I enjoy point-and-click horror games very much. They've been an obsession of mine for a few years, drawing upon my nostalgia for my first PC love, Myst, and my attraction to suspense and intrigue. I love miring through the inherent flaws inevitable in a low-budget indie game to find that diamond-in-the-rough experience. In return, I'm often rewarded with a long-lasting chill that prints an indelible mark on my psyche, leaving an impact that inspires me as a writer and challenges me as a person.
Unfortunately, Anna offered none of that. Was that buildup a complete disappointment? So was Anna's. When I saw the screenshots and felt a mainstream anticipation for this game, I had hope that it would add some respectability to an oft-overlooked genre. Unfortunately, the biggest horror Anna offers is the one that came over me when I realized that as a reviewer I had no choice but to finish the game.
Developed by Italy's Dreampainters, Anna takes place in a solitary woodcutter's cottage at the foot of two fictional peaks, Castor and Pollux. The protagonist, led by a series of photos he no longer remembers taking, revisits the house with the hope of reuniting with Anna, an unidentified woman from his past. During his time there, he moves through each room, attempting to piece together their shared history while learning the true nature of the horror that resides within.
Now, I've played some beyond broken point-and-clicks in my time. Black Mirror, for instance -- I had to adjust values in the game's sound files just to avoid frequent crashes. Yet Anna frustrated me so quickly, I could only take the game in 20 minute installments. The first problem was the menu, inexplicably tied to the F1 button. In all the games I've played, I have never seen a menu mapped to the F1 button. While the menu can be accessed at the start of the game and does have an option for looking up the controls, they're labeled under "Input Help" and thus are easily overlooked.
The second issue was the mechanics. While the doors of the cottage are supposed to swing open a la Amnesia: The Dark Descent, in practice, it's awkward and unresponsive. It was so frustrating trying to open a small set beneath the cottage's outer staircase that I had to quit the game altogether. And of course, CTRL ALT DEL to do it, because I could not find the menu button.
Having played so many point-and-clicks, I immediately set out to test my limits, knowing that with a limited budget, indies tend to only render and make active the items that are important. Some have gotten wise to this and tried to skirt it by throwing in a lot of useless stuff that you'll never use, but for the most part, if it's an active item, it's a usable item. In that sense, Anna is no different from most point-and-clicks, despite their occasional red herrings.
While normally I'd see the process of systematically trying every active item on every active location to be a "waste", in the end, it was the only way to progress. The game leaves very few hints or clues as to what your next course of action will be, making most puzzle solving really more of a game of pin the tail on the donkey. "Pixel hunting," one of the only aspects of point-and-click that give it any degree of difficulty, was also absent. Anna's cursor, a tiny white dot, gives way to a conspicuous red bullseye, easily highlighting any usable items. While I resent games that rely on pixel hunting as the sole means of presenting a challenge, it certainly still has its place.
One (if not the only) of the game's merits is atmosphere. While the pre-release screenshots feel a bit misleading, the textures are rich and detailed nonetheless. In terms of drawing on the claustrophobic effect achieved by "haunted house" titles like Scratches and Darkfall: The Journal, they did a fair job. I was also charmed by the signature aspect of the game, the alternate endings. Having not read what to expect from Anna, that was a bit of a treat. I let the protagonist idle in a corner (without pausing) so I could take a smoke break, and was deeply startled when after several minutes he started having a hallucination. Another time I was treated to an old can launched to the back of his head.
The longer you play Anna, the more likely you are to encounter supernatural phenomena, and this contributes to the player character's deteriorating mental health. If you push him past a certain point, you'll open different endings and thus learn the "true" nature of the story of Anna. Each are vastly different from one another, and each belies the amount of information revealed during your time in the house. It's such a good idea that I lament it had to end up in a game as shoddy as this one.
These endings, along with almost every piece of Anna's dialogue, are completely ruined by the translation. While a few portions are oddly eloquent (the supplementary materials and an auditory scene played out in the attic), most of the lines tread between purple prose and incomprehensible babble. The tone of even basic sentences is completely mangled; "How can you think that?" (instead of "Why would you think that?") gives your failed attempts to use an item an almost accusatory flair. In fact the spoken dialogue was the only quality writing in the entire game, as if the English voice actors had rewritten it to sound more natural.
The translation's biggest casualty is the narrative behind the protagonist's obsession with Anna. Players who weren't told directly to read the additional materials will have difficulty establishing even the most basic relationship and plot details. The game's conclusions can only be described as mangled. All three endings in their original language are likely mysterious and a bit bewildering, but add to that the poor sentence structure and grammar and you're left with utter nonsense. Few games in my career and lifetime have genuinely angered me; the conclusion of Anna secured its place among them.
In the end, as much as I want to like Anna for being a horror point-and-click, with such extensive translation issues, I can't in good conscious recommend it to anyone. It has a few good scares and some startling imagery, but otherwise just can't deliver the well-crafted intrigue of its peers.
THE VERDICT - Anna
Reviewed by Holly Green