Date: March 22, 2021
Sanity of Morris impressed me as soon as I launched it. Behind the ‘Press Any Key’ text of the main menu I could see the interior of a car, streetlights whizzing past in a steady, mesmerizing fashion. When I moved the mouse and the view of the interior of the car followed my movement, which got me unreasonably excited. I gleefully clicked New Game, but instead of the menu fading away, I got a loading screen. OK, not so impressive, but no big deal. After a moment, I was back in the car from the menu, but looking around the interior, I noticed almost immediately that something was missing from the wheel. Where were my hands? Maybe it’s just a Tesla, I told myself, and besides, this game is about the story, not fancy graphics. That’s when the game’s protagonist, Johnathan Morris, started talking to himself. The voice acting seemed decent, at first. As I continued listening, however, a painfully obvious “here’s why we’re on this dark road at night” monologue began to take shape, and my goodwill towards the game quickly began to fade
Being excited and then disappointed sums up my experience with Sanity of Morris. Soon after the opening monologue, a mysterious van attempts to run you off the road, and you almost hit a deer — exciting stuff! Then the scene stops, and you’re prompted to press left mouse button in order to swerve and avoid the deer. Quick-time events can (very occasionally) be fun or useful, but interrupting an exciting car chase with a prompt to press a button is an immersion killer, and a reminder that you’re just playing a video game. The rest of the game has a handful of similar QTEs, and while you can at least fail some of them, they felt like a chore to do during cutscenes rather than an engaging gameplay mechanic.
After the lackluster intro, the game gets into a groove as you investigate your dad’s house. Creeping around the place with my flashlight and seeing strange things out of the corner of my eye was genuinely spooky, and the sound design in the first section of the game is top notch. I was enjoying playing detective… until I came upon a locked door with a keypad. The most stock-standard puzzle you can put in a game, and it’s in the very first detective sequence of the game. Additionally, you can’t punch in a code on the keypad. Instead, you are forced to wander the house collecting all the clues until Morris “knows” the code — only then you can interact with the keypad. The rest of the game’s puzzles feel equally uninspired. There is a mechanic where you use your flashlight to create new pathways, but it’s rarely used in a way that makes you feel clever. Instead, the puzzles amount to “wander around the area until you’ve left clicked enough things to proceed”.
The stealth mechanics in the game are also less than satisfying. At first, hiding in corners was fun. Then, I quickly discovered that while crouched, enemies couldn’t detect me unless I was at least 10 feet away. I happily crouched my way under the noses of every foe I came across, removing all tension from the enemy encounters. I actually asked the developers about this, and they said that their goal was to make the game accessible for all players. While that’s all well and good, it feels like in this instance, it comes at the expense of interesting gameplay.
This is also true for the “stay in the light” mechanic present in the game. According to the devs, you were originally supposed to be able to die (go insane, really) if you stayed in the dark too long, but in testing they decided that the mechanic wasn’t fun, and scrapped it. Instead, if you are out of the light too long, you get a weird tunnel vision effect, the edges of your vision go red, and… that’s it. There’s no downside to hiding in the darkness, and so the stealth sequences are tedious rather than exciting.
There are myriad other minor annoyances that detract from the overall experience as well. If you fall more than 4 feet, you die — apparently, Johnathan Morris has a lethal fear of heights. There’s no pause function if you go into the menu, so you can’t take a bathroom break while near enemies. Enemy attack animations are atrocious, as are the walk animations on the human foes. Level design is also questionable, with huge chunks of some rooms being empty for no apparent reason: no objects, no doors, no decorations, no nothin’.
The game has flashes of brilliance, and you can tell that it was a labor of love, but the various elements all feel under-developed, and I rarely felt satisfied with the gameplay. While the plot toys with the unreliable narrator concept, it never fully commits to it, and the handful of cool concepts in the story are overshadowed by the clunkiness of the gameplay. The game won’t take you long to finish — I completed it in well under 4 hours, and that includes some aimless wandering because I missed an easy-to-spot clue in my rush to be done with it. Sanity of Morris gets a 4/10 for some decent ideas, but it’s hard to recommend unless you’re so obsessed with the X-Files that you’ll play anything remotely resembling one of Mulder and Scully’s adventures.