Anna: Extended Edition (PC) review
"Yet another reason to hate mannequins"
"Anna? What 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 an emotional 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 it sucked me into its world, and I surrendered. A lush forest, rolling hills and gently laughing brook during its opening segment instantly enthralled 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 title, at least I would be in for a peaceful and stimulating walking simulator.
After taking in enough of its visual loveliness, I completed the first puzzle and entered a nearby cottage. Inside, I went insane...
Anna draws its inspiration from older forms of the genre. 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 borrow 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 investigate your surroundings, gather items and solve puzzles by putting your inventory to use. Though it may sound basic, completing tasks and obtaining certain objects soaks up large chunks of time. You'll spend plenty of minutes loitering about, examining miscellany to see if you can collect it or use it in some way. You'll experiment often with various stimuli, all while falling victim to the horrible spectral manifestations that dwell within the house...
Time is not on your side, either. The longer you linger in a room, the more the game grows impatient with you. Malevolent wisps of smoke appear and drain your sanity (read: health) when you dillydally, or you hear a peculiar skittering noise behind you, or a ghostly chorus of cult-like 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 one last time. 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 blots out your vision. All goes black and you expect the words "GAME OVER" to greet you. Except that you've survived, less a portion of your sanity. Maybe death would've been better...
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 dummies. 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." She strives to drive you mad by remaining in your proximity as long as possible, and she can accomplish this goal almost effortlessly. You see, The Wife Doll has the habit of appearing in the most inconvenient of locations, usually right after you nab an item or complete a puzzle. For instance, you might enter a room, grab a red candle needed for a puzzle downstairs and turn around to see her bent over a crib, motionless. Panic might overtake you and slow you a bit, while your sanity continues to plummet. You'll escape her, she'll despawn and you'll think that you've salvaged your mind and you can move on now...
Nope, it turns out she's right effing behind you, standing there with outstretched hand, dining on your precious psyche like a mosquito on a rich vein.
Although Anna is a mostly terrific psychological horror title, it still comes with a few flaws. Mainly, puzzles eventually become irritating, as they take on surreal and illogical forms along with the house. I expected difficult riddles near the campaign's conclusion, 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 require growing a giant tree, heating a knife and stabbing a deformed sapling until 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.
"Intuitions" also damage the experience, but while bolstering it in someways. These are special clues you obtain by triggering certain events or investigating various objects. 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 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 a mundane thing like a leaf before putting it in your inventory would give you a missable clue?
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 easily avoidable.
Despite the above flaws, Anna is a mostly wonderful horror adventure title. It doesn't assault you overmuch with jump scares, and prefers to tell its story more through suggestions and subtlety. 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 the future of the genre I love is far from dead and currently rests in capable hands.
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (October 27, 2018)
Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.
If you enjoyed this Anna: Extended Edition review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!