(Reviewed on Xbox Series X by Games of DAYNE)
Sanity of Morris tells the tale of a father and son whose broken relationship is thrown by the wayside when Johnathan Morris receives an unusual voice message from his estranged father, Hank. Travelling five hours to find out what’s going on, John finds himself involved in something much bigger than their relationship, something that puts both of their lives in grave danger in this first person psychological horror experience.
Run off the road by an erratic van driver on the way, John must finish his trip to his Hank’s home on foot from the outskirts of town. Men in strange suits are searching the area with lights, forcing John to take to the shadows and bypass them quietly. Arriving to find his father missing, exploration of the house leads John to the realisation that Hank is onto something that could change the world forever. We are not alone.
Hank leaves a trail of breadcrumbs via written notes and audio logs that unravel his research into the extraterrestrial mess he has found himself embroiled in. Despite their fractured bond and John’s failure to live up to his fathers expectations he needs to know what has happened to him, where he is and what exactly has he discovered. The deeper John gets on the trail of Hank, the more he questions his own sanity and the possibility that aliens may actually exist. The emotional turmoil he experiences as his journey ultimately takes him to a secret facility and beyond pushes him to his mental limits and what he discovers will change his life.
Played from the first person perspective the core gameplay consists of walking around in search of items required to solve the many clever puzzles. These puzzles don’t feel forced or overused, they fit the context of what lies behind the locked doors so to speak. Some of the puzzles and their solutions may be a little ambiguous if players aren’t through with their exploration.
Interaction with non-essential objects can also be rewarding with a number of creepy jump scares that work within the context of the questionable sanity of John. There are also a handful of sequences where stealth must be employed to sneak past enemies and avoid detection. These are relatively straightforward encounters in the beginning and become more stressful and intense with story progression.
Collectibles are something that typically find themselves as loved or loathed by players. Collectibles without a purpose or reward are cumbersome to hunt out but with Sanity of Morris they provide incredibly deep and meaningful context that fills in the blanks for both the player and John. They are all interesting and flesh out not just the family issues but the core narrative as well. I found myself wanting to find every single one to become fully immersed in the narrative and felt genuinely rewarded for doing so. It feels like respect has been given to the player for their time and exploration to find them feels justified. All collectibles, objectives and puzzle clues can be accessed in the journal at any time.
Developed to be more accessible for the casual and after work gamer, Alterego Games have kept the experience tight. The story itself is broken into three chapters and takes about three hours to complete, possibly longer for players searching every nook and cranny for the excellent written and audio collectible logs. This length is perfect for this type of experience, it can easily be completed in a single sitting but by breaking into three relatively short chapters it becomes so much more accessible for players with little time to play. Don’t let the length discourage you, the story that is told is incredibly layered and meaningful and the gameplay is simple enough to pick up and put down with ease. It is a little too easy and the threats encountered along the way don’t feel as problematic as they could due to the ease of avoiding detection.
The visuals playfully raise the tension with its emphasis on dark and light, mirroring the themes and emotional turmoil the player and John experience throughout. Accompanied by an appropriately eerie score and striking sound effects the overall presentation keeps a consistent tone of tension, suspense and to expect the unexpected. The voice acting is also on point and their performances feel genuine and convey the emotion when it needs to most. Sanity of Morris is no stranger to explicit language so it is certainly not appropriate to be played by or in the presence of a younger audience.
Defining Sanity of Morris as a singular type of experience would be a disservice to the wonderful work of Alterego and StickyLock. It’s a psychological thriller bound by the emotional bond between father and son with stealth elements that is shrouded in mystery and clever puzzles. It ticks a lot of boxes but I think it’s fair to say simply walking away from this experience is easier said than done. The story resonates and the questions asked on a literal, metaphorical and almost spiritual level are well executed, to the point where I found myself thinking about it all even after multiple playthroughs. Sanity of Morris is clever, constantly interesting and most importantly, fun to unravel.
+ Interesting story
+ Incredible use of written and audio logs
+ Fun puzzles
+ Stealth elements
+ Length consideration for time restricted players
– A little too easy
– Minimal replayability
Developed by: Alterego Games
Published by: StickyLock Games
Release Date: March 23 2021
Platforms: Xbox One/Series X|S, PlayStation 4/5 and PC
* A digital code was provided by the Publisher for the purpose of this review. *
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All digital photography was captured by Games of DAYNE in-game on Xbox Series X.