Every once in a while, as you wander around looking for a game to play, you can stumble upon one that has managed to hide from your radar. But all it needs is a simple title to pique your interest.
It was the description that made me want to get the game, "Mystery slash horror themed puzzle game". I like mysteries and puzzles so I wanted to give it a go. I don’t actually have an opinion on horror games but I welcomed the variety, since I’m not used to playing this genre.
The game introduces itself to you, vaguely saying or thinking to yourself how and why you got where you are. The white background slowly fades away to reveal the starting location. You find yourself in the garden of a house that used to be a sawmill, and the first view of the graphics looks good. Well, more than good considering it's an indie game. The first screenshot explains it really.
Unfortunately my annoyance towards the game began to manifest from the start. Everything you say and think, appears as text before you. It is my opinion that they could've added a lot more depth to the game if they had a voice actor to play your character. Obviously there is a balance. It is not required for your character to say "Don't need that" or "I don't know what that's for" every time you try to pick something up, but Anna is a mystery game and as such it relies a lot on the narrative. A good voice actor would have helped immerse the player more completely.
While we're on the subject of sound, the game makes good use of music and sound effects to set the mood in every part of the game. I have always paid close attention to the choice of music in games and Anna has passed that test for me.
But sound effects, music and graphics are extras for me, the gravy if you will. The gravy doesn’t need to be excellent, but if it’s not done right it can ruin the dish. I play a game for its main course. And the recipe for the main course of a mystery / horror puzzle game should be a well done story, spiced with horror that makes you want to play the game only in a brightly lit room, and a side dish of carefully cooked puzzles that are satisfying to solve. And sadly, this is where the game fails.
The puzzles are difficult to solve. And when I say difficult, I mean that the game gives you almost no information on how to solve them, not even cryptic text, like in most puzzle games. To top it off the puzzles are illogical. At various points in the game you find yourself endlessly trying to combine items in your inventory until 2 of them magically react with one another. This made me use the built-in hint system of the game, which I always try to prevent due to the deus-ex-machina style of solving the puzzles.
To those who refuse to use the hint system, like I did at first, I want to say this. If you have 15 items in your inventory, which is a reasonable average for this game, Newton’s Binomium teaches us you have 105 different ways of combining them. If you have the time for that, then go right ahead. But it doesn't end there. Things get increasingly frustrating when even the built-in hint system tells you “I have no idea what to do”. I dare you not to use a walkthrough at this point.
While you keep yourself busy with the puzzles, the horror part of the story slowly builds up. This happens by ghosts appearing, objects that have been moved while you were out of the room and pictures that appear on the walls. These events are very well done in some cases, delivering the horror experience I expected. On the other hand some of the events are just silly, almost turning the horror aspect into a parody. But most of the time the scary parts just feel gratuitous. For example, using ageing techniques like a dark room with scary background sounds and a horrifying face that flashes on the screen just feels old.
But aside from the eerie aspect of the events you experience around you, they also give you the feeling they are trying to tell you something. Who was Anna? How did you know her? What did she do or what happened to her? The occurring events and appearing images seem to hint at the answers to those questions, without revealing them. And that’s good of course, Anna is a mystery game so you don’t want to know everything from the start. But at the end you are left with a feeling of “What the hell just happened?” instead of a gloomy, disheartened or even fatalistic feeling that was obviously the intention of the developer.
I give Anna a score of 5, because to me it failed at what it tried to accomplish. Despite the fact that the game does manage to bring a certain amount of atmosphere. This may be a bit harsh considering it’s an indie game. But independent developers are different from the big companies in the sense that they don’t have access to the same amount of resources. This game is fine however when it comes to graphics, sound, music and game mechanics. So it doesn’t need extra resources, it needs more inspiration.
In line of my conclusion I want to share with you the words of Scotland's great poet, Robert Burns.
"Suspense is worse than disappointment."