Throwback Thursday – Anna
Explore an old sawmill and be confronted by supernatural events that appear suddenly and somewhat arbitrarily and disappear relatively quickly
Note: This review was originally published August 12, 2012
Anna is a compact little thriller that will give you a few shivers while it strains your brain.
The best way I could describe this game is to tell you it’s an existential horror story. Be careful what you assume, because pretty much everything will be in question before you reach the end of this three or four hour game.
Presented in first person fully-rendered 3D, Anna begins outside a decrepit country sawmill surrounded by a pleasant yard and an attractive little brook. Since the place is locked, your investigations begin outside. This is a good way to get used to the game’s inventory system and game mechanics.
You move around with the traditional WASD keys, and interact with objects with the mouse. Sometimes the cursor becomes a small hand, which indicates you can right-click to move the object. Doors, drawers, and even rocks are moved around in this way.
As you explore, you pick up everything that isn’t nailed down. The inventory screen is generous and scrolls if you fill up more than one screen. You can examine items in your inventory and sometimes combine them.
So far, so good. After a bit of stumbling around outside, you gain entrance to the building.
Once you’re inside the place, the atmosphere changes completely. One minute you’re in the sunny countryside, the next you are stuck in Blair Witch Central. At first, you can only visit three rooms of the structure, but they’re all dark and creepy. The fact that you start hearing ghostly whispers and even see the occasional phantom adds to the chill factor.
Once you’re inside, your explorations yield not only new inventory items and puzzles, but also the beginnings of Anna’s sad and disturbing story. You’ll find notes, see images, and even get information from the voices.
All of this is perfectly standard and acceptable stuff. If you have a tolerance for adventures with very thick horror atmosphere, you’ll be right at home inside Chez Anna.
The only problem: The puzzles. Alas.
Anna suffers from a classic adventure game puzzle issue I like to call The Mind Reading Problem. Puzzles should be logical. They should present a challenge and give you a satisfying sense of accomplishment when you are able to tease out the clues and solve the riddle.
A puzzle is less fun when, instead of relying on logic, you essentially have to read the minds of the game developers. “Oh. Why didn’t I think of standing on my head, painting the chicken ecru and plunking out ‘Taps’ on the harpsichord?”
Okay, I’m exaggerating a little. But there are several key times during Anna when the puzzle solutions seemed opaque and arbitrary. This type of puzzle-building is lazy and, I think, unfriendly to the player.
On the plus side, there’s a certain fun horribleness to the macabre story that unfolds, and the game does have three different endings (although two of them are determined by how much time it takes you to complete a sequence of puzzles, which I don’t think will win over anyone who is annoyed by timed puzzles).
So if you like creepy cabins in the woods and have a tolerance for obtuse puzzles, you could have a fun couple of evenings with Anna. Otherwise, I recommend giving it a pass.