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Sanity: Aiken's Artifact Review
publisher: Fox Interactive
genre: Action Adventure
PII-300, 64MB RAM, 450MB HDD, 8MB 3D accelerator
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Sep 25, 00 (released)
|» All About Sanity: Aiken's Artifact on ActionTrip|
Branislav "Bane" Babovic
I suppose we all wondered what would it be like to be a super hero when we were kids. Monolith Productions offers the experience to all players, and the chance to relive their childhood dreams with their new release Sanity: Aiken's Artifact. The basic story is very simple and is about the "Psionics", people with highly developed mental abilities. It all began when Dr. Joan Aiken discovered an ancient artifact in 2028 in an excavation site in East Asia. Examining the artifact, she came up with a formula that allows ordinary people to utilize the full 100% of their brain mass, opposed to the 30% they used before. Those who volunteered to test the formula developed powerful psychic abilities, but their mental health weakened. Their brain could not withstand the strain and they lost their sanity. Not all Psy's intend to use their powers for the benefit of humanity, some of them turned to the life of crime.
The experiment was altered a little and carried on. They started injecting the serum to unborn babies (in utero experiment), in order to achieve mental stability with the subjects. The results were relatively successful. This allowed a kind of police force to be formed, the DNPC - Department of National Psionic Control, which used the most stabile Psionics as their agents against other Psy's gone bad.
The player starts the game as Cain, who was injected with the serum when he was a fetus. His brother Abel was also injected, and plays important role in the game. The plot starts with Cain being accused to have misused his pyrokinetic abilities and scorching a couple of innocent bystanders. This incident made him temporarily declared as of "instable mental state". To avoid getting fired, he agrees to have a chip built into his cranium that will block all his function, in case he displays any aggressiveness toward civilians. Shortly afterwards, he is offered a mission that could very well change the world as we know it, and it's up to Agent Cain to do his best.
Sanity is a mix of action and adventure with an isometric view. It is actually, a mixture of many games, but it is played like Diablo or Nox. The character control and combat are identical to these games, the difference being in level concept, since they are mostly like large puzzles. So, it all comes down to a smart use of Cain's abilities during conversation with NPC's and solving problems.
The point of the game is to pass the 20 well-designed levels and solve the mystery of the evil that thrives among experiment subjects of Dr. Aiken. The mission objectives are to find ways to complete the task in the best possible way. Level design goes from one extremity to the other: while some levels are incredibly difficult, others are too easy. Conversation with the NPC's is very important to the plot development, maybe even too important. The plot gradually fades because of it. In the end, the game becomes a standard action game because of the same questions asked repeatedly. For example, you will need the same character several times for questioning. It is up to the player to complete this task and use Cain's abilities appropriately.
Cain will encounter many bizarre characters and obstacles during missions. You can see one of these as soon as the first level, when he comes across a dog barking in the yard of a house that he has to explore. When he asks the owner of the house to constrain the dog, he is rudely told to go away. When Cain threatens to incinerate the dog, searching the house is made possible, which will provide important items for the mission. In order for the mission to be completed, a not single bystander can be harmed. Otherwise, the inbuilt chip will "shut down" Cain, and the game as well.
Traveling around the Sanity world is not simple, considering the number of gangs, angry citizens, and naturally, dangerous Psyonics. Cain has to use all his dexterity as well as weapons to complete the missions. On the field, he is equipped with basic accessories such as the badge, the gun, and a cell phone, and his arrogant attitude. His main assets are his mental abilities. Cain only has a few psychic powers in the beginning of the game, but by exploring levels and finding something that looks like Tarot cards, his abilities increase. Being a successful agent, he can use all the powers he comes across in his explorations, which will help him survive. The biggest fun in the game is the adequate use of the special powers that are called Talents.
The Talents system is unique. As the game advances, Cain will discover new powers beside the standard Fireball. These powers are stored in a system that resembles a deck of cards, where each new power has a card representing it. It is possible to use ten powers at a same time, and this prompts the player to choose active powers most carefully. There are 80 powers in the game, ten for each Totem. Totems are areas of psychic powers and there are eight of them: Fire, Death, Sun, Demon, Truth, Storm, Science, and Illusion. Each one of them has several offensive Talents and the same number of defensive auras. In Fire Totem, for example, Cain has several powers such as Fireball and Inferno, unique Talent like the Haste and the defensive aura Shield of fire, and Fire Protection. It is easy to conclude that the Talents are divided into defensive and offensive, as well as the general abilities to perform superhuman feats. It is important to maintain a balance in the "deck" during the game. All Talents function as spells in fantasy games, i.e.; in order to perform a certain Talent you have to have a specific level of Sanity, which can be compared to Mana. If the Sanity level drops under zero, it is not possible to perform any of the Talents, and Cain will take damage and behave very strange.
Sanity is the first non-FPS game that uses the renowned LithTech 1.5 3D technology. The results are marvelous lighting and shadow effects with a colorful level design. Graphic effects shown when using Talents are decent, but not as spectacular as you might expect. The surroundings and the NPC's could use an additional detail or two, which would certainly enhance the atmosphere. One of the worst downsides of the game is the awful camera. It can be adjusted by default using A and D keys, but if you cannot see your character all the time, that might cost you your hero or the entire game. Camera movements are not as smooth as you would expect it in a game like this. Instead, it skips a few frames, which is odd. The camera flaws are especially noticeable when fighting several opponents simultaneously.
The multiplayer mode deserves special attention. In this mode, the player can choose one of eight available characters, each with a characteristic Totem and Talent enhancement, since Monolith developed a system for Talent augmentation. The players can (beside the standard 80 talents in the game) download free of charge, or purchase new Talents. This is a good solution, since the game will apparently grow and expand. We can only guess how the players will react, and if anybody will want to pay $7 Dollars per booster-pack of new virtual powers for their super hero. Of course, Monolith promised that there are plenty of available gratis defensive powers that will correspond to the offensive ones. This should prevent somebody from becoming a power-player in multiplayer battles.
I left the best for last. The voice of Agent Cain was done by none-other than rap Superstar Performer/Pimp/Original Gangsta/Actor Ice-T. This also goes to explain the edgy tone and language that depicts a temper and attitude. It is fun and catchy, because Ice-T did a great job and helped to create a very interesting character. And although there are some good voice talents in the game, none are as convincing as Ice (OK, I admit it, I like Ice-T and Gangsta rap). Anyway, Sanity is an interesting combo of action and adventure that will attract fans of both genres.
8.2 Very Good
Interesting action-adventure, and good spells and good voice talents;
Camera control is bad, sometime frustrating.
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