It is the Halloween Season, and we here at GamingShogun.com love nothing more than a good scare, whether it is from a movie, theme park, or video game. So, I was truly excited when the editor asked me to take care of Anna, a first person puzzle horror game from Kalypso Media. Anna is set in the lovely region of Valle d’Aosta in Italy and follows your investigation through an abandoned saw mill. You must investigate the grounds and solve riddles by using context clues and items to find out about what had happened here. So, does Anna deliver the goods as well as the scares, or is this one to avoid? Let’s take a closer look with my full review of Anna from Kalypso Media.
You begin the story out in front of an old saw mill in Italy, starting a small monologue about how you keep seeing this mill in your dreams. So, like any other sane individual that wanders into a horror story, you seek out said saw mill to discover the meaning of your dreams. The game then just leaves you alone, locked out of the saw mill, for you to solve the puzzles and discover the secret. Once inside the mill, the story starts to get deeper, but not any clearer.
The story in Anna is confusing at the best of times. I had some major issues following anything at all in the story or what the significance of clues were that I had found. The horror feeling comes mostly from the atmosphere of the setting, and not from any type of story plot point or character drama. Anna also has three possible endings, one of which can be completed in about fifteen minutes of starting the game. Without spoiling the game, none of the endings really gives the player a definitive story as to what really Anna is about.
For horror stories to be successful, the player must feel a connection to the story line, and for Anna that just didn’t happen for me. I feel like there is a lot of potential here for Anna to be truly scary, but because of my disconnect with the story, I was never drawn into the game enough to be nailed with a great scare.
Anna’s core game mechanic is that of a first person adventure game which utilizes puzzles to move the story along. The puzzles themselves range from the simple to discover to the insanely complicated, all within a few moments of each other. Items can be discovered, examined, and picked up for use later, and it is up to you to discover the uses for any item or note that you encounter. Anna uses a click and drag mechanic to explore your world for some items. Boards, doors or drawers can be grabbed by the player and manipulated by moving the mouse. This does give the game a nice tactile feeling, but I feel it is underused.
Anna relies heavily on the trial and error method of puzzle solving, which works most of the time when the game does not bug out and ends all hope of progression. I had solved a puzzle and entered a new room, collected some items, then started looking for clues. After about forty minutes of finding nothing new, I finally went online and looked at the walkthrough, only to discover that a painting that was supposed to spawn didn’t, thus preventing me to actually progress through the game. Wrestling with frustrating puzzles is bad enough, but having the game glitch out on you so that you must restart is even worse.
The user interface is simple, consisting of only your pointer and an inventory screen. I felt that interfacing with the inventory screen was clunky at best, between clicking the item, then having to click ‘use’ in order to pick it up. You have no health in Anna, because you cannot die. Regardless of what you run into, what secrets you discover, you will not die. When I discovered this little bit of information, all fear that I felt while playing Anna went right out the door. How can you have fear when you are not in danger? Fear is the body’s reaction to a possible perilous situation, and when knowledge sets in that there is no consequences, then fear will no longer have a place.
Anna’s mechanics felt just way too clunky for me and not very user friendly. Even with the mouse speed turned down, I had a hard time controlling my mouse between inventory and play screens. Anna is so close to being a good game, but in the end, the mechanics just get in the way of a bad story.
Ok, here is where Anna truly shines: Aesthetics. The game is just plain neat to look at, and the lighting is fantastic – especially once you get into the saw mill. The fear that players feel in the beginning of the story, is contributed solely to the aesthetics of Anna and nothing else. The sound just adds to the feeling of uneasiness that Anna is capable of presenting to the player. This is where the people at Kalypso hit a homerun, to bad it can’t save a game that is already faltering.
The graphics and settings of Anna are well thought out and are designed to increase the unsettling feeling of the game. Each area you progress through is small and dimly lit, adding to the feeling of being in an enclosed tight spot. Shadows move across the walls with intent, giving you the feeling that there is something in the room with you, but by the time you turn to look, it is gone. Shades will walk through the game and appear around corners, giving you a good start if you are not expecting a pair of eyes to be there. However, once you realize that these shades are nothing more than atmosphere and are not dangerous, they no longer radiate fear.
I love the sound effects of Anna as well. From the whispers that speak to you from the shadows, to the creaking of footsteps or other noises you hear that go unexplained, Anna uses sound to truly deepen the experience. Music is artfully done as well to add to the atmosphere of Anna, but again, to have true fear and scares in a game, there has to be the possibility of demise, and Anna just can’t deliver that.
Anna is one of those games that I truly tried to like. I kept going back to it in hopes that something had changed since I had logged off that would have magically fixed all of Anna’s problems, but that never happened. Anna scores full marks for aesthetics, with a great creepy local and fantastic sound effects to deepen the mood, but fails horribly with mechanics and story line. Even after finishing two of the three endings in Anna, I still don’t fully have a clue as to what is going on in this saw mill. Is Anna scary? It can be, but that fear doesn’t last long when you realize that nothing you run into can actually hurt or even kill you. If the developers were going for a more mental journey into fear, then the story line needed to be a lot more clear and easier to relate to. In the end, Anna comes off as having much more potential than it actually delivers. If you are hard up for a new horror game, you can give Anna a shot, but there are far better games out there that have been released within the last year or two that I would recommend more.