Anamorphine is a visual story experience that guides you with its vivid and spectacular imagery rather than any written or spoken narrative. If I was to place it within a generic genre then I would say it’s akin to a non-interactive walking simulator such as Dear Esther or Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, only with more emphasis on the fantastical and symbolism rather than real life. Artifact 5, a small indie studio from Canada, have created one of the most confusing, yet strangely mesmerising, emotional stories I have played this year. So, just what is Anamorphine?
Anamorphine is a visually artistic game that doesn’t just portray a set-in-stone story, it also leaves a lot to an interpretation of the player. As such, I may describe things a little different than other reviewers but it doesn’t mean one of us is wrong. It all depends on what we take from playing the game and what stuck with us upon completing the story. Also, because this is a story-heavy game, I won’t talk about any spoilers so my description of the actual story may seem a little vague – I’ve done that purposely in order to not give away the whole experience.
In Anamorphine you control Tyler, a young man who is currently suffering from post-traumatic denial. We begin our story at the end, our wife, Elena, has succumbed to depression and has taken a turn for the worse, depression which was brought about by a freak accident that took away her dreams and her livelihood. The game is played out through the memories of Tyler as he recalls everything from the moment they moved into their new apartment together right up to the tragic accident and beyond. The problem here is that even though Elena was the one who was clinically suffering from depression, Tyler is now suffering in his own way with the guilt he has for being unable to help her out when she needed it the most.
Anamorphine gets quite emotional at times and can trigger those sensitive to the subjects of depression, and everything that follows. As such, Artifact 5 has placed an option that lets you enable a summary of each scene so you can skip certain segments if you don’t wish to see them. I played through the whole game without this option turned on as it advised it would give spoilers of what’s about to happen. However, it’s a great feature for those who want to experience the game but aren’t sure what subjects will be touched upon as they progress.
One thing I wanted to get out there, just in case you’ve heard of the game but not kept up to date on its current progress. The PS4 version isn’t shipping with PSVR support at launch, it’s going to be added later on via a patch. However, as you’ll find out later, the patch may take a while as I feel there are a few things that need to be resolved on the PS4 before VR could possibly be implemented. (I don’t think the PSVR patch is still being worked on, sadly)
However, because Anamorphine is ‘technically’ a VR game (the VR is out today on PC), the controls are super simple and almost ‘The Persistence‘ like. You walk with the Left Stick, look with the Right Stick and ‘activate’ things by looking at them for a few seconds. That’s it! Literally, no other buttons are used (unless you wish to pause the game or access the settings menu). So, nice and simple and perfect if you’re playing it in VR. If you’re not in VR then it’s also great as it means fewer things to remember!
This does bring me onto the first issue I had (which is technically a bug). Anamorphine gives us the option to invert the y-axis which is great as a lot of indie games recently haven’t allowed us to do this on launch and people like myself can only play games where it’s been inverted. The issue is when you enter a bike sequence (I’ll explain these soon) the y-axis reverts back to non-inverted and you can’t readjust it until you finish the sequence. This is very similar to what happened with certain chapters in Gene Rain as well. As such, I found it to be a mild annoyance but it wasn’t the end of the world – plus, I’m sure this will be fixed in a future patch as I’ve informed the developers of the issue.
PT: Silent Hills?!
The core gameplay of Anamorphine revolves around you walking from scene to scene as you relive your memories whilst also finding yourself lost in more fantastical landscapes as you become overwhelmed with Elena’s music (which is beautiful btw). A really cool mechanic is the PT: Silent hills style of repeating rooms. Okay, Anamorphine isn’t a scary game or a thriller, it’s an emotional rollercoaster, but the room mechanics felt like it was from PT. For example, you’ll be in your apartment and you’ll walk into your bedroom and see the cello on the floor. You walk in and take a look then turn around. The door leading out of your bedroom now takes you back into the bedroom but at a different moment in time and through the french windows. As you turn around, that doorway is now gone.
This mechanic is used all the time as you enter a room and turn only to find everything is now different, or you’ll walk up to someone and they’ll freeze. As you step back, you’ll see that the exact view you just had is now a flat image on the wall and you’re actually in a new room or even a new dimension! Do you need to go to the hospital? Oh look, the front door is now leading to the waiting room in the hospital, turn around and the door is now an elevator or a wall. I just thought this was an amazing way to tell the story with a smooth flow from one place to the next without ever leaving your location.
This may not be real…
The walking segments are broken up with real and fantastical cycling moments. At first, other than the invert issue, I thought these were pretty cool. You move faster and get to ride around as you search for ‘something’ in the desert, on a road, or within a gravity-defying cylindrical tube. However, you don’t have much control over the bike if you start to gather speed and it can be a bit difficult to see where you’re meant to be going sometimes. Personally, I prefer the walking segments over the bike ones purely because of the controls and the issue with the invert. However, the bike means a lot to our protagonist, which is why he uses it within his more crazy and wonderous ‘memories’.
Other strange moments within the game include walking around a sort of ‘mind palace’ as you jump into your next memory, whilst all previous memories are stored in separate rooms with the various memory items you have found. You also have this amazing and colourful planet that looks like it’s come straight from the latest No Mans Sky update! You enter this magical realm when you listen to your wife play her cello, so I imagine this is your ‘happy place’ or where you go in your mind in order to relax and calm yourself. I could literally just sit in this place and leave the TV on as the music plays in the background – Maybe the devs could add it as an option to just free roam as I would love to get immersed and stay here when PSVR support is added.
Graphically, Anamorphine is a bit hit or miss. There are moments where the textures look low quality and certain shadows can appear very fuzzy on the ground, but then you have other times where the colours literally pop out of the screen and melt your eyes. I love the artistic direction the game has gone for, with Elena being the only moving and living character within the memories and everyone else is presented literally as mannequins so it doesn’t distract from the main focus.
I also loved the whole ‘doorway’ effect, not how I described it above, but there are moments where the cello may turn into a silhouette which turns into a window into a new room/world as you get closer – then as you step into it you’ll instantly be within the new place. It’s yet another game mechanic which works incredibly well within Anamorphine, not only as part of the overall narrative but technically as well.
Sound-wise, I kinda wish I had got the soundtrack as part of my review copy! The music is amazing. The protagonist’s wife was a professional Cello player so the team have got a professional Cello player to perform the vast majority of the soundtrack and it sounds so good. It really hits the emotional heartstrings the deeper into the game you get and the more intense the music gets. I’m going to look at how I can pick up the soundtrack later as I believe the game is coming out with the soundtrack on various platforms.
Other than the music, which also includes a few guitars here and there, there aren’t really many other sounds. There are about two lines of spoken text, depending on which ending you uncover, and general sound effects like footsteps and doors opening, but that’s it. Either way, everything sounded great and nothing out of place – although, our protagonist is one of those people who like to slam his feet down with every step as his walking is quite loud!
This is the part I don’t like doing but I feel I must be 100% honest with you. I’m playing on the PS4 Pro, so if Anamorphine has Pro support, expect it to possibly be worse on the base PS4 (I also had boost mode on in case Pro support wasn’t added).
• The aforementioned Invert issue on the bike segments – you can fix it, but only after you get off the bike.
• Loading times. It May not technically be an issue but there are quite a few loading points within Anamorphine and you’re looking at about 1-2 mins to load the next segment.
• Framerate issues. One of the bike segments appeared to drop to the mid-teens or lower in terms of framerate. It made it almost unplayable at one point but once I was past that bike part the game went back to normal.
• Stuttering. Just like the Framerate issues, Anamorphine suffers from occasional stuttering and micro stutters on the PS4. It’s usually a few seconds after loading an area, but some sections had it happen a few times throughout the area. Again, not unplayable but a bit annoying.
• I managed to find a spot where you can fall through the floor at the end of the game. It’s on a path you shouldn’t go down but there was nothing stopping me, so I went for a wander.
All of the above have been reported to the devs, so as they get fixed I’ll cross them off here and tweet them out from my Twitter account here: @GamePittReviews – I mentioned earlier on that I believe the devs will need to fix a few things before the PSVR support is added – the framerate issues and the stuttering are the important things from the above list. Without a smooth 60-90fps, you’re looking at motion sickness and a bad experience. That’s why I think the patch may take a little while to come out, which is fine. I’d rather it come out and work perfectly than come out and make a bunch of people sick.
Anamorphine is yet another game where you would probably think I didn’t enjoy it due to the issues I had whilst playing it. On the contrary, I really enjoyed my time with the game and I actually played through the whole game in one sitting just before I wrote this review, as well as replaying the final chapter to see both endings.
If I had to compare the experience to any other game, I would say that it’s very similar in premise to Fragments of Him – which is yet another brilliant narrative-based story that focuses on a group of people remembering their friend as they say goodbye to him. Anamorphine is enhanced with its spectacular fantastical dream-like sequences which are very confusing yet look really calm and spectacular. I imagine the game looks 10x better in VR as well!
Anamorphine is a visual focused non-narrative story in which you must delve into the mind of a man haunted by guilt and anger over his own inabilities to help his wife. The game has you travelling from memory to memory as you reconstruct what actually happened and how you feel via fantastical environments and a spectacular soundtrack. Unfortunately, the PS4 version has a few issues such as frame rate drops and stuttering. However, I imagine these issues should be resolved within a few patches. Also absent at launch is support for PSVR, an option that we’ve been told should be here at a later date via a patch. Regardless of the issues, I still found the story to be compelling, the artwork to be captivating, and the soundtrack is just simply mesmerising.
- The soundtrack is so beautiful and emotional
- The mechanics with the doorways taking you into new areas outside of your location is cool
- The planet you goto when listening to your wifes music looks stunning with all it's colours and atmosphere
- Very easy to play - no buttons to press, just move and look
- Approaches sensitive issues in a delicate way
- There are currently a few issues with the PS4 version (see above)
- It is a little easy to get lost with what's going on
- The controls in the bike section aren't the best (disregarding the invert bug)