A while back I made an attempt to play through the indie horror game Anna by Dreampainters. I even made three short videos of me playing, trying to show off the game which I believed would be quite good. These three videos, which show about an hour of maybe an hour and a quarter of play-time, got me about a third into the game, that is if this walkthrough is to believed. I have however since stopped playing because despite a sound premise and what could have been an awesome idea for a game, Anna was pretty damn far from Awesome.
The idea behind Anna was indeed a sound one, a puzzle/horror game where you would explore small environments solving the puzzles provided to get to the next stage, meanwhile there would be a number of creepy and scary things which could occur at any time completely randomly. It sounded a lot like a less predictable Amnesia. I mean Amnesia was scary, but eventually you do learn that if you just hide for long enough every monster does disappear. In a game where, monster encounters say, could happen at any time with no forewarning then suddenly you are playing a very different game. Unfortunately it did not work out quite as we all hoped. I understand that the game was actually fairly anticipated which must have made a lot of people rather disappointed with the actual product.
The first, and most major issue with the game is the puzzles themselves. The system is a fairly standard one for games of this style. You get a puzzle, you have to find an item and then you use the item on the puzzle and voilà you’re on to the next stage! Unfortunately more than one of the puzzles was simply absolutely ridiculous, of the sort that logical thinking did not at any stage come into it. You are also never really told what you have to do and so are left to wander around each area desperately clicking on every single thing in the hope that something works. Now in some games when you get stuck and then end up completing a difficult puzzle you get an excellent sense of satisfaction of “Oh my god, I understand now” or “Jeez, that was tough… But I managed it!” In Anna completing the puzzles usually just left me feeling MORE puzzled and thinking “Well that was retarded”.
Case in point, at one stage when you are inside the sawmill, the second stage of the game, you are required to find a knife blade underneath a small pile of easily missed rubble, combine it with a handle which you have to smash free from a table using a wooden stick, THEN you have to set fire to it with your lighters and finally you then drive the now-burned ceremonial knife into a pool of water in the nearby room. I personally used a guide to get this far and I can’t for the life of me think how anyone would have thought of that and how the people who eventually managed must have literally tried to combine everything with everything else! And that isn’t a good puzzle system. Puzzles can be difficult yes, but they shouldn’t be of the sort where you have to resort to just clicking on things and hoping something happens, which I spent an awful lot of time doing.
What’s worse is the fact that each area you are presented with is so small and has only a few objects you can interact with so eventually not only do you realise that the puzzles are stupid but you also feel stupid for not being able to solve it. Then when you eventually get to the stage of “combine everything with everything”, unless you are a particular sort of person, you will be bored out of your mind. You will have wandered through the same 10 square meters over and over again for the past half and hour and would swear that if there was anything else in those rooms you would eat most of your wardrobe.
This leads me on to the second point, had the game actually been scary or tense it would have made up for the absolute mind-bending difficult of the ridiculous puzzles. During my play time I encountered three parts I believe were meant to be scary (two of which I think I caught on video). By the time they occurred though I was so bored and frustrated that they came across as quite pointless and really not very scary at all. You can’t simply have a monster jump out of a closet and hope the person playing will jump (although thankfully that didn’t happen). The atmosphere can make or kill this sort of game and while I have to say that the interior of the sawmill was creepy and eerie at first, after becoming accustomed to it in about five minutes (and then for a further twenty minutes) nothing about it surprised me any more and I quickly started to lose interest in it.
The encounters themselves were actually fairly poor as well, the best one (which unfortunately I did not catch on camera) involved the appearance of some shadow men, which did give me some pause, but they disappeared after a few seconds and literally I was left only with a disappointed feeling of “was that it?” The atmosphere and the encounters together might have provided for SOME scary moments, possibly, during the game but I am so sure that you would be so bored out of your mind you would just want the monsters to hurry up and eat you so that you have an excuse to quit. That is of course if anything would actually eat you in the game because it becomes clear after the first few minutes in the sawmill that actually there is no real threat in the game. Nothing is actually going to eat you. Sure they might cause you to jump or become alarmed (although I doubt that very much) but the lack of any sense of actual danger completely removes most of the horror feel. It instead becomes more like rummaging through a very dark room (repeatedly) looking for things you can’t see while some people in the next room occasionally bang on the walls or say your name in a “haunted-house” style of voice.
I am being very negative about the game and so in fairness I do feel I should say that there are a couple of things that I did like. I thought that the graphics were actually really rather well done, even on the lowest setting everything looked pretty great. As well as this the music used in the game was actually also pretty cool and deserves a special mention.
On that note though it’s back into the negativity! I feel I might have enjoyed it more had my computer not run the game so slowly, and I realise that this is normally not the fault of the game. However, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that somehow the game running slowly actually wasn’t to do with my computer, which seems to handle other far larger games far better, but rather to do with poor optimisation. Especially as I believe I am not the only one who has had these issues. Another black mark.
The story as well is worth a mention in that it seems totally pointless, unimaginative and, worse, as dull as the puzzles. It seems that you are in some sort of nightmare, perhaps, which has been recurring because of some long lost love of the main character. You can then investigate items and various different things during the course of the game which supposedly will further the story for you. Honestly though I never really understood what the hell was supposed to be going on, nothing really tied together and a lot of it seemed like just completely pointless filler material with no real importance or merit to it. From what I understood, the game is in a dream and that completely unimaginative setting (without absolute heaps of psychedelia which some dream-games provide) means that the developers probably ought to get negative points for story.
Even worse is the price of the game. On both Steam and Desura (where I bought it) the game is around £7 and the game is supposed to be about three hours long. Supposedly you can make certain choices and changes to make it worth playing the game enough to turn it into a nine hour game, but even so that still seems a bit steep. Especially since most people will almost certainly not play it all the way through even once.
Overall I feel that it was a pretty disappointing game, the puzzles were ridiculous, made no sense and just bored me to death. The atmosphere, which was only fairly average to begin with, was totally killed by the boredom caused by the puzzles which in turn made any possible scary moments in the game just seem pointless and in the way. Sure it looks nice and there was indeed a lot of promise here, but ultimately Dreampainters have not delivered. The only saving grace of the game is that indeed it does look quite nice which is worth some points in my book.