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Review: AnnaPC indie horror adventure
Release Date: Out now
ESRB: N/A (Teen suggested)
It takes a lot of work to make a good horror game. Many times, people try and fail to varying degrees. Sometimes it's the controls or voice acting, and other times it's that they just aren't scary. Other games take elements from horror and mix it into a more interesting narrative. Anna is one such game that attempts this. Although most people wouldn't consider it a plain "horror" game, as there are no stalking enemies or even much that can do harm to you, it still forces a nightmarish atmosphere onto you. So then, what exactly is Anna and how is it?
Anna is an adventure game of the point and click variety, although you can move your character around the 3D environment too. The game starts off as the protagonist reaches a rustic looking house. He's been called there to meet someone. This simple setup might make you think about some other games, but beyond the intro, things definitely take more interesting turns. At the start, the story is rather clouded and you know you're missing out on parts. Only as you continue to work your way through puzzles will the story become clearer, and stranger.
Anna is a game with a really powerful method of storytelling. For one, there are two stories happening as you play. There is one about a woman named Anna but also about the protagonist who is searching through a house. Is everything all right with him? Why is he there? It's certainly not as creative as storytelling can go, but it's neat to have more than one thing to focus on. As the "background" story segments only happen from time to time, the rest of the game you get to wonder about the character you're playing as.
The main concept behind the game is one which will change depending on your choices. There are no real clear cut decisions, minus at the end, but the game attempts to profile you all the same. Are you willing to go along with everything and descend deeper and deeper into the strange occurrences in the home? Or are you intent on keeping your head on straight and working something out? Depending on how you proceed you will work toward one of the game's three endings. These each factor in your choices to give you interesting finales. It's quite fearsome to realize you've taken something "too far" and can no longer go back.
The stories are helped by the incredible design of the game's world and things that occur within it. Developer Dreampainters seems to have a strong grasp on what makes things unnerving, creepy, or downright terrifying. At the start of the game, you are outside a sawmill and everything is bright and gorgeous. Only as you continue in though does the game become more claustrophobic, dark, and just plain strange. Taking the game from bright and almost cheerful to what it becomes by the climax is excellent. Beyond that, the sound design also fits well. You'll rarely hear any loud sounds, just lots of ambient noise meant to creep you out. At times, it really does get to you (especially if you've got headphones on).
For all that's great about Anna's design though, there is the fact that the gameplay itself leaves something to be desired. Although there are hints you may enable, some puzzles are weird. No, there's nothing really truly difficult about them but figuring out what the game wants you to do can take a while. This is the biggest issue with the game by far, as I and others found ourselves struggling at various puzzle points for fair amounts of time. The game does include hints which can be enabled but they tend to say things that you already knew were the case. For example, it's plain to see a broken oven and assume the game wants you to fix it. But how do you do it? The game will always leave out the explicit items needed to do something and many times that's the one thing you can't figure out.
While much of the game's puzzles are easy enough to work out with a little exploration, there were still a handful like described above. They aren't tough to make happen by any means, but the game just leaves things a little too open ended. Even as an adventure fan I sometimes felt annoyed by being unable to progress due to one puzzle. Those who aren't massive fans of adventure or horror games might not even be able to drum up enough interest to proceed after a few hangups. It's a bit odd how most of the game has rather obvious puzzles but then also these sticking points. If they weren't there, or if the hints were better, then this whole issue could be solved.
It's a shame that some puzzles are weirdly annoying, although they probably won't be the same ones for everyone. Certain puzzles raised as troublesome by others were ones I breezed through before getting stuck on others. There are probably a few gamers who will be able to breeze through them all, but it seems more likely that everyone will have a couple tough ones. Unfortunately, any frustration (especially prolonged) takes away from the foreboding atmosphere and experience of the game itself. When progressing, I found things incredibly eerie and really fell into the world. But as soon as a tough puzzle popped up, the mood was lost.
Taking in everything, Anna is capable of being an interesting narrative with a truly tense atmosphere. If you manage to get hung up a lot though then it will probably seem like a terrible adventure game. Because of this, it's hard to recommend the game for everyone. It seems like something best suited for a very specific crowd - those who adore adventure games. That, and those interested in psychological horror stories. Even though there's nothing outright monstrous in the game, it still feels like it fits into the category of horror. Both adventure fans and horror fans should be accustomed to good, but flawed titles, which is where my recommendation comes from.
Since the game initially launched, it quickly received a patch to address the most common game issues. It did things like help certain events trigger more regularly, but also attempted to remedy some more core gameplay problems. For one, the mouse initially was far too sensitive on any setting. This really was the biggest problem with the game (in my eyes) because it made it incredibly frustrating to play. The sensitivity has since been altered, and works better now, but is still a bit troublesome. It's also strange how it goes one speed in game and another speed when in the inventory or menu. You'll get used to it, but really shouldn't have to. Perhaps this will be remedied with another patch later.
Others may find something to like with Anna too. It certainly offers a neat little experience (lasting 3-7 hours depending on how well you complete puzzles). Then, of course, are the multiple endings which are pretty neat themselves. The price point is fair at $10 for what you're getting. If it seems like an interesting game then give it a look. You may find yourself liking it a lot despite its flaws.
+ Great ability to lure gamers into an increasingly tense atmosphere
+ Excellent sound design for both effects and music
+ Three divergent and satisfying endings
- Getting stuck on puzzles detracts from atmosphere and is a pain
- Things like mouse sensitivity could still use a tune up
Overall Score: 7 (out of 10)
If the review didn't scare you off and you're looking for a different kind of horror game then give Anna a try.
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