Also On: PSVR, PC
Publisher: Artifact 5
Developer: Artifact 5
The fact that Anamorphine is designed to explore depression is a good thing. I?ve fortunately never had to personally deal with mental health issues, but, like everyone else, I know several people who have had to, and anything that sheds more light on what they?re dealing with can only be a good thing.
Unfortunately, that?s just about the only good thing there is to say about Anamorphine. It?s got the germ of a good idea at its core — playing as one half of a couple, you watch as your wife spirals into depression following a tragic accident — but everything built around that idea is absolutely terrible.
(And before I go any further, I?ll just tag the rest of this review with a spoiler warning, since I can?t fully explain why I hated this game without getting into major plot points. Consider yourself warned.)
For starters, the way the story is presented is actually kind of awful if you think about it for more than a second. I know that it?s supposed to show the male half of the couple, Tyler, falling into depression alongside his wife, Elena, except it doesn?t really do that. Instead, you watch as Elena goes through a traumatic period in her life. She?s a successful cellist; you watch her practicing, then in concert. She gets into a horrible bike accident and breaks her wrist; you?re following along on another bike behind her. She copes with the accident by drinking and getting hooked on pills; you see all the empty bottles around the apartment. On and on it goes, and for all of it, Tyler is an observer, rather than a real participant.
I know that the game implies that Tyler also experiences depression, and may or may not suffer from alcoholism, but you never see that. Instead, the game is focused entirely on Elena. Which, to be clear, is absolutely fine! There?s nothing wrong with showing a woman coping with the loss of her livelihood. But the way it?s presented, through the eyes of another party, adds a layer of remove that doesn?t do Anamorphine any favours, because it makes seem like it?s trying to give equal weight to Tyler?s guilt, which, considering the way Elena?s story ends (I?ll just say it?s as tragic as you?d expect), seems ridiculous. It also makes Elena seem more like a plot device than a person, since it takes away her agency — Tyler?s guilt, near as I can tell, is over the fact he bought her the bike in the first place, which makes it seem like Elena had no say in whether she wanted to go biking.
All of this, of course, could have been fixed easily — just remove Tyler from the story entirely (or, at least, almost entirely, and what you?re left with still works. What couldn?t be fixed, however, is that Anamorphine botches its technical execution even worse than it botches its narrative execution.
Or, to put it another way: glitches and load times do this game no favours whatsoever.
Every time you start a new scene, you first have to sit through a lengthy loading screen. For that matter, sometimes you have to sit through a short loading screen mid-scene, as the game chugs along and figures out how to let you take one more step. It leads to some pretty choppy moments, and completely breaks the kind of immersion the story would need in order to stop you from thinking about it.
On top of that, the game makes the dubious decision to compare the descent into depression with the experience of riding a bike downhill. It?s a tolerable metaphor, I guess, but the way it?s executed is abysmal, since the developers clearly don?t have the ability to make it work. My bike got stuck numerous times in weeds and rocks, and one time it got so bad that I was literally trapped inside a rock, and the entire screen started shaking violently. While that could have been a very powerful way of conveying Tyler?s mental anguish, the reality is that the game was just completely broken at that point, and I had to restart the chapter from scratch.
In better hands, from better storytellers and more accomplished developers, I have no doubt that Anamorphine could have been something interesting. The core idea, as I said, is promising. But when you botch everything around it so thoroughly, then — as we see here — the end result is something that no one should have to endure.
Artifact 5 provided us with an Anamorphine PS4 code for review purposes.