Sanity: Aiken’s Artifact
Ice-T versus the fireball spell.
Despite its rather unremarkable title, Sanity: Aiken’s Artifact might be the most entertaining action role-playing game of 2000 after Diablo 2. Though the combat system takes some getting used to and the puzzles won’t pose any major challenge to veteran adventurers, the impact of Sanity’s whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.
Thanks to the discovery of a mysterious artifact in the future, a researcher named Dr. Joan Aiken is able to create a serum that gives humans access to latent psionic powers. Some of these, like the ability to levitate or use telekinesis, are rather benign, but the serum also unleashes the ability to cast lightning from fingers, call up demons, shoot laser beams, and wreak merry havoc. To fight the rising tide of criminals with psionic powers, the government forms the Department of National Psionic Control and recruits the most powerful psionics; your character, Cain, is one of them.
In short, Sanity: Aiken’s Artifact is an extremely lightweight role-playing game. You do a lot of RPG stufft, like cast spells (complete with a blue mana reservoir), talk to characters, level up, explore the world and decimate hoards of bad guys. True to the game’s title, you also have to take ‘sanity’ into account. When your sanity meter drops below zero, you stagger around losing health points until it rises. The entire system of Talents (which are divided into eight classes, or Totems) and the sanity required to use them is strongly reminiscent of a fantasy role-playing game, particularly since some allow you to unleash RPG-style attacks such as fireballs or zombie-summoning. Each of the game’s six Chapters (each sub-divided into several levels) feature enemies based on a new Totem; complete a chapter, and you “level up” in total sanity and health points.
Cain’s adventures begin with a simple investigation into the machinations of psychic hotline queen Priscilla Divine, but suspicious events take him to a theater in the heart of a city, Dr. Aiken’s research center, a demon-infested mansion, a power plant, and a meat-packing facility. You see all this from a rotating, overhead perspective with a somewhat limited view — more than once, enemies will attack from off-screen. The constantly spinning scenery is perplexing at first, but once you get used to the interface you’ll appreciate the ability to rotate the view at will and spot enemies before they see you.
Though Deathmatch is the only multiplayer game mode supported, the action and wonderful variety of attacks, defenses, and special abilities make it a refreshing change of pace from first-person deathmatches. The maps are relatively small, and with a full complement of eight players dashing around the frenetic pace and visceral effects make for some thrilling encounters. Game match-ups are handled via a seamless WON.NET interface.
Sanity isn’t without its problems. Besides the issues of perspective and control, there are a couple of chapter-ending “boss” battles that are frustrating. Plus other parts that don’t make sense within the game logic – like when Cain beats up a civilian when this should otherwise end the game. You’ll find yourself completely ignoring many of the weaker Talents as you face tougher enemies. But it never fails: just when you’re feeling frustrated, you’ll solve a puzzle or come up with a powerful combination of Talents and find yourself having a great time.
System Requirements: Pentium 233 MHz, 32 MB RAM, Win95