It’s something of a given these days that gamers around their mid-twenties claim that adventure games were the ones that got them hooked on the hobby back in the day. Titles like Sam & Max Hit the Road, Day of the Tentacle and Maniac Mansion are responsible for shaping the futures of more than a few of us (myself included), but the adventure game hasn’t aged well with evolving technology. One of the more recent stabs at the genre, Anna: Extended Edition, has also been one of the more divisive titles, receiving praise and criticism in equal measure.
Two years after its initial release on PC and over a year after the extended rerelease, Anna: Extended Edition makes its way to the Xbox 360, marking its first console appearance. However, nothing has changed, making this a purchase that only the uninitiated should look into. Even then, the convoluted nature of the puzzles and the overall pretentious attitude might be enough to keep some away.
Anna finds a nameless, faceless amnesiac exploring a dark and mysterious landscape that he discovers is much more than it appears as he digs deeper into its secrets, eventually making a shocking personal discovery about himself. Does that formula sound familiar? Replace the dark and mysterious landscape with a sawmill in the Italian mountains and you’ve got Anna, an exploratory first-person horror-adventure game that’s pretty similar to point-and-click adventures of yesteryear, complete with ridiculous puzzles, massive inventories and questionable mechanics.
Although it definitely has its flaws, it would be wrong to say that Anna‘s story isn’t compelling. Despite the cliched revelations found throughout the sawmill, there’s always a little bit more to the mystery that makes it worth solving. The horror is mostly subtle, although there are more than a few jolts to be found throughout the sawmill. There are multiple endings to be discovered, too, some of which can take a couple of hours to reach, while others take as little as five minutes. Rather than feeling cheap or like novelties, each ending is actually tied into how much you discover and how much work you put into making those discoveries, resulting in each ending feel like a reality.
The score throughout the game is both beautiful and haunting, although it can conflict with the mood at times; hearing graceful, delicate piano notes play throughout a creepy, haunted attic is a bit jarring. However, some of the visuals throughout the game are pretty striking due to their twisted nature and genuinely creepy surroundings. Whether you end up liking Anna: Extended Edition or not, it definitely leaves a lasting impression your first time through.
However, where Anna succeeds in atmospheric presentation and story, it fails in both actual gameplay and control. Much of the former can be attributed to the original product, while the latter is more of a console problem. I rarely prefer PC over console gaming, but when it comes to games like Anna, it’s a necessity to experience them on a PC. A mouse-and-keyboard layout just works for the slow-paced exploration and inventory management, whereas a controller is just clunky and drastically bogs down the flow.
The inventory system is full of small annoyances that really make the experience a drag. For example, the inventory can get as long as four or five pages long, and sifting through every single item quickly becomes a chore. Even worse, examining an item closes the inventory menu and forces you to reopen the entire thing and begin the search once again for the right object. This becomes especially annoying when you’re carrying multiple objects that look exactly alike. It’s also frustrating having whichever item you used last move to the very end of the inventory rather than staying put, jumbling up your order just when you’ve got it figured out.
The same problems go for Intuitions, which serve as unlocked clues that can be combined to unlock even more clues. It’s an interesting spin on keeping a journal which tracks developments, but the problem is that Anna remains surprisingly tight-lipped on how the process works. The Intuitions seem pretty superfluous considering there actually is a journal that tracks developments, as well as a long list of books, letters and other goodies to find and leaf through, all written in obnoxious “olde speak” with cursive handwriting, because headaches are fun.
Anna commits the cardinal sin of creating obnoxious puzzles, though, with some really poor design choices that will get on your nerves regardless of your patience. When puzzles aren’t outright confounding, they ask you to run from room to room to room, using trial and error to solve ridiculous riddles. This wouldn’t be such a problem if the loading times weren’t so long, bringing the flow to a halt and adding to the annoyance. By the time you’re rubbing blood-covered ashes made out of a child’s hair on a statue’s head while placing a wax-covered pearl in its hand, you’ll be wondering how you even got to that point.
To be completely honest, there are two ways to play Anna: do your best to solve all of the puzzles and find every clue without any help, or pull up a walkthrough and watch the ridiculous events unfold, enjoying the story for what it is. I’ve played the game both ways, and the second time through I found I enjoyed Anna far more as a unique experience than I did as a frustrating puzzler. Call me stupid or lazy, but it’s fair to say that some people will enjoy it far more with help than without.
However you look at it, though, Anna: Extended Edition is a letdown on the Xbox 360 simply because nothing has been added to the console version. If anything, there are less achievements to strive for and the controls are a major downgrade. If you’ve played it before, there is absolutely no reason to pick up this port. Even if you’ve got a dumpy laptop from years ago, it’s not a graphically demanding game, so give it a shot on PC before turning to this version. If you’re a diehard fan of adventure games and have to read this review at a library, then maybe consider picking this up. Otherwise, leave Anna in the sawmill – it’s for the best.
This review is based on an Xbox 360 copy of the game given to us for review purposes.
Even though it's got an intriguing story, an unsettling atmosphere and memorable visuals, this Xbox 360 port of Anna: Extended Edition suffers from poor controls and from not teaching the old dog new tricks.