Operation Backlog Completion 2024
Oct 182013
 

2012 saw the release of a psychological horror game called Anna. Trailers displayed a creepy abandoned sawmill and threatened the player with the fact that Anna knows what you are afraid of and will adjust the game accordingly, a system somewhat reminiscent of that used in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. However, when the game was released, it received dismal reviews.

At this point, it’s hard not to draw a parallel with another 2012 horror game, Amy. They were both horror games with similar titles that received generally negative reviews–and both were eventually updated in response to players’ complaints. But Anna went above and beyond fixing glitches and easing frustration, as Amy did. Instead of a patch, a massive update was released for free to everyone who already owned the game, and that was Anna: Extended Edition. This new version increased the game’s length, added a sanity system, updated puzzles to make them more intuitive and logical, provided a journal and other details to make the story more coherent, and expanded the game to include 8 possible endings. The resulting game received much better reviews.

I did not play the original game, as the Extended Edition was already out by the time I played it. Therefore, all of my comments apply to the Extended Edition.

The atmosphere is nice and creepy as you explore the abandoned sawmill and try to figure out why you were drawn there and what your connection to Anna is. The only thing that detracts from it is the music–while there are a few great pieces (with ominous chanting!), the main theme is a calm, soothing melody that really clashes with the horror. The story has been criticized for being vague, but I feel that it provides enough details to give you an idea of the truth, while still maintaining a supernatural air of mystery.

And there is some creepy stuff going on in that story…

There are even some nice little shout-outs, like an achievement called “Anna fhtagn.”

The gameplay is standard survival horror fare: you try to piece together the mystery while at the same time, you collect objects and solve puzzles in order to explore more of the sawmill. Since the area is under the influence of the supernatural, these are often more unusual than just finding keys or moving obstacles. Nevertheless, it’s the classic survival horror gameplay I want to see more of, so I loved it.

One additional gameplay element is the “intuition” system. When certain events happen or when you examine specific objects/areas, the protagonist gains a new insight into the truth. The resulting “intuitions” are listed on the inventory screen and can be combined with items or one another to create further intuitions. Finding all of the intuitions is required for the best ending.

There is one thing that really frustrated me about the game: I kept missing items. I like games that make items stand out, whether the item shines, the protagonist looks towards it, whatever. This game did not do that. If you find yourself stuck, your best bet is to very carefully comb over every inch of the sawmill, because it’s most likely that you missed something–be it an item or a book that will give you the clue you need to solve a puzzle.

NOPE!

Now, with 8 possible endings, one would expect that Anna: Extended Edition has an abundance of replay value. This is not exactly the case. Several of the endings can be achieved in a single playthrough, as long as you save before making the choice in question. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. This handles a certain video game predicament in an interesting way (mild spoilers to follow): while many video games leave some gamers with questions like, “Why can’t James just leave the way he came?” and “Why is that dog outside enough to prevent Jill from leaving the mansion filled with zombies, Hunters, and worse horrors?” Anna will give you an epilogue and consider it an ending if at any point you throw your hands up and say, “Nope! I’m getting out of here!” and bolt through the nearest door to the outside. Even a “game over” gets such treatment.

Ah, the words have been said. “Game over”? Is there, then, combat? The answer is no. You don’t have a standard health bar. You get a game over if your sanity meter is entirely depleted. And this is where we reach one of the most interesting mechanics Anna employed. (The following section is in spoiler tags, because for the purest experience in Anna, you don’t want to know this. Understanding the system significantly reduces its impact.)

Click for spoilers
Throughout the game, random supernatural events occur around the sawmill. Knowing that they were linked to the sanity system, I initially made the mistake of assuming that this worked the same as the system in Amnesia. That is, I believed witnessing supernatural events would deplete my sanity, and I made haste to get away from them. However, that does not seem to be the case. The sanity mechanic goes back to the trailer’s claim that the game would play on your fears. As long as I calmly went about my business, I was usually fine. If I spun around and zipped across the room, my sanity decreased.
Unfortunately, while I love this idea in concept, it eventually became more of an annoyance. If a health system was used in conjunction with the sanity system, it might have had great potential and set up a horrific fight-or-flight choice, but as it is, it seems too easy to overcome once you understand it.

Anna: Extended Edition left me with mixed feelings. On one hand, I loved some of the things it did, but on the other hand, there were unnecessary frustrations that dampened my enthusiasm. Overall, I highly recommend it.


Buy Anna from Amazon
Buy Anna from Play-Asia
Buy Anna from Steam

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