Anamorphine, the debut game by indie studio Artifact 5, is described as a “surreal introspection through mental illness”. Exploring themes of mental illness, addiction, suicide and other sensitive subject matter in any medium is challenging to portray with authenticity and without falling into clichés. Thankfully this experience handles its subject matter with sincerity and creativity to deliver an evocative trip through the mind.
Taking on the role of Tyler, you journey through a series of dreamlike scenes and motifs which constitute your increasingly languished memories and consciousness. Following an accident, your wife Elena, a passionate cellist, is robbed of her livelihood. She soon begins slipping into a deep depression, abusing pain medication and alcohol, while you observe passively, seemingly helpless to her plight.
With no means of interaction beyond looking, you walk through scenes triggering points of memory marked by shimmering objects throughout the environment which often lead into the next scene via a portal in a photo or shape. These transitions are surreal and work well to reinforce this dreamlike sense in which disparate elements bleed together. With the game also playable in VR, I am certain many of these hallucinatory sequences will be all the more absorbing and effective.
Each chapter of scenes which tell a different stage of Tyler and Elena’s relationship and struggle, comes to a close in an ethereal white hub-world. Adjacent rooms, decorated with shimmering tokens from that memory, connect to a floating walkway, at the centre of which a portal to the next chapter beckons.
Repeating visual motifs of beer bottles, bicycles, medication containers and the cello representing Elena haunt you as your traverse the increasingly hypnagogic plains of Tyler’s mind. Manifesting in creative, dramatic and emotionally evocative ways, this imagery is bold and impactful whilst avoiding being too heavy-handed.
A winding mountain road, a strange alien landscape populated by great glowing plant life, a grand theatre, and a vast twisted desert all feature in Tyler’s delusionary voyage of grief. Exploration controls are generally fine, however bike riding sections can feel a little floaty, detracting from the flow of these sequences.
The overall experience is also greatly hindered by performance issues and a feeling of emptiness to its seemingly incomplete environments. Although at times rather pretty, many environments lack detail, texture or atmospheric lighting, leaving them feeling like an unfinished alpha version, not quite fit for a finished game.
Additionally, my game paused countless times to load which inhibited my enjoyment of the narrative. While the limitations of indie development are undoubtedly to blame for these shortcomings, they are unfortunately too glaring to not diminish the quality of the experience.
Completed in one hour playthrough, the game is well paced, building momentum towards its conclusion, and with a light and a dark ending, it holds some replay value. With a compelling and inventively told story which sensitively handles heavy and affecting subject matters and imagery which convincingly propels you through a troubled and surreal subconscious, Anamorphine is an engrossing yet flawed narrative voyage well-worth experiencing.
Anamorphine PS4 Review
Anamorphine weaves a moving tale of guilt, addiction and mental illness through surreal imagery and environmental storytelling. Despite presentation and performance flaws, this narrative-driven adventure through a troubled mind is one worth experiencing.
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Reviewed using base PS4.