Anamorphine is an important game. It has a story to tell in very few words, managing to evoke deep and moving emotions through music and visuals. That story struck me in a number of ways personally, bringing to light my feelings on a number of events in my own life. The poignancy of the whole thing made it all the more difficult to run into the shoddy presentation and packaging that Anamorphine was presented in. How much does one reward intent when the delivery is far from perfect?
Telling the story of Tyler and Elena from Tyler’s perspective, you’ll journey through the rollercoaster of his mind. Exciting life events mingle with those of a depressing nature, the highs contrasting with the lows. Tyler’s mental state twists his perception of the world around him, and although you’ll be visiting and revisiting the same locations repeatedly throughout the game, their physical state will change constantly. Their completely normal apartment pretty soon becomes surreal, reflecting Tyler’s mental state as he deals with a number of life-changing events. The whole thing is underlined by a somber cello soundtrack that both connects players with Elena and suggests emotions through sound.
Early on, the game shows Elena in a bicycle wreck and the ensuing aftermath of how both she and Tyler deal with the experience. She’s a cello player and a broken wrist has ruined her career. One might think that two people in a loving relationship might be able to support each other through these kinds of bad events, but Anamorphine really dives into not only living with depression, but how two people handle these kinds of trials together.
Too frequently, games that deal with mental illness approach it from a solitary angle. Depression and loneliness often go hand-in-hand. Anamorphine has its fair share of moments that feel isolated and trapped, but it takes a unique angle in addressing how mental illness impacts those that are closest to us. Instead of stepping into the role of Elena, we’re forced to watch her shut us out, dealing with Tyler’s mental decline as he feel helpless to provide the kind of support Elena needs. It’s a perspective we don’t see often enough.
Simple Controls for a Deep Impact
Played entirely with two analog sticks—one for looking and one for moving around—it would be easy to call Anamorphine a walking simulator. There’s not much to interact with, and what’s there can be interacted with by simply looking at it. Moving around the environment actually alters that environment that you’re in, but often when you’re not looking. Pass by a pillar and the entire scene might change on the other side. Turn around and the room could be entirely different than what you just saw.
You’ll get to know Tyler and Elena’s small apartment pretty well, along with a couple other repeated locations. Those environments will change throughout the story, reflecting Tyler’s mental state as he deals with his relationship with Elena and her own mental illnesses. It’s a relatable and powerful metaphor, going from relatively normal to twisted and out of control. Even through the performance issues that plague Anamorphine, I wanted to push through this journey to see where it all led.
We didn’t have an Anamorphine review available right at launch. About four levels into the game, I ran into a game-halting bug. When attempting to get on a bicycle and ride through a desert of drunken despair (trust me, it makes sense if you play it), the PS4 would repeatedly crash back to the main menu. Power cycling the system, deleting and reinstalling the application, and restarting the game’s progress all didn’t make a difference. The drunken bike ride led to a crash every time. The developer worked hard on a patch that did fix the crash, but left the game riddled with other performance problems.
On loading the game after the patch, my save file was deemed corrupted and I had to restart the game once again. I reached the bike scene quickly and approached with trepidation. Loading. Loading. Loading. And finally, I was careening through the desert. The crash was finally resolved, but as the experience went on and Tyler’s mental state declined, so too did the performance of Anamorphine. Long load times—sometimes upwards of a minute—between levels became frame stutters throughout environments, which then became long load times transitioning between the surreal and changing areas of each environment. By the end, which should have been the most powerful and emotional part of the game, Anamorphine was practically a slideshow.
It’s frustrating to see such a great concept held back by glaring issues. Anamorphine spoke to me in two distinct ways (more on those below, with spoiler warnings), but it’s hard to reconcile concept and intent with the state that the game launched in. Artifact 5 worked long and hard, delaying the release numerous times in an attempt to polish it before release. PSVR support has been delayed, which is a good move. I can’t imagine how sickening the virtual reality experience would be with the same kinds of stutters that the main game suffers from. It’s a bit disappointing that it’s not immediately available though. VR would really elevate the deep connection with the environment that is the crux of Anamorphine’s storytelling.
Anamorphine is a good experience hiding inside of a rough package. The story is told through a brilliant method that leaves interpretation for each player and reveals new layers and secrets each time it’s experienced. It’s just hard to take in the experience while stutters and freezes happen for every single doorway you walk through. Fortunately it’s something that can be fixed in future patches and updates, but the state Anamorphine is in during these first few weeks makes it hard to recommend until it’s fixed. Anamorphine is a necessary game, one that broaches taboo subjects, but all too often it reminds players in the worst ways that it is just a game. It might be better to wait for Artifact 5 to fix the launch issues—and maybe release that PSVR support–before exploring the meaningful subject matter.
How Anamorphine Spoke to Me – Spoilers
If you don’t want Anamorphine’s story spoiled for you, skip this section and head straight down to the score and comments. Multiple content warnings for suicide, self-harm, depression, and substance abuse.
Anamorphine meant a lot to me from both the perspectives of Tyler and Elena. I’ve watched people very close to me struggle with their own mental illness, ultimately leading to suicide. I watched their livelihood drain, their feelings of worthlessness, and a couple of attempts at ending their life. Mental illness is inextricably linked with the people closest to you, and experiencing Tyler’s own suffering as Elena suffered was an all too familiar path. The mental states of the ones we love impact our own more than many would like to admit.
On the other side, I’ve been in a motorcycle accident, just like Elena’s bicycle accident. The whole near-death experience sent me spiraling and to a very negative place. Knowing that my story could have ended like Elena’s is a sobering thought, and it helps me to feel stronger, knowing how that kind of decision would have impacted those closest to me. Anamorphine makes an important distinction by not only exploring the mental illness, but exploring the impacts that it has on those around you.
Anamorphine review code provided by developer. Version 1.02 reviewed on a standard PS4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.