Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Anna - Extended Edition


Developer: Dreampainters Software
Release Date: July 16, 2012
Genre: Puzzle, Horror

One Sentence Review:
The game isn't scary, it's imagining the type of people who came up with these puzzles.

I was originally drawn to the decently-made trailer of Anna, not even going to lie. It looked like it had all the necessary pieces for a solid horror game. They promised a focus on atmosphere and puzzles rather than shooting reskinned demons from hell... looking at you Dead Space. They certainly do have atmosphere and puzzles, it's a shame what they did with them.




Genre Mechanics

When you think about good horror games you think about tension and release. The game has to build up your interest, immerse you in its world, slowly strain your nerves to the point that you're hopping at perceived threats without any prompting from the environment, and finally release all that tension in some terrifying way.

Anna has some of this done right. The atmosphere is set up with ambiance that feels right. By that I mean the noises, shadows, and lighting actually feels like a rickety old cabin in the middle of the woods. Unfortunately, aside from some very special moments, Anna isn't good at the whole tension and release exercise.

The first sin committed by Anna is the jump scares. Ignoring the fact that jump scares are the cheapest of cheap when it comes to horror, more of a primal reaction than anything else, these jump scares are just done so badly. I've seen what indie developers can do with a tight budget and it amazes me all the time, but these jump scares actually look and feel cheap. A little detail work to make them fit in with the rest of the area would be a nice touch. They're lacking that little bit of polish that would've made it half-decent... if not for the second sin.

The second sin committed by Anna is the atmosphere itself. It very quickly changes the setting from a normal cabin in the woods into a weird and twisted cabin in the woods with inspiration ripped straight out of silent hill. I'm not saying it looks bad but the dim red lights everywhere don't make me uncomfortable, they make me think "good thing I'm not colorblind".

The final sin committed by Anna, without spoilers, is the puzzles. These puzzles aren't hard, they're completely bat-shit crazy. Whenever I solved a puzzle without a walkthrough the only thing that could pass by my drained mind was exactly how far off the deep end I must've been at that point. The developers had to have been smoking crack, meth, dropping acid, and taking ecstasy all at the same time. I will not accept any other explanation. I refuse to believe even the craziest of people could come up with these puzzles.

Storyline

I won't spoil it but I would like to give an honorable mention to the storyline here. I liked it. It's a sort of pitfall into the darkest depths of human madness and while there were some fairly obvious cliches and I predicted most of the important things about the story after the heavy dialogue started popping up near the end, I do think the story complimented the good parts of the gameplay pretty well. When the developers themselves weren't going off the deep end.

One criticism I am currently bound by contract to give, however, is that it does way too much foreshadowing. To all future authors and storytellers alike, foreshadow only a little. Make your foreshadowing natural. It should be something that hits the readers or players at the end of the story rather than midway through.

Level Design

Each area of the game fairly well put together. It's hard to give a solid gold star or a bronze star here in equal measures because there are problems everywhere. As the level design changes to its silent hill mode, which has very little cohesion with the plot, it gets more and more ridiculous. The level design at the very start, however, is perfectly fine. The original non-silent hill mode levels are genuinely creepy due to the fact that they feel like real places rather than a nightmarish hell. The game could've benefited from completely removing the changes and simply shifting around pots and pans whenever players returned to an area to add confusion and fear.

Sound Design

This aspect of the game is excellent. I have no complaints at all. It sounds eerie yet also sounds like a normal cabin. It'd probably be hard to listen to the atmospheric sounds of Anna and then go have a cabin vacation a few days later. Unless you like having spots all over your underwear.

Summary

If Anna's puzzle design wasn't developed by crazy people, the jump scares were a little better done, and the level design was kept more consistent so the tone didn't shift all over the place, Anna would be a game that I would wholeheartedly recommend at almost any price. Unfortunately this isn't the case. As such for the hours you're going to waste on FAQ or walkthrough sites compared to the hours you'll spend playing the game I give Anna my gamer price tag of $4.00 USD.

It probably could've earned a little more but I remember looking at my playtime with it and thinking "I only spent half this time actually playing the game..." which is never a pleasant thought.