Anna is. Though screenshots may deceive you into believing the game is a realistic point-and-click set in the gorgeous Italian countryside, Anna is a horror game through and through. Even the developers at Dreampainters pitch Anna as a classic point-and-click adventure, based on the heritage of Val D'Ayas, a small village steeped in ancient folklore. The sawmill? "Oh, that, it's sort of haunted," the developers seem to say, "but don't worry your pretty little head about it."
After playing Anna, I suggest you worry about it. Worry about it a lot. Anna's opening scenes are deceptive as well, placing you outside the sawmill on a beautiful, sunny day, next to a crystal clear creek with birdsong on the breeze. The cheery tune that plays in the beginning becomes a balm for later scenes, popping up just when the creaking floorboards, disembodied wailing and sporadic whispers reach a fever pitch and you're ready to rip off your headphones and put on an episode of Adventure Time to calm down. That said – definitely play Anna with headphones on.
That is, of course, if you enjoy being scared. If the adrenaline rush accompanying a sudden, unexplained noise shuffling across your eardrums is something you crave; if you laugh while simultaneously screaming and jumping from your chair. Anna will lull you into a false sense of security, only to shatter it in the most gruesome of ways. If you enjoy that kind of thing, really, play Anna with headphones on.
Anna tells the story of a "lost love," wrapped up in mythical rituals, religious lore and brutal murder. it's important to keep this mind while playing, since approaching it as a standard point-and-click is a tad misleading. There are no on-screen hints, no icons hovering above objects to indicate their utility, nothing to distract from the pure, blood-soaked story playing out on-screen. This makes it an intuitive, introspective point-and-click, and if lost in a puzzle, it helps to take step back from the minutiae of looking for a solution and remember the story's roots. This is a game about forest rituals and violent rites, and it carries that tone of ceremony throughout each of its riddles. Apply this knowledge to your logic and the game will flow more smoothly.
Parts of Anna, however, simply aren't smooth. It took me a few tries to realize the inventory has arrows for more items on the right side of the grid, almost faded into the background. The reticle can be finicky about which parts of an item are clickable. It also feels as though I can't look down as far as I'd like, as if my virtual neck was in a padded brace. These things are all easily forgotten in the midst of Anna's intense story, thankfully, along with the other subtle details it conveys extremely well.
For example, at one point, right after things started to get real, I was searching the sawmill and walked toward a wall, head-on. I paused. The wall was glowing red, when it wasn't the moment before. I backed up and the glow disappeared; I moved forward and the red spread across the wall in a hellish halo. And that's when I realized that it wasn't the wall that was glowing, it was me. In fact, it was probably emanating from my eyes, overlain in pulsating demonic hues just like the terrifying ritual paintings lining the walls. This simple revelation creeped me right out, and it's something some players may never even notice.
I entered Anna wanting to be scared, probably because it's been too long since I last played Amnesia, and the Slenderman games are mostly predictable by now (though still disturbing). Anna is a refreshing horror game for those looking to be frightened on the week before Halloween, or just for those who enjoy a good story. A good story about ritual infanticide and goat-faced demons, but a good story nonetheless.
This article is based on a download of Anna, provided by Dreampainters. Anna is available on PC via Steam now for $9.99.