most things in life can be viewed in both positive and negative ways. Sometimes you have to squint a bit, but it’s usually possible to see at least a little bit of good in even the worst things. Some things though are simply bad, and you can dress them up and put lipstick on them all you want, but in doing so you have actually made them just that little bit worse. Sanity of Morris is unfortunately that game, a dull and tedious slog wearing the ill-fitting garb of psychological horror that is objectively terrible in absolutely every regard.
How can I sleep when my car is burning?
You play the game from the first-person perspective of the titular Jonathan Morris, a young man with the hardest working internal monologue in the business (seriously, Morris narrates his own experience to within an inch of its life, it’s maddening). Jonathan has come to the town of Greenlake at the behest of his estranged father Hank (and you know he’s estranged because he calls him by his first name), who left a mysterious message for him culminating in telling him to come fishing. No sooner has he reached the surrounds of his dad’s property is he beset upon by shadowy men with…stun batons…and he’s running for his life. It’s up to Jonathan to follow the breadcrumb trail his father left behind to uncover the truth behind a government conspiracy involving *wild meme guy appears*… aliens. The story is as tenuous and paper thin as it is generic and poorly told, and unfortunately, it’s actually the best part of the game.
The game does little to endear itself from the outset, with a pervasive fog seemingly permeating everything in an unbearably dark and lifeless environment. To battle the darkness, Jonathan has his trusty flashlight with all the power of a phone screen on 2%. Its ludicrously small field of vision coupled with Jonathan’s jerky yet slow basic movements makes even the most basic task a Sisyphean ordeal, but using the torch is basically the game’s core mechanic so…have fun?
I call it…plant
The start of the game drops you in Jonathan’s father’s house after a short prologue, and it’s clear the developers wanted to channel some Gone Home vibes, but the sense of mystery or discovery or place just simply isn’t there. The house is a bland and blurry mish-mash of muddy textures and pixelated non-descript portraits strewn about (and actually repeated) at random. The initial moments are extremely aimless, and for the longest time you’ll simply paw around in the dark looking for the next interactable object to lead you to the next interactable object. The game uses this form of ‘puzzle’ design a lot, where you’re not really logically following clues, but just interacting with everything in sight until you brute force the progression.
Other than exploration and looking for clues as to your father’s whereabouts or how to end the torment that is playing this game, the other aspect of the actual gameplay is hide and seek stealth. This is a mechanic that is difficult to pull off at the best of times (Soma and Outlast are solid examples that come to mind), but here it’s about as fun as getting a prostate exam from an untrained gorilla. Both human and alien enemies have view cones that pierce the oppressive darkness, and it’s often extremely difficult to tell if they’re going to spot you. Sometimes you’ll be close enough to smell their alien cologne and they won’t bat a tendril, other times they’ll spot you through walls and then simply stand next to you for an instakill. You can’t hide in the dark too long either, or poor Jonathan will start to get scared and the already extremely restrictive field of vision you have will become even more restrictive as it becomes ringed in red. You’ll have to turn the flashlight on at this point, but that can attract enemies too. All things considered, Jonathan is a weak, weak man, and I hate him. This is perfectly demonstrated in the fact that he also tends to die if falling more than about 30cm – obviously the absence of his father led to the development of lethal ankle debilitation in his youth.
As fun as it looks
…the other aspect of the actual gameplay is hide and seek stealth. This a mechanic that is difficult to pull off at the best of times (Soma and Outlast are solid examples that come to mind), but here it’s about as fun as getting a prostate exam from an untrained gorilla…
Sanity of Morris is thankfully mercifully short, and you can power through it in under five hours if you can brave it, but if it’s not about the journey (and it isn’t), it’s certainly not about the destination. After surviving the half-baked horror of objects turning into bloody hearts or spooky skulls upon examination, after squinting endlessly at the dark and blurry low-res textures trying to figure out what the hell is going on, after all the games of hide and seek with goofy aliens and weird government soldiers, your reward is an abrupt and atrocious ending that has all the satisfaction of a fart in skin-tight jeans. After forcing you to endure its run time with little else to keep you going other than the hope the story will offer you some twist that’ll somehow make it all worth it, you are basically thrown off a 30cm cliff to die.
I have been overwhelmingly negative about this game, and of course it’s important to appreciate that it was made by a small studio, and some expectations need to be tempered going in. But considering these are the same guys who made the generally well received title Woven, it’s unclear as to how this janktastic fever dream came out looking and playing as it does. So many poor gameplay design choices seemingly built around obscuring your vision and making the act of just walking around a challenge; so many dull environments with murky, foggy texturing and headache-inducing lighting; a hateable, weak-willed, insipid protagonist who never shuts the fuck up. I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed even the smallest slice of what Sanity of Morris was cooking, and I also can’t be positive that there’s any living being that will.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X (Xbox One version played) // Review code supplied by publisher
- Alterego Games
- StickyLock Studios
- PS4 / Xbox One /PC / Mac / Linux
- 23 March 2021