I don’t generally play horror games. I get creeped out relatively easy, but that’s not why. Truth be told, horror games tend to frustrate me. The games that I have played have had obtuse puzzles and/or sloppy controls and when you’re being chased by a faceless ghoul, that’s really the last thing you want. Nevertheless, I figured this might be a game worth looking into. I had the ability to play either the Original or Extended Edition, so I chose the latter. One nice thing is that if you own the Extended Edition, you get the original game with it. If you bought the original game, from what I understand, the extended edition is free.
Anna is about a professor with issues interacting with other people. After finding a box with photos–including some shots of him–of a place he doesn’t remember in his basement, he begins to have headaches and times where he zones out, apparently staring at young girls. He spends a few days in the hospital and is put on five week sick leave, three weeks above what the doctor recommended. His assistant stops by to check on him and through an accident involving coffee manages to get the main character to actually look at the photos. The professor begins acting strangely and the assistant finds an excuse to leave. The next day, he wakes up at a sawmill, the same one in his dreams… or nightmares, as he put it in his journal.
This is where the game starts. In contrast to many other horror games, your starting position is bright, almost cheery, like you’re in an episode of a fantasy show where they discover a Garden-of-Eden-type location. The first thing you’re probably going to want to do is adjust the mouse sensitivity, because it is way too high initially and any minor movement feels like it should be giving you whiplash. After you solve a somewhat obtuse puzzle, inside the sawmill, and somehow magically pick up a flashlight, it quickly changes to scenery more appropriate for a horror game. However, the game isn’t scary in the typical sense of the word. I never really felt scared playing it. It was creepy, though.
If nothing else, they have the atmosphere down. Symbols and pictures will be painted on the walls as you make your way through the sawmill, and things will reach out to grab you or attempt to communicate with you. The soundtrack is great and the sound effects suit the mood. One of the most memorable parts of the game is this chair with a mask, which doesn’t seem particularly creepy until you realize that as you walk around the room, the mask’s gaze follows you. Again, this isn’t “jump out of your seat and cry” horror, but rather the game gives you a sense of dread or foreboding for the majority of the game. You spend most of your time waiting for something to happen as opposed to being chased by axe-wielding maniacs, and I find this more effective. Well, minus the parts where you’re running around like a chicken with your head cut off in a limited area because you can’t find the one item you need to complete whatever convoluted puzzle you’re trying to solve.
Like Amnesia and other horror games, you are faced with a health bar that indicates your mental health. When weird things happen, your mental health deteriorates, but as you solve puzzles, your sanity increases. I didn’t find myself struggling with this too badly. Completely losing your sanity gets you one of the endings, but obviously not any of the more preferred ones. You’ll want to save often, just to make sure that you’re able to go back should something happen and not lose too much time. Additionally, you can use “intuition” by combining facts that you remember, which will give you clues about the story. If you get stuck, you can press H for clues, though their usefulness varies.
One frustrating aspect of the game is when you click on something, you can’t do anything until the game is done talking to you. So if you accidentally click on something, you have to wait for you to stop talking to yourself before you can click on what you really want to select. It’s also annoying that in order to open doors and the like, you need to click and drag. While this isn’t uncommon in point and click games, it’s not a mechanic I particularly like and one I wish less games would employ. Lastly, a vast majority of the puzzles are inventory-based, so if you’re not into salty-bear-on-stick puzzles, this is definitely not the game for you. Dealing with these issues kind of breaks the mood, so they’re worth mentioning, but I wouldn’t say they’re game-breaking problems. I did experience a few times, notably in the first area, where I wouldn’t be able to exit the inventory screen, forcing me to restart the game. Thankfully this doesn’t happen often.
The story is simple, yet appealing. Anna gives you a lot of text that you can read through as you play, giving you a more complete picture of what’s going on. As I uncovered clues about what happened in this old abandoned sawmill, I found myself thinking, “This is pretty messed up.” I wanted to know more about this mysterious Anna and what happened to her. It is possible to get multiple endings, depending on how well you do with the puzzles, which frankly are hit-or-miss. This gives the most curious players a reason to play the game again, but those who don’t particularly care won’t really have a reason to touch it again after completion.
Again, this game isn’t horrifying, so the focus is more on ancient rituals, pagan symbols, and a creepy ending that leaves you both weirded out and sad. It took me about five hours to get through the game, so more experienced horror specialists will likely take less time, especially on second, third, etc. playthroughs. The game is far from perfect, but it does a good enough job with what it attempts to accomplish, and I ca honestly say it was a fairly enjoyable experience.
Short Attention Span Summary
Anna is an esoteric title that offers more in the way of offering players a chance to feel creeped out as opposed to hiding-under-the-covers-with-the-lights-on horror. You likely won’t find yourself screaming for your mother, but you may have a couple of disturbing dreams afterward. The game offers a strong storyline which will satisfy the more curious players through repeated playthroughs, but has a simple ending for those who don’t want to spend time with the more obtuse puzzles. Dreampainters creates a fantastic atmosphere through detailed imagery and ambient sound, but misses the mark a little on the user interface side of things. For someone who isn’t terribly into horror games, I thought it to be a good experience and don’t regret playing it. Players will likely average four or five hours per game, depending on how quickly they catch on to the mostly inventory-based puzzles or remember the solutions from previous playthroughs. While certainly not Game of the Year material, anyone who is a fan of horror games should probably give this one a spin.