Developer: Artifact 5
Publisher: Artifact 5
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, VR
Before Anamorphine even begins, developer Artifact 5 prefaces it with a trigger warning, explaining the material within the game “might be upsetting to some, including depictions of depression, substance abuse, and more.” Suddenly, I found myself sitting up a little straighter. Raising my eyebrow a little higher. But more importantly, I went back to consult the longer and more official description of the game, courtesy of the developer, because it was clear this warning was already subverting any expectations of what was- or at least what I thought was in store for my play through.
It’s that continuous subversion of expectations, along with the unflinching way Artifact 5 approaches mental illness and memory that makes Anamorphine a beautiful game, in terms of content and visuals, that everyone deserves to experience at least once.
Anamorphine is a walking simulator that has us playing as Tyler, a depressed man who is reliving memories of his wife and talented violinist, Elena. The game is broken into various segments of memory that are represented by the open area of rooms, as seen in the picture above. Each room delves into a different event from Tyler and Elena’s life together, and as the game progresses, we start seeing the extended versions of those moments and how things ultimately led to Elena’s mental and emotional decline.
What’s brilliant about Anamorphine is the complete lack of dialogue. There is one line in the entire game, and it’s easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention. The story unfolds wordlessly, oftentimes with a somber tune playing in the background, as players explore the apartment Tyler and Elena shared.
Without the use of dialogue, the sounds in the game almost become heightened. Suddenly, your ears are more attuned to the low string of the violin from a distant room. Moments of silence, in turn, feel deafening. It’s haunting in the most subtle way, and fits well tonally with each moment in the game.
While there are a couple of setting changes in the game, the primary one is Tyler and Elena’s apartment. This confined, yet modern space changes as you progress through Anamorphine, and it’s fascinating how one moment, the apartment has an open and homey quality, with friends sitting at the table or leftovers on the counter; and the next, it’s a claustrophobic mess and looks like something out of a classic horror film.
These scenes change rapidly, and their transitions are handled in such a fascinatingly abstract way- one that I’ve never personally experienced in a game- that it’s a technique that never grew stale during my play through. If you haven’t played the game yet, the transitions can be weird to explain. Tyler, for example, will be looking at a painting hanging on the wall in his apartment. But the closer he walks toward this object, an abrupt shift happens and quickly changes the wall painting to, say, a small picture frame on a table, in a completely different place and time.
This abstract shifting is a continuous theme throughout Anamorphine, and from the first time it happens to the last time, each instance manages to brilliantly blend and distort memories in one of the most unique ways I’ve ever seen in this medium. Soon, this deep dive into Tyler’s memories reveal darker moments where the apartment and his relationship with his wife are, quite literally, disintegrating before our eyes.
What stops Anamorphine from being a near-perfect experience are the glitches littered throughout the game. Anamorphine isn’t particularly long, with my own play through coming in around the two-hour mark. In that time, though, the glitches rendered many sections of the game difficult to complete, and at one point I had to exit the game completely.
The team at Artifact 5 has made a several updates in regard to bug fixes and are making commendable strides to fix others. But in my particular play through, these glitches managed to take me out of the experience far too many times.
Anamorphine has something special to offer, and I greatly enjoyed my time with it. With only a handful of environments and no dialogue or cutscenes, the game manages to make a prominent statement about memory, loss, and artistry that won’t soon be forgotten.
Anamorphine is one of the most creative blends of gameplay and storytelling not only in the walking simulator genre, but in video games as a whole. It did, however, suffer from major technical glitches during my play through that made the game difficult in certain areas, and which unfortunately took me out of the moment more than I would have liked.
*Review copy provided by the developer*
- Excellent blend of gameplay and storytelling
- Sound quality is haunting and fits nicely with every moment
- Creative scene transitions
- Several glitchy moments detract from narrative