Anna Review – An Indie Gem
The debut title for the Italian development team over at Dreampainter Studios, Anna is a horror/adventure title that is sure to impress with the indie title price of $9.99 on Steam. There’s a lot of pressure on horror developers nowadays as many consider the likes of Resident Evil and Silent Hill to be the dominant force, but Dreampainter’s takes a different approach with their debut title.
Anna ReviewWhen I first picked up Anna I wasn’t really sure what to expect. It’s had a lot of mixed reviews from critics and the general gaming population have been critical as well. The game was met with a crazy amount of technical issues at launch, with a large number of players unable to even enter the game. Some of the more severe issues have been resolved but there are still a number of issues in-game that are forcing players to get the basic ending, or stopping them from progressing past a certain point. Teething problems aside, does Anna bring anything new to the horror genre or will the frightening aspect remain in the review scores?
The number one thing developers have to get right with a horror title is the atmosphere. It has been proven time and time again that misused music or sound effects can be enough to totally ruin the immersive experience required for players to enjoy horror based games. In this area Dreampainter have done a great job. As soon as you load into the game you’re greeted with the tranquil sounds of a small stream and an afternoon breeze, setting the tone for a horror shock experience straight off the bat. The great sound effects and music continue throughout the game, overcasting some of the other problems Anna suffers. There are a few occasions where the music is a little strong. Throughout your journey in Anna you’ll hear some eery voices and echoes in the background, which would be quite scary in themselves but the light hearted music seems to cut out a little late. This only happens a few times so it wasn’t game breaking, but it’s an area I’d like to see improved if they stick with this genre.
Despite the horror preset Anna feels predominantly a puzzle title. I’ve never played a game with such intricately difficult puzzles, and they waste no time throwing it straight at the player as it’s the first thing you experience. You start outside the Sawmill and must solve a basic puzzle in order to open the door. The real problem here is the total lack of on-screen prompts, hints or any form of help at all. I must have spent at least 40 minutes trying to get into the Sawmill, to the point where I actually wrote a guide in case anyone else was struggling. In order to solve the very first puzzle you must collect a branch, pine cone, fill up your canteen and find 2 mirror shards. You use the branch to move two large rocks in the stream to reveal 1 mirror shard, followed by cutting away some rope holding a door closed with your knife for the second. You then use these mirror shards on a small eye shape above a door, before attaching a pine cone and setting it on fire. You then use the canteen to put out the first which opens the door. Confused? I know I was.
The puzzles continue throughout but clues are available at certain points. Even the clues are a puzzle in themselves. The first you find is some scribbled notes on a handkerchief.
When I first found the note I thought it was just your typical horror background information quote, however it’s actually the clue for a rather lengthy puzzle in the first room. From that clue you’re meant to be able to discover a bunch of planks hidden in a corner that you can move to find an object, then use your branch on a table with a handle stuck inside, followed by creating a ritual blade, setting it on fire and then cutting yourself in the middle of a floating pool of water where you must find and use sawdust to expose a shining bridge. Again, what?
To me the puzzles really retracted from the horror experience because I spent so long in a scary room with freaky noises and scary shadows, I soon realized nothing was going to happen so the fear dissipated. There are definitely some freaky moments in the game and Anna manages to occupy that strange space of freaky horror. Instead of just basic fear you’re also confused and intrigued by some of the sights and sounds that pop up.
There’s also a serious lack of information regarding the character you’re actually playing. Sadly I encountered a bug that meant I was able to get the better ending so it may be explained there, but for the most part I had no clue what was going on. In today’s title the personality and definition of the protagonist is almost as important as the game itself, even to the point where a bad game can sell because of the personality of the main character, Duke Nukem Forever anybody?
Although Anna has a fair amount of obvious flaws, it still carries something a little special. The puzzle element, although highly confusing and frustrating at times, is sure to appeal to hardcore puzzle fans that don’t like the hand-holding approach. The immersion is solid for the most part and the eery graphics and shadows would fit brilliantly if it wasn’t for the puzzles putting a delay on exploration. Overall I would definitely recommend Anna to any fans of something a little different. It’s not a genre busting addition to the horror world but as an indie title from first-time developers, it’s easily worth the few dollars on Steam. It has the foundations to be a brilliant game and I hope, with community feedback, Dreampainter will continue in the horror genre and release something explosive.