Publishers: Adventure’s Planet
Release Date: July 15th, 2012
Summer is usually a closed season for video games. You can count the big titles released in this period with the fingers of a lumberjack’s hand. But it doesn’t mean that absolutely nothing is happening now in the gaming world. Many smaller developers use precisely this time to promote and publish their titles, knowing they would probably be unfairly passed over among Triple-A productions. Dreampainters, an indie developer from Italy, used this strategy with Anna, a horror adventure game that aims to fill your pleasant evenings to the brim with disturbing frights. Does it succeed at scaring the living daylight (or nightlight) out of the gamer? Yes, at least to a certain degree, though you’ll be screaming here more often with frustration than with terror.
The beginning is very enigmatic. As an unseen and unidentified male protagonist we find ourselves in an idyllic location, facing an old sawmill on the verge of collapsing. We keep seeing this house in our dreams, knowing it’s somehow connected with the mysterious woman called Anna, so like every hero in the horror genre we bravely venture to explore it, instead of getting the hell out of there like any sane person should. Once we enter the building, it is however too late to bolt, since the door shuts down tight and we get trapped in a nightmare. We have no other choice but to ransack the premises and figure out what really happened here, grasping at straws and tidbits of the plot presented in the form of echoes from the past. The story is intriguing, even though excessively foggy. The good thing is you can make your own interpretations, but more clarity certainly wouldn’t go amiss.
Anna’s biggest advantage is its dense and eerie atmosphere. We feel imprisoned in a claustrophobic and dilapidated sawmill where a few flickering candles only highlight the pervasive sense of dread and not give us any feeling of safety. At first everything is relatively calm, peaceful and normal, but as we progress with the plot more and more weird and unsettling things happen. Ghosts begin to appear randomly behind our backs, cans start floating in the air and the floor suddenly becomes adorned with elongated hands sticking out of it. Even though we soon realise that nothing can really harm us in the game, it doesn’t change a thing when it comes to scares jumping right at your face – there’s no way that you won’t flinch or have a mini heart attack at least a few times while playing Anna.
However, not only fear can be the reason for some serious medical conditions. The same goes for the puzzles in the game that can easily give us a stroke and gastric ulcers. I’m not a newbie to the genre, but I can’t remember the last time when I saw conundrums that made so little sense. Not all of them fortunately, but the majority of tasks that await us are really illogical. After being stuck for around thirty minutes I finally consulted a walkthrough and my only reaction was loud “WHAT? Are you kidding me? No way, that’s gonna work!”. But it did. The fact that most of the time we don’t have a clear objective and just wander aimlessly around, poking various things, doesn’t really help. The game itself is rather short, but it feels really dragged and simply tiring when we have no clue what to do next and waste time walking repeatedly through the same rooms. What’s even worse, the hotspots are really hard to see. You have to point your cursor at the exact place or you’ll simply miss something of importance and then woe is you. It’s really annoying.
Speaking of annoying, the interface really stands in your way to enjoy the game. In order to open the inventory you have to press either middle mouse button or “I” key. Then you use the left mouse button to chose the option to pick the item up, you close inventory and finally you can try the object on the hotspot. And you have to repeat it over and over again, since to solve illogical puzzles you have to employ trial and error approach and literally use every possible item on every possible spot until you miraculously find the solution. Of course, don’t forget about the correct order of clicking things (A on B works but B on A not necessarily) and superhuman precision in doing so or else you’ll cry oceans of tears unable to overcame the irritation. Anna occasionally utilizes the same mechanism of manually opening the door or moving things around as Amnesia: The Dark Descent. But what worked excellently in Amnesia, deepening the immersion in the game. Here it is tedious due to the oversensitive mouse cursor. Anna really fails when it comes to gameplay.
At least in the graphics department Anna can shine. The outdoor location looks really amazing and very detailed, whereas the interior of the house doesn’t fall a lot behind. The lighting is especially impressive and adds a lot to the creepy atmosphere of the game. The haunting effects also tend to be creative and genuinely unsettling (the masks, ugh!). Music composed by the Italian band Chantry can be best described as “eerie” and brilliantly builds up the uncanny mood permeating throughout the entire game. It’s not the soundtrack from a run-of-the-mill horror game that attacks your eardrums with thuds and shrill noises. No, it’s much more subtle and atmospheric. Generally the whole musical setting is very good, including blood-curdling cracking of floors and the voices from the past. The actors did a really good job on them.
Anna is definitely not a perfect game and her faults are many. It’s unpolished, frustrating and illogical. Strangely enough, I still enjoyed playing it mainly due to a remarkable atmosphere and overall weirdness. Just treat Anna more as an experience rather than just another game to beat. And have an open walkthrough within reach. Then you’ll be just fine.
Pros and Cons – Anna
+ Great atmosphere
+ A few good scares
+ Good graphics and music
– Illogical puzzles
– Frustrating interface
– Hotspots hard to… spot