I like the exhilaration that comes from being chased; the tension and rise of adrenaline that comes in the moments where my character is hiding from a stalking enemy; the way my hands shake as I let out a stifled breath upon reaching safety. Whereas so many games make you feel like you’re untouchable, horror games often strip you down to the most basic fight-or-flight impulse, stoking your primal instinct to run the hell away.
Anna doesn’t give much of an introduction. Your character simply starts out at an abandoned house, solving puzzles in a serene garden in order to gain entry into a twisted home that holds a key to the bizarre dreams you’ve been having. Something is wrong with this house, and you need to find out how you’re connected or, at the very least, escape.
It starts off scary. You wander around the environment in a first-person perspective looking for interactive objects to pick up, examine and sometimes combine with inventory items to create new things. Performing these actions triggers events within the house: spirits throw objects, random apparitions appear to startle you as you turn a corner and voices call out from the shadows. It’s unsettling to say the least, and if, like me, you scare easily, you’ll probably need breaks to dry your sweaty palms.
That is until you realize you really have nothing to worry about. You see, while a few big scares occur throughout the short story, the fear-inducing moments become neutered when you realize you can’t die, lose or otherwise find yourself in an irreparable situation. Suddenly the unknown spirits that taunted me went from beings of unknown and frightening power to uninteresting annoyances; spirits who were just out to slow me down rather than do me any actual harm. As the umpteenth can raised into the air and slammed into my head my adrenaline continued to pump, but only out of frustration with Anna’s anger-inducing puzzles.
OK, not all of Anna’s puzzles are unnecessarily confusing or frustrating, but the ones that are drag down the entire experience. Regularly your character encounters “puzzles” that are really just trial and error situations. Just like classic point-and-click adventure games of yesteryear, Anna often puts you in places where all you can really do is start combining unlikely items until you figure out the baffling combination the designers intended.
Bizarre polish issues and poor interface don’t help here, either. Opening up your inventory, clicking use on an item and then closing your inventory before trying to combine it with something in the environment is tedious. Now imagine doing this time and time again as you start randomly combining things in a fit of desperation after you encounter yet another obtusely designed puzzle – it’s maddening how clumsy and unintuitive it feels. Times when you know a puzzle’s solution, but you aren’t combining items in the exact order or way Anna intends are even more excruciating; combine A with B to get C and you win, but combine B with A and you get something unusable. Pixel hunting for the exact spot you can click to do something “right” isn’t rewarding, and makes the relatively short story of Anna drag unnecessarily.
Anna is billed as an experience that adapts to what you do, and that, “features three ending according to how much the character has gone deep into madness,” but that description is a bit misleading. Really what the team means is that if you interact with certain doors at specific times then Anna will end. If you want to get the ending where the credits actually scroll, the one with the most fulfilling (and least confusing) narrative, then you’ll either need to randomly make the right decisions or read a guide.
Anna manages to create a few blood-chilling moments throughout its story, but most of the fear factor is neutered after you realize nothing can harm you. Alongside its sub-par interface and relative lack of polish it becomes harder and harder to find admirable qualities in Anna. What’s here boils down to a relatively mediocre adventure game that’s far more frustrating than it is frightening.