Doesn't hit the right notes
The narrative adventure genre (exploration / walking simulator) can be difficult to pull off. Not only do you have to carefully craft an engaging story that can make players forget about the lack of interactivity, but you must also make that tale a relatable one. Not all players have gone through the experiences that the developers have, and being able to effectively translate that into the game can be challenging. Creators of Anamorphine, Artifact 5, have attempted to do just that, but unfortunately they have missed the mark.
As with most narrative exploration games, in Anamorphine you explore a series of linear levels which are seemingly memories of the past. The narrative is fairly easy to follow, even though there is no dialogue or text for a vast majority of the game. Players assume the role of a man named Tyler, who seems happy and is moving in together with a woman named Elena. The player gets to explore their new apartment and progress between different stages of their new life together. We learn that Elena is a fairly prominent cellist – she performs at a local orchestra house, and gives lessons to kids. However, after a bike accident breaks her arm, she falls into a depressive state as she's no longer able to perform, even after the cast comes off. This sends her on a downward spiral and into depression, with Tyler seemingly being a helpless observer.
This eventually leads to the game's traumatic moment, but like the rest of the story, the game just isn't able to deliver it in an effective way. The entire experience is only about an hour long, and you actually spend the majority of time on memories before the event, which actually means the narrative does not tackle its consequences at all. Some of the scenes at the end just feel too scrambled and out of place, messing with the tension and pacing. In fact, this is one of those times where you'll learn more about the background and motivations of the developers by reading the Steam product page, rather than playing through the game itself.
While Elena's condition and mental state can feel relatable, Tyler comes across as a non-participant, and might as well just be a ghostly nameless observer. It's difficult to believe he was even in that relationship at all – letting Elena's emotional and physical state go to waste, their apartment become a complete mess, and generally showing no signs of compassion or connection to Elena. Instead, there are misfire moments like dramatic scenes of Tyler's apparent heavy drinking after the bike accident, which might lead players to believe that perhaps Elena did not survive at all; but alas it's just poorly placed, heavy-handed imagery. It's not a satisfying or relatable story, and Tyler's apparent uselessness makes even Elena's dramatic moments feel shallow.
The entire experience is limited to a handful of corridor-like locations, and a lot of it is just pacing back and forth in the tiny apartment. To the game's credit, the levels do mostly work, thanks to some clever visual design and scene transformation. Still, there are dreadful parts where you ride around on bike through a featureless desert, for far too long. You'll revisit this location a few times, similarly with the rest of the game, as all levels repeat at least once. The more fantastical settings seem to serve no real purpose other than trying to earn some kudos for being imaginative, which they aren't. There are no interactions in the game bedsides walking – you can just rub against certain highlighted objects to have them perform an animated action.
Many games in this genre often opt for memorable and/or high fidelity presentation to entire players, but Anamorphine is not such a title. The visuals here are rather basic and definitely very low budget, with basic animations, low resolution texture work, and lifeless outdoor levels. The game also makes an odd and jarring choice by having Elena be an actual physical character in the memories you explore. She will simply stand/sit and stare at you during the scenes, or ignore you, adding to the uneasy feeling that these aren't memories of a person she was with, but you're just exploring some unfinished game's levels in a 3D design tool. You might think that the recurring focus on music might make for a memorable soundtrack, but that's not the case. While heavy on cello, it lacks instrument variety and memorable melodies.
On the technical side, the game's lackluster visuals mean it will run well on most PCs, and there are even a few graphical settings that can be tweaked. Mouse support seems to be working in some menus but not others. There are a few rare scripting/event bugs, but they didn't result in any serious setbacks. One less amusing problem is that the game doesn't seem to autosave properly – or at least, is missing an option to continue where you left off. It's a bug the developers are apparently working on, and with the game being easily completed in one sitting it's not the end of the world, but still worth mentioning. The game also supports VR, but it was not tested in the scope of this review.
Anamorphine joins the unfortunate lineup of walking simulators that fail to stand out. While the story had a great chance to produce some emotional moments, Tyler's apparent helplessness as a passive observer was needlessly frustrating. There aren't any memorable scenes, and the presentation is definitely lacking. All that, combined with a few bugs and a high $20 price point for 1 hour of content, makes this title not worth your time.