Video games about mental health, depression and the stark realities of what sufferers go through have been steadily making their way into the mainstream over the last couple of years. Whether it be The Town of Light, That Dragon Cancer or What Remains of Edith Finch, their creators have always been keen to share a story, a reality. The writers of such stories have either gone through the stages themselves or instead want to share a story they’ve heard. As someone who is persistently battling their own anxiety and insecurities, it’s refreshing to see the game industry welcome these kind of experiences with the care, dignity and respect it deserves. I’ve never been one to share publicly just how difficult I find daily life at times. How there are moments when I need to psyche myself up just go to the shops, that voice in my head telling me everyone is looking at me and judging me even though they couldn’t care a single minutia about my presence.
To play games such as Anamorphine, Edith Finch, even Night in the Woods, which explores this to a degree, is comforting. And as far as raw emotion goes, Anamorphine is perhaps the most delicate of them all.
I was always going to play Anamorphine, regardless of whether or not we got I reviewed it. It was on my radar for some time as the concept seemed far too interesting to ignore. I do find myself drawn to narrative driven ‘walking simulators’, and whilst it feels an awful lot like Edith FInch and even Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Artifact 5’s game isn’t even interactive, with all controls restricted exclusively to the analogue sticks. No buttons are pressed throughout and instead you look at things to ‘interact’ with them. It’s probably the truest ‘walking sim’ there’s been thus far, even if it’s far more abstract than anything else you can imagine in the genre.
You play as Tyler, a man who has to work through the depression of his wife Elena after she suffers an accident. The trauma is played out through a series of surrealist locations and environments, connected through the apartment the married couple share. It’s about as ‘out there’ as you can imagine a game like this being, though it certainly makes the game stand out from a visual standpoint. There’s various moments where you’ll think you’re in one place but you’ll turn around and find yourself somewhere completely different, looking only at a picture on the wall of an area you just inhabited. It’s a little mind-bending to get used to but you soon ease into the games mechanics.
There are moments that I won’t spoil here that are beautiful and dangerous all at the same time. Upon going for a bike ride with Elena we end up at a fountain, full of people – portrayed as blank dummies, presumably because Tyler can’t remember their faces – and your goal here is to get a selfie with Elena that will end up on your wall, working as a transition into the following sequence. The accident occurs and we find ourselves in the apartment, with empty bottles everywhere as Tyler spirals into depression awaiting news on Elena’s condition. As we progress we learn that, physically at least, she’s ok, save for a broken arm. Tyler mellows, and the next scene is going back into the apartment to clean up the beer bottles with the sun blaring through his windows.
You never stay in an area for too long, though this is dependent on how quickly you can find the ‘fragments’ you interact with, they all build to each successive area. Damn near everything in this game works as a metaphor so it’s really down the player to experience for themselves and if you have had experience in personally dealing with the issues that Tyler and Elena are experiencing, you’re more than likely going to get far more out of this. There are moments of genuine darkness – which are revealed before the game even begins as a way to alert players of possible triggers – and sequences that pull on the heartstrings. It’s not an easy ride all the way through, you do feel the strain of the relationship between Tyler and Elena.
It’s such a shame then that the story Anamorphine tells is completely wasted thanks to the awful technical issues that plagues the game throughout. I’ve had the game for a while and have had to put off reviewing it due to people warning me that it’s broken and unplayable past a certain point. I’ve played past that point and finished the story but the biggest take away I have of the game is how poorly it plays, even after a patch. I’m genuinely amazed this game was considered ‘finished’. Whether it be the awful loading times, reaching invisible loading screens before the game is ready to load anything, framerate issues that made me feel dizzy and brought on headaches.
It’s so frustrating, purely because these tech issues does the rest of the game a huge disservice. The story that Anamorphine tells deserves better than me moaning about framerates and loading screens, even after a patch. I wanted to ensure I gave the game some time to fix itself but there was only so much time a game that’s actually been released is going to get before people start getting curious about what the game is and how it plays.
There’s a powerful narrative being told and normally tech issues would just be a ‘be aware of this’, but here it’s so frequent and invasive, the lack of polish casts a huge cloud over the rest of the experience and as such, each moment doesn’t have the same impact when you’re waiting for loading screens to disappear.
Sadly, at this present moment I just can’t recommend Anamorphine. It’s powerful, intense and delicate in its depiction of mental health care with a touching and emotional journey, but your patience will be tested with its issues that sadly have to be ironed out before I can say it’s worth buying. I’m going to be keeping an eye on it, because there is a story here that is genuinely worth your time.
Anamorphine’s heart is firmly in the right place, it’s just a shame the major technical issues override the message.
Do you need to talk to someone? You’re not on your own. Call the Samaritans on 116 123 (UK and ROI) or 08457 90 90 90 (UK) 1850 60 90 90 (ROI)
Anamorphine is out now.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review code from the publishers. For our full review policy, please go here.