‘Anna’ – Video Game Review.

7 Feb

AnnaAs  a self-described connoisseur of survival horror games, when I saw that Anna was 75% off in the Steam Christmas sale (which reduced it to a few Euro) I could hardly hesitate. Though initially I was worried that it might be one of those creepy Japanese sex games – must’ve been the femininely alluring title – after three hours I concluded that it was a pretty, if not particularly deep or scary experience.

I’m just getting this out of the way now; I did not understand the story. From what I gather, Anna is a concise tale of a genderless (I think you’re a guy), faceless, voiceless pair of eyes who wanders into an apparently abandoned sawmill for seemingly no ulterior motive apart from sheer nosiness. Here you stumble upon some hitherto unknown (forgotten?) secrets of your past, and chaos ensues. There are several endings, though the one I got didn’t really explain things. From the get-go I didn’t really understand the premise, or many of the subsequent events, though a somewhat clear narrative is established towards the end. I love convoluted stories, though there is a difference between complexity and a lack of clarity.

As a first-person linear puzzle-horror-thriller thing, Anna follows the ‘Silent Hill’ method of incorporating trippy, nonsensical puzzles into the narrative. The main problem with such programming is that if you can’t hop on that one train of logic the developer was taking, then you’re stumped. Oh okay, so what you do is use the plant food on the roots, then you set them on fire, but not before covering them in the ashes of a cindered heart… See what I mean? Sure, any involvement with the supernatural does require a certain suspension of rational thought, but at least games such as Silent Hill 2, while remaining relatively random and David Lynchian in their absurdity, do allow the player to adjust the ratio of madness : genuine difficulty. Anna just doesn’t make sense.

The visuals, sound effects and music are lovely, and the sensation department is where Anna really succeeds. The vast majority of the game is spent inside darkened rooms, often lit by candlelight alone, so one could presume the visuals would be hard to mess up. But the lighting effects are wonderful; the flickering of the flame inspires unnerving shadows to disjointedly dance all over the room. From a purely aesthetic perspective, this game is great; the house is one of the most impressively realised I’ve ever seen in a game. The soundtrack is composed (lol) of melancholic, downbeat pessimisms, atmospheric, instrumental interludes and the odd moment of pure silence.

The exterior is definitely pretty...

The exterior is definitely pretty…

Whatever logical quandaries to which the game may ascribe can all be overcome with relaxed thought. Save the odd jumpy moment here and there, Anna relies more on the terror aspect of scariness, rather than horror. A sense of unease is generated through a carefully-constructed, progressively rising level of tension; silly outbursts of horror (a mask unexpectedly screaming at you, for instance) ultimately only cheapen the overall experience. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between, though the game remains decidedly un-scary. I never felt like I was in any immediate danger, which is the essence of horror media; you are supposed to empathetically fear for your life, along with that of your virtual representative. This simply does not occur here.

... While the interior is undoubtedly bizarre.

… While the interior is undoubtedly bizarre.

Perhaps this was an overly in-depth review for a 3-hour game, though Portal isn’t much longer yet posseses one of the greatest video games narratives ever written. Comparing an indie game by a small Italian developer to Valve’s juggernaut may be unfair, though I think it stands. This game is definitely worth the few cents I paid for it, though it is definitely not worth the current price of €9.99. Pick it up over the next sale or something.

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