Anna intrigued me from the first time I ever saw a trailer for it. The extremely ambitious premise completely blew me away, and since I'm a huge Horror game fan, it completely appealed to me. The genius premise lies in the fact that Anna is supposed to be able to tell what you're afraid of, and then use it against you. Focus on something a little too much and it will start to play tricks on you. This is evident in the game's trailer where it shows the player looking at a symbol with eyes painted on a door, and then those eyes appearing all over the walls. Awesome right? Except not so much. After delving into the game myself, I found that while there are some things the game uses against you, it's more of a test of patience than anything else.
The story of Anna portrays a recurring nightmare, in which you always see a house in a beautiful forest, bathed in sunlight. It's not until you step inside of the house when you realize it's the polar opposite. Dark rooms with only a few lit candles, creaky floorboards, eerie paintings and a generally gloomy atmosphere make you feel completely isolated and paranoid. It's in this atmosphere that Anna completely succeeds at immersing you in a state of fear and paranoia.
Anna actually plays out a lot like the Paranormal Activity movies. As you're exploring the house, two phases occur. In one phase, which I call the "generally safe phase", the music plays in the background, which lowers the volume of the creaking floorboards, and instead gives you a sense of protection. The song is entirely soothing, as it starts with some smooth guitar eventually ending with a relaxing yet still eerie female voice. It's when the music ends and you're left in complete silence, that a sense of dread comes over you.
In the second phase, the game always plays out a sound cue (also identical to the movie) which signifies some sort of paranormal actions happening around you. While this freaked me out in the game initially, in the later half of the game, I've just grown to expect it. And while there were generally freaky moments at times, they never rose to the quality of scares of games like Amnesia for example.
Anna at its core is a straight up point and click adventure game however. You'll be solving puzzles through its entirety, literally from start to finish. That wouldn't be a terrible thing, if some of the puzzles actually made sense. I'll be the first to admit that I'm generally not great at puzzle games, and they do take me a while to solve. However after solving them in other games, I always have that "Oh yeah!" moment of realization. Anna has some puzzles that even after you figure them out by chance, or with the assistance of the in-game help, you'll just go "What the f*ck?!" Seriously, I don't want to spoil anything here, but just know that the seed bag puzzle, is in no way apparent, nor does the game even indicate what you're supposed to do with it.
Though I've seen Anna compared to games like Amnesia, I actually think it has more in common with Dear Esther. You learn about the story and about yourself as you go through the house and solve various puzzles. It's a grim story for sure, but you won't learn it unless you get the "true" ending. This is where I found a big fault in the game.
On my first playthrough, whenever something abnormal happened, I would tend to run away from it, fearing it, as a person who believes in, and is fearful of ghosts would. However, during that playthrough, I've never descended into madness enough to get further in the game, and I got the worst ending. During my second playthrough, since I already knew some of the occurrences that would happen, I actually approached them, which in my opinion is something that someone who doesn't believe in, and is not fearful of ghosts would do. The game however perceives it as the opposite and therefore drives you more mad, eventually leading up to a much more satisfying ending.
The problem here is how Anna sells itself. During my three playthroughs, every scare was the same, even though I tried playing differently. This was a letdown since I figured the selling point of the game was that it would know how to use your tells against you. The only thing indicative of this actually working was that I stared at a bunch of cans on the floor. These cans eventually started to fly across the room to hit me when I would least expect it. Sure it scared me at times, but I'm not sure how focusing on a can laying on the floor meant I was afraid of it. So when I said that the game is pretty much a test of patience, it just means you have to wait out for the paranormal to happen, and not solve the puzzles as quickly as you can.
With that said, Anna is still a good game. Regardless of some of the insanely difficult puzzles, I still recommend it to anyone who enjoys psychological horror games. The true ending does explain the plot, even though you can still draw some of your own conclusions from it. At only $9.99, it's a fair price for about a three hour experience, which can be extended if you want to see all the endings.