Anna the Horror Game – What We Think
Developers Dreampainters have set out with some admirable goals with their debut title Anna, a point-and-click style puzzle adventure played through a first-person perspective. Anna is heavily focused on its horror narrative and the game is geared towards creating an atmospheric experience rather than action packed gameplay. Anna sets out to tell a story while challenging the player with tricky puzzles but how well does it achieve these goals?
Anna opens with a bright and inviting image of a grassy field beside a worn down, but still rather attractive, old building. The menu is superimposed on this location and as you begin a new game you’ll find yourself placed in this environment, standing in the small grassy opening behind the building. It’s an aesthetically pleasing sight that, when combined with the ambient music, evokes a melancholic but relaxing atmosphere.
The gameplay pulls you into this world gently and there is no immediate pressure to make haste; Anna sets a meandering pace. You can explore the opening area at your leisure, looking for anything that can be interacted with or manipulated. Many aspects of the environment can be examined for a text description and some can be picked up or used.
In addition to the ability to examine or collect items you can also use them from within your inventory; some can be combined within the inventory itself while others can be used to affect something in the environment. The puzzle gameplay of Anna involves figuring out how to use these different mechanics together to open up ways to proceed. In classic point and click style examining objects can yield clues to help you figure out which items to combine or which tools to use on the environment.
Some Assembly Implied
Unfortunately this gameplay trips up somewhat due to the sometimes obtuse clues and unlikely item combinations. I will avoid spoiling Anna here but some of the puzzles require more than simple intuition and logic to figure out. Even one of the earlier puzzles requires an obscure object to be applied to an emblem above a door before igniting it. This unusual reasoning can be found in many of the puzzles throughout Anna and unfortunately this means that many puzzles end up relying on trial and error to be overcome.
This problem is compounded by two other factors. First there is the interface itself, which can be a bit of a chore to put to use at times. For example, to use an item from inside your inventory on the environment you have to open your inventory, click on the item, close your inventory and then click on the relevant object in the game world. As you may end up trying several items on one target this can become wearisome. Secondly, not all of the text in Anna has been perfectly translated and so some of the hints and “examine” information can be less helpful than it is intended to be.
Light and Shadow
Aesthetically, Anna is more impressive. The visuals may not be perfect but this is more of a technical limitation than a problem with the design of the game. The visual design itself is admirable, contrasting beauty and ugliness elegantly as you move from the tranquil exterior of the sawmill to the grisly interior. Light and dark are used with a deft hand to craft an engaging mood for the game. It’s fair to say that Anna has a unique and sometimes bittersweet feel to it that is completely down to its use of imagery, music and narrative.
It’s a shame that Anna is let down by its often poorly thought through puzzles, sub-par translations and cumbersome interface. In another genre these flaws would be less damning but here they are more of a problem; if a hint isn’t properly conveyed it can scupper an entire puzzle, turning a rewarding and enjoyable challenge into a frustrating experience.
Despite these problems Anna does have a well conceived atmosphere and Dreampainters have been eager to take in criticism and patch out bugs. There is even an extended edition around the corner that promises more content and an improved interface. With this said, it’s difficult to recommend Anna in its current state for anything more than its intriguing atmosphere.