Video games are a unique medium. He can tell us a story without using a single word, but also let us explore it as we please through the eyes of one of the characters. I won’t lie to you: Anamorphine is destabilizing. Not only in his psychedelic moments or visual sleight of hand, but also in the distress of his characters who pass, like it or not, through the player.
The narrative can be summed up in one sentence, so it would be easy to ruin the gaming experience. The best is to discover it for yourself. Let’s just say that a couple in Anamorphine has to go through difficult times that will change their lives forever. Do not be afraid, despite the heaviness of the subject, Anamorphine can end on a rather positive note (if you choose the right ending!). He tries to make us understand that it is always possible to overcome the obstacles that life puts in our way.
It is therefore played in the first person, in the form of a “walking simulator”. We explore the environment, we find an interactive object, and the world around us is gradually changing. No puzzle or dialogue: it is made to be played at once. In my opinion, the slightest puzzle would have weighed down the experience, whose duration of an hour and a half is perfect for the type of content it has to offer us.
Swim through your memories
“Walking simulators”, I played it. A lot. The mistake I see most often is the traditional case of the too vague scenario which aims to leave the experience more “artistic”. We then come out empty-handed, not satisfied, with the impression that the game exists only for the ego of its developer. This is the case (in my opinion) of Dear Esther, Soon Summer, Assemblance, and many, many others.
This is where I applaud Anamorphine. Even if it is almost entirely silent from beginning to end and we do not always grasp the intention of a scene at the time, everything ends up being clear. His script has a precise message that is vividly illustrated and confusingly. Especially in VR. Because yes, Anamorphine is fully playable on Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and soon PS VR.
The sleight of hand used most often in Anamorphine is to transform elements of the decor while we are elsewhere. When we look back at the original element, something has changed. An element has appeared, disappeared, where we find ourselves squarely in another place. It feels like you’re losing the map a little, and that’s exactly where the main character is.
Between the announcement of Anamorphine and its release, this mechanism was used everywhere. The first time I witnessed this concept was in a VR demo for the Oculus Rift DK2 called Sightline: The Chair (currently available for free on Steam). Then there was the terrifying horror game Dreadhalls, also for VR released in 2014. Her motionless gargoyles constantly surprise us as she appeared behind our backs in a tense atmosphere. Even Batman Arkham Knight used this trick so that the Joker’s appearances grab you every time.
It doesn’t take anything away from Anamorphine, but it’s certain that if it had been released a few years earlier, this mechanic would have caused a lot more ink to flow.
This is not the only trick in his bag, but undoubtedly the most often used. In fact, one could say that it contains roughly four methods of transitions. It’s not huge, and when you’ve seen them all at least once, the element of surprise gradually dissipates. I wish I had been amazed more often. I was expecting a narrative Antichamber, which surprises us at every corner, which is not the case.
A promising studio
Never forget that the first game of a studio is the equivalent of the first short film of a director. It’s always done with little means, with little experience, but it doesn’t matter at all. The important thing is to perceive the ideas and talent behind the project, being well aware that they are only at their beginning. Say, you enjoyed Christopher Nolan’s $100 million budget movies? That’s because his short films stood out. Someone thought, “Imagine what this genius could do with more budgets,” which gave rise to mind-blowing films like Memento and The Prestige.
Not that I forgive them everything, but I am convinced that Artifact 5 could continue to surprise us with their next release, if the public wants to give them a chance.
Anamorphine isn’t perfect, but in terms of a narrative “narrative in space” type of play, it does a remarkable job of intrigued and hitting us with its delicate subject. He illustrates it with striking and precise images, but still artistically interesting. I came out of the experience a little disappointed, but at the very least satisfied.
Anamorphine isn’t perfect, but in terms of a narrative “narrative in space” type of play, it does a remarkable job of intrigued and hitting us with its delicate subject.
- Well-crafted narrative
- Clear and effective message
- The same sleight of hand are reused several times
- Some boring bike rides