I’ve always noticed Anna on the Steam store, appearing here and there whenever I boot up my PC, but I never took the time to find out what it was. Eventually, I watched the trailer video and looked through some screenshots, and decided that it was easily worth the couple of quid Steam was asking for, every sale helps to feed a developer right?
Well the first time I booted up the game, I was introduced to a screen that wanted my username and password, something I didn’t have and I had no intention of making. Upon pressing cancel, I couldn’t go any further, the game just closed and wouldn’t let me do anything unless I registered or already had a account. This was extremely frustrating, and goes against the first rule of business/game design: don’t annoy the customer. The customer is doing you a favour by buying your product, giving them easy access to said product is the best way to go about it. Making them make accounts before they can even do anything? That’s just annoying.
The gameplay of Anna is similar to a old fashioned adventure game, where you must explore an environment, clicking, examining and picking up as much as possible, all to try and progress to the next area. Items that are picked up can be combined, and must be used on real-world objects in order to open to doorways, solve puzzles and progress the narrative that Anna tells. It’s a simple system, but one that is mechanically broken at times, for example I had one occasion where the story wouldn’t progress until a bell went off, something which I had no control over, so was sat exploring and wondering around for 15 minutes before I could progress. Overall, despite its flaws, the play style suits the horror genre perfectly, matching Amnesia: The Dark Descent whilst also adding it’s own twist in the narrative department.
Graphics are lovely on Highest quality setting, with most of the game taking place indoors, you’d be hard pressed to realise its a Unity game. Dreampainters (the developer) have done a great job putting loving care into each environment, making sure it all gets used to it’s maximum potential. Even though you spend 2-4 hours in just 3/4 rooms, you’re always finding something new, prolonging your fear just when you start to feel comfortable in one area.
The story is told at a slow pace through voices that are heard as the player is exploring areas and solving problems. Your character occasionally talks out loud and tries to respond to these voices, but it always falls on deaf ears. It’s a great way to tell a story, as its done at the players own pace, allowing you to absorb as much or as little information as you’d like.
So with all the good bits out the way and done with, we now get onto the bad bits. I found that the puzzle solutions to the game were a bit arbitrary, with no clear concise way for a player to solve them unless a guide is consulted or a player manually tries every item with every other item. It made the game annoying at times, meaning I spent about 45 minutes walking around the first area, with no way to know what I was meant to be doing, or how I would even get to the objective. The hints didn’t help either, being so loose that they could apply to anything. For example, at one stage I had a branch, which I thought would be good to use as a fire, or to move rocks. Turns out this branch is fantastic for moving boulders that looked the size of the player, something I would never have guessed until I actually started using each item with each object in the world. This same branch can apparently unwedge a knife out of a table, so whilst playing Anna, get used to unconventional thinking, and a lot of trial and error with items and objects.
Anna starts out promising, with it’s beautiful graphics and scenery, but can quite quickly become frustrating due to the very nature its game mechanics work. Dreampainters would be wise in future to spend a bit more time working on their puzzles, as the rest of their game exceeds the poor mechanics implemented in puzzle solutions.