Sanity of Morris promotes itself as a sci-fi detective story. An investigation where you are meant to question everything you encounter with a cynical eye, always looking for the rational explanation rather than the fantastical. Something was lost in translation along the way because the actual gameplay experience feels unfocused and disparate, all while dragging you by the nose through a tedious bore of a story.
I (Don't) Want To Believe
You play as John Morris, a man visiting his estranged father in the small town of Greenlake after receiving a mysterious voicemail. On its own, the message makes no sense, and to make matters worse, John's father has gone missing. But as John enters his dad's home, he begins to unravel a giant mystery surrounding strange events happening in Greenlake and how it is connected to an experimental research laboratory in the same area.
On paper, this is not a bad set-up for a horror adventure game. It's why the X-Files became a household name: mixing together both intrigue and paranoia. But pacing and atmosphere gets punched in the gut from the beginning and never fully recovers, ostensibly turning moments of horror or shock into farce and parody. Within the first five minutes of the game, John Morris is run off the road by a truck after passing the mysterious laboratory, crashes his car, and gets into a quick-time event chase sequence with a bunch of shady soldiers with nightvision goggles and stun batons. What could have easily been saved as a turning point in the story's second act is burned up before any sense of normality or uncanny dread has been established. This shouldn't have gotten past the story's first draft.
Things don't get much better when the puzzle and investigation sequences start. On their own, there are solid environmental puzzles, rewarding you for paying attention, but in practice it feels condescending and trite. For example early on you need a keypad combination to get into Hank's attic, but you cannot actually punch in the code – even if you've found all the numbers – until you examine something that flat out tells you the combination. There is genuinely no point in thinking, just grab all the key items and let the game solve it for you. Don't worry if you missed something, because John will comment incessantly on where to go and what to do. There is no engagement, just tedious obedience.
Fumbling in the Dark
This uncritical attitude even continues to the worldbuilding and horror. As you play through the story, John keeps taking notes in his journal, which includes everything from mysterious documents and images to voice messages found on old cassette tapes. There's even a timeline that helps keep everything neat and tidy. Even here, there is a strong dissonance between the gameplay and thematic intent. You don't see the actual official documents, you read John's summary of them. You don't see the official images, just a block of text describing what the images conveyed.
There might have been grounds to paint John as an unreliable narrator, the story eventually cites everything from hallucinogenic gas to alien mind spores, but Sanity of Morris handles this with the subtlety of jackhammer. There are jumpscares where John sees things that might not be real, but it mostly amounts to mundane objects you examine turning into skulls or spiders. It happens with every object that isn't a key to a puzzle, and it went from annoying to hilarious to annoying again by the time the credits rolled.
Sanity of Morris does fool around with at least one interesting mechanic involving a flashlight. By shining the flashlight on weird glowing spores, you can create pathways of green tendrils to get across dangerous terrain and bottomless pits. It's handled alright, adding a bit of variety to the key-hunting gameplay, even if it does draw attention to the weak cone of vision the flashlight provides.
Sadly, if the clunky quick-time sequences, laughable attempts at horror and paranoia, and hands-off puzzle design keep the game in the realm of mediocre, the stealth sequences drop it into bad territory. Every single cardinal sin is on display here. You have no way to distract or defend yourself, so there's no point in running or hiding if you're caught. Enemies have cones of vision but can arbitrarily spot you through objects. There is no way to pause the game so you can actually be killed if you pop into the menu just to tweak the settings.
Worse still, John's health mechanic feels ripped wholesale from a Lovecraftian horror game because staying in the dark too long will make him go crazy and die instantly. The only way to regain health is to turn on your flashlight, which can alert enemies to your location regardless of where you shine it, killing you anyway. The only saving grace to all of this asinine nonsense are extremely generous checkpoints so you're never too far away from each cheap death.
Sanity of Morris | Final Thoughts
Even without the technical issues or design problems holding it back, Sanity of Morris at its core is a novel idea horribly fumbled. It's a mystery that doesn't want you to think, a psychological thriller that can't keep its own facts straight, and a stealth game that doesn't stay consistent. As a five hour long distraction, it pulls you along adequately enough, but as an overall experience it is both frustrating and forgettable in equal measure.
TechRaptor reviewed Sanity of Morris on PlayStation 5 with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC
- Solid Environmental Design
- Generous Level Checkpoints
- Terrible Stealth Sections
- Awful Narrative Pacing and Horror Elements
- Tedious, Linear Key Hunting Puzzles