I guess I’ve always been kind of sad. I guess I’m also rather unoriginal as I lifted that line from this piece of mine from 2015. However, it’s three years later and it still rings true. While they are managed better than they’ve ever been, my mental health issues still always linger beneath the surface, one trigger — or sometimes just nothing at all — away from me clambering into bed and refusing to come out again.
I’ve always been keenly aware of how my mental health impact those around me. Too often have I been guilty of just escaping for a while, blanking texts and swerving commitments when I’ve had a Not Great Day. Even though I know this is self-destructive behaviour, I can’t help but take a step back instead of forward and into the light, to share the burden of what’s bothering me with those who care.
That’s why I was drawn to Anamorphine: a narrative-focused game with depression as its main theme. You play as a young man in denial who must learn to accept trauma so that he can move forward with his life. Even if its Steam page might give away much of the plot, I won’t do so here as it would spoil a large part of the game’s patient and dedicated unspooling of its message.
Anamorphine is not what you would call an “immediate” game. There’s no action, stakes, or even controls outside of the analog sticks. This puts Anamorphine firmly in the pigeonhole of what some may unfairly call a “walking simulator”: a term often used as an insult for games that feature hands-off gameplay and a firmer emphasis on story and setting a mood.
If you’ve ever been turned off by anything The Chinese Room has produced, there’s a chance that Anamorphine may have the same effect. With no option to interact with the environment (apart from looking at glowing items to “remember” them), it could have been too easy for Anamorpine to become a bore. Thanks to its constantly shifting environments over its two hours or so of gameplay, that was never the case.
If Layers of Fear was the dark side of environmental warping, Anamorphine is the light. The game never lets you to stay in one of its many static rooms for too long, the perspective shifting with surprising ingenuity. For instance, you can be looking at someone in a hospital bed, take a step back, and then realise that you are looking at a photo of that same room while now in a living room.
Anamorphine deals heavily in metaphors, some plain to see and others on the more abstract side of things. One encounter sees you approaching a character but each time you draw close, a door appears and abruptly closes, signifying that they are shutting you out from their own turmoil. I’m not entirely sure what the gigantic blooming flowers have to do with the narrative or its themes, but it’s clear that Artifact 5 have constructed every surreal scene found in Anamorphine to be picked apart.
What players will take away from Anamorphine will depend on the person. It will no doubt resonate more with those who have their own mental health strife, though its message is clear for those who want to become better informed. Mental health doesn’t have to be a war you fight on your own. There will always be people who care, even if you feel like the loneliest person in the world.
Unity games ported to PS4 are notorious for poor performance, and that’s sadly the case here too. Frame hiccups are frequent as the player frequently hits invisible loading screens, as well as the protagonist suffering from lethargic movement as the game struggles to keep up. The loading screens are also aplenty with some lasting longer than the sequences themselves — more than a few times I found myself staring at a slowly moving graphic for a couple of minutes.
This doesn’t necessarily ruin Anamorphine, though it does lessen its impact. Constant intervals interrupt its beautiful tapestries from flowing as they should, meaning that its hard-hitting nature doesn’t hit quite as hard as intended, especially when there are a few loading screens in quick succession. It’s understandable, however, with the game coming to different platforms and the team behind the game not being the largest.
It’s also a shame that PSVR is not yet available with Anamorphine and is expected sometime in 2018 — Vive and Oculus are supported with the game’s launch on PC. Anamorphine’s suitability for virtual reality is plain as day, it being a cathartic experience with shifting perspectives that would truly come to life through a headset. While its aesthetic using a standard setup still grabs the attention, there’s always the sense that it’s been designed with VR primarily in mind.
Even though it may have some faults, Anamorphine is a gripping and experimental delve into the human psyche. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you have the patience to allow its messages to unravel and to also deal with its technical faults, you might find something that resonates with you.
An important game marred by technical issues, you may want to hang on before delving into Artifact 5’s Anamorphine on PS4.