Anna: Extended Edition ReviewJoe Shaffer
"Anna? What the hell kind of title for a horror game is that? Seriously, are we talking about a horror game or a three-chord love song written by a depressed teenager?"
I thought at first that I had been duped into purchasing Anna: Extended Edition. Judging by its name and fancy logo, it seemed less like a horror adventure title and more like an artsy European love story. Even as I clicked on 'New Game', I was unconvinced that Anna was anything more than a Dear Esther ape with added interaction. Yet somehow I couldn't help being sucked into its little world. The lush forest, rolling hills, and gently laughing brook in the opening segment instantly arrested me. While trying to catch my breath, I digested the game's mysterious (albeit seemingly trite) premise and decided that even if it weren't a horror game, at least I would be in for a peaceful and stimulating adventure title.
After taking in enough visual loveliness, I completed the game's first puzzle and entered a nearby house. Therein I went insane...
Anna apparently draws its inspiration from older forms of horror. In particular it borrows from Gothic horror, especially in respects to its brooding atmosphere, cerebral scares, and hints of forbidden romance found throughout its plot. The game also seems to draw from Dario Argento's "Three Mothers" trilogy, in particular the first two entries. I say this because Anna and the movies "Suspiria" and "Inferno" utilize similar elements: beautiful visuals, surreal imagery, nonsensical architecture, baroque narrative, references to witchcraft, a fantastic use of colored lighting, and--most of all--sheer terror.
Mechanically, Anna is simple. You spend the entire game investigating your surroundings, gathering items, and solving puzzles by putting your inventory to use. Though it may sound basic, completing tasks and obtaining certain objects takes a fair amount of time. You'll spend plenty of minutes loitering about, experimenting with various stimuli, and falling victim to the horrible spectral manifestations that dwell within the house.
Time is not on your side, my friend. The more you loiter about, the more the game grows impatient with you. That's when malevolent wisps of smoke appear and lower your sanity (read: health), or you hear a peculiar skittering noise behind you, or a ghostly chorus of cultish chanting issues from a nearby locked room...
Or you turn around and spot a pair of mannequins praying against a wall, realizing they weren't there a minute ago. You turn to walk away from them, only to cast a gaze over your shoulder. You happen to notice just then that one of them has vanished. Your character asks: "Where did the other mannequin go?" That's when a shadow appears from the right side of the screen and an immense wooden hand pervades your vision. All goes black and you expect the words "GAME OVER" to greet you. Except that you've survived, less some of your sanity.
As you advance through Anna's campaign, both logic and any sense of safety go out the window. The house takes on a surreal build, as you'll find rooms decked out with tremendous eyeballs and bleeding mannequins. You'll also pass your share blood-stained cribs whilst phantasmal infants scream in the distance. Worst of all, though, is a recurrent demon in the form of a wooden elemental called "The Wife Doll." Her role is nothing more than to drain your sanity by staying in your proximity, and she can accomplish this goal almost effortlessly. You see, The Wife Doll has habit of appearing in the most inconvenient of locations, usually right after a key action. For instance, you might enter a room, grab a red candle needed to complete a puzzle downstairs, and turn around to see her bent over a crib, motionless. Panic might overtake you and slow you up a bit, and your sanity will drain. You'll run away from her and still your sanity will slip a little more. After a few seconds, you might return to that area to find her gone. Crisis averted...?
Nope she's right effing behind you now, standing there with outstretched hand, dining on your succulent sanity like a mosquito on a fat vein.
I only have a few small complaints about Anna. Mainly, I dislike how the puzzles eventually become as vague and surreal as the rest of the game. I expected difficult puzzles near the end of the campaign, but some of them are of the "scour the internet for an intelligible walkthrough" variety of challenging. There's one, for instance, that involves giving sacrificial blood to a representation of Anna. You wouldn't think that such a task would involve growing a giant tree, heating a knife, and stabbing a deformed sapling such that it gushes human blood. Of course, the game gives you plenty of clues on how to solve this riddle, assuming you read every lengthy piece of literature you find lying around.
Worse than that are "intuitions." These are special clues you can obtain by enacting certain events or investigating various stimuli. Basically, intuitions allow you to piece together the game's story, and in that respect they're quite neat. By combining intuitions, you can create new ones that arrive at a variety of conclusions regarding the game's characters and situations. While this is a cool concept, finding all eighteen of the intuitions and discovering the whole truth is a pain in the ass. There are some you can easily miss for good, like one at the very beginning that you acquire by examining a mere maple leaf. I know I missed that one several times, because who thinks that examining an item before obtaining it will beget any sort of advantage?
I'll also mention a game-breaking bug that occurs towards the middle of the campaign. If you enter a certain room before the house shifts into its surreal form, then the house will never shift. You'll be forever locked in that particular phase of the campaign, unable to solve any further puzzles. Thankfully, the glitch is avoidable.
Despite the above flaws, Anna is still a wonderful horror adventure title. It doesn't assault you overmuch with jump scares, and prefers to tell its story more through suggestions and insinuations. Personally, I like that it's a combat free horror title that doesn't adhere to the current genre standard of merely running away from horrifying character models. Perhaps Anna isn't the greatest horror game to come out this decade, but it at least assures me that the genre I love is far from dead and in capable hands.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.