In the UK the name Morris has certain connections to a slice of yesteryear. There is of course the classic car – the Morris Minor. And there is the old folk dance performed by Morris dancers. But then, if you were writing the script for a sitcom set in an accounting department of a local council, you’d probably have a character in there called Morris. In Sanity of Morris though your perceptions of the name couldn’t be further from these examples, as we’re taken into a world of deception, alien conspiracies, and a deep undercover world.
The Sanity of Morris is an indie first-person psychological horror that mixes exploration, storytelling, and stealth. The story puts you in the shoes of Johnathon Morris who is traveling to the small isolated town of Greenlake. He is going home to visit his father Hank who he believes is mentally unstable; Johnathon feels the need to check up on him after some correspondence. Very quickly a van knocks him off the road after which Johnathon finds himself on the run from shadowy figures who are seemingly out to get him. From there an adventure unfolds; one that focuses on what his father has been researching – aliens and strange sentient plants. This results in going deeper under the town of Greenlake and being prepared for some surprising findings.
The story is a good one and it was this which kept me intrigued throughout the playthrough. Even though the themes and ideas have been examined before through shows like The X-Files this still feels like an interesting enough concept and the narrative has been able to plow its own path. The writing is decent too – especially in the way it tells backstories through documents you find and recordings of Hank. Occasionally though the self-narration of Johnathon can be a bit on the nose, particularly in describing the inner thoughts of the character. It could have been held back a bit in its description.
Gameplay-wise and Sanity of Morris is all played in the first person, letting you move around the world with the ability to crouch to hide or get into small places. You can pick up certain objects that can be used to open doors or pathways, yet you have no weapons, mainly as there isn’t any combat to be had, but you do have one useful tool in your arsenal – your torch. This is a tool you’re going to love because it can get pretty dark out there in Sanity of Morris, and you’ll need it to not just shine a light but if you focus the beam it can open doorways and access triggers in the more exotic areas in the levels. The problem is, if you keep it on for too long, you will be spotted by enemies; alien creatures that float across the world and have the keenest of eyes.
Stealth is key here in this game and you will find yourself avoiding enemies, watching their loops and pathways to creep around them to get to your goal. If they see you, they will chase you down, and it’ll be more than likely you will end up dead. That’s not to say that you can’t get away, but it’s a rare occurrence. And honestly, whether you will get along with Sanity of Morris will all depend on this mechanic; it pretty much dictates your enjoyment of the game. There are other issues though and this is certainly a clunky game at times, and going through certain environments will see you becoming tangled up in objects or succumbing to death from the smallest of falls. Luckily the checkpointing is very generous and for this reason there is little in terms of backtracking to worry about.
Visually and Sanity of Morris has some nicely imaginative design features. I’ve very much enjoyed working through the house interiors and hunting down some of Hank’s documents that are laying around. The menu layout is good too, especially in terms of the journal you take with you on the adventure; collecting clues, recordings, and images that are placed in a timeline is a nice touch. However, at times things fall down due to lighting issues; it all becomes too dark and some of the textures of the environments start to get very familiar after a while. The enemy design is good though and for a game of this budget, things are fine.
The soundtrack is very good, with some threatening tones and interesting offkey melodies that manage to strike the right spooky chord throughout. The voice-overs from both the lead father and son characters are committed and manage to deliver the sometimes obvious bits of writing.
Occasionally there are gameplay experiences which you take in, but then require a nod to not just the asking price, but the size of the development team. Sanity of Morris on Xbox is one of those games; a game that at times feels like a triple-A title in scope and ambition. It’s something that will grow on you the more you play it, and I personally love its B-movie roots of small-time America where alien conspiracies meet The X-Files. The adventure is decent too, yet it is a game in which the visuals and gameplay lets things down, reminding you of its indie gaming roots.
To be honest though, I’m just thankful there is another Morris out there; one that isn’t anything to do with old vintage cars, folk dancing, or accountancy.