Cyberpunk has certainly come back in a big way! Being popularised by Blade Runner in 1982, this idealistic interpretation of the future still hasn’t lost its luster after almost 40 years! While everyone is gushing over CD Project Red’s latest release, Cyberpunk 2077 and its many, maaany glitches, a little title has snuck itself in between with a fully playable demo: ANNO: Mutationem.
This is a game that’s been in development for quite some time, just like Cyberpunk2077, ironically enough. Though before I start incessantly comparing them to the point of nausea, the only thing these two games share is their cyberpunk backdrop. Their design, visual aesthetic, and story couldn’t be any more different! Developed by ThinkingStars and published by Lighting Games, they’re certainly taking a gamble in this cyberpunk renaissance, so how does this action-adventure title stand out from its competition?
The Life of Ann
Players take on the role of Ann; a mysterious woman who seems to carry her fair amount of emotional baggage and psychedelic dreams. Not much is known about her, but she seems to suffer from an illness named Entanglelitis. To combat this, Ann is given a combat suit named GROM to contain the symptoms of her illness. She’s also got assistance from a self-proclaimed super-hacker named Ayane and Dr. Alan Doyle, an underground scientist. The overall plot remains a mystery, but it’s implied that Ann has a brother who’s actions will affect the narrative.
The mystery ANNO: Mutationem presents is intriguing; I want to learn more about Ann’s condition and the other people she knows and places she’ll visit! This is a good problem to have in a demo, so I’m waiting with bated breath for the full release to find out more!
Secure. Contain. Protect.
One aspect of the game I find most interesting is its inclusion of elements from the SCP Foundation. For those unaware, the SCP Foundation is a community-run website created in Wikidot back in 2008. It acts as a database for a fictional foundation that aims to secure and contain anomalous objects and lifeforms known as an SCP for the safety and protection of humanity. The lore it has created and stories its community has crafted is nothing short of fascinating and even served as inspiration for Remedy Entertainment’s award-winning title, Control! What’s more, all work created on the website is under Creative Commons, meaning anyone is able to take these creations and use them in their creative work.
That’s all well and good, but how does the SCP Foundation tie into ANNO: Mutationem? While it remains to be seen how much the SCP lore will factor into Ann’s story, their presence can already be felt. Not only do we see members of their organization in trailers but also some of the actual SCPs make appearances. Most notably, SCP-682; an indestructible reptile with a hatred for humanity who serves as a boss fight in the demo. It’s also implied that SCP-990 appears at the end of the demo, who is a mysterious well-dressed man who appears in people’s dreams to warn them of dangerous events. I won’t lie, I’m a fan of SCP related work, so I’m keenly interested to see how much of its lore makes its way into the game!
Cities Drenched in Neon
The majority of the demo takes place in Skopp City, with the last section taking place in Noctis City. Skopp City acts as a condensed hub world, but you’d be surprised with how densely detailed it is! Despite Ann being a 2D sprite character, you’re able to move in a 3D space. Almost every person in the city can be interacted with, whether they give you some insight into this world or just have a funny quote to say. Interesting scenes can also play out when exploring, like seeing a band playing in the back alley, a cat who tries to toss glass bottles at you, or a mysterious voice in a manhole asking for food. Some sections are locked off as of now, but it’s clear to see that there’s more to explore and learn about Skopp City. And the best part? This may only be one of a few different hub worlds, as is evident when you are brought to a menu to travel to Noctis City!
Objects can be interacted with to get some junk to sell, which was the only way to get money in the demo. Money can then be used to acquire new weapons from the weapon vendor, but I was unable to collect enough money to make any purchases. Given the different types of weapons available, like broad swords and dual blades, it may be possible to wield different weapons with unique combos in the full game.
Exploring the Concrete Jungles
Speaking of, combat and platforming play a large part in ANNO: Mutationem. These sections take place in a 2.5D environment where you can only move right or left. You’re only able to jump once but can grab a ledge to make it up to a platform. For some reason, you’re unable to drastically change your momentum after jumping, very much like how jumping works in Capcom’s Ghosts and Goblins series. This may have been done to add a sense of realism, but it feels clunky and makes jumping feel like a gamble nine times out of ten.
When you’re forced into a combat scenario, you’re provided with a plethora of options to do damage. Ann is able to perform a few swift strikes with her cyber sword and also allows you to launch your opponent into the air to perform air combos. Dodging can also be done to avoid damage, but even with all these options, combat ironically feels just as clunky as the platforming. Much like jumping, you have to commit to an attack or action, with you being unable to cancel an attack into a dodge or jump without a slight delay. It led to me not feeling entirely in control of Ann and I frequently took damage I could have avoided if these delays didn’t exist.
Ann also has a gun for long-range combat, but a lack of impact and damage when bullets meet their target made them feel quite underwhelming. I appreciated that you had bullets to avoid spamming gunshots at a safe distance, but it doesn’t fix the lackluster gunplay.
I found myself having a lot more fun exploring the cities and investigating various locations. One instance required you to have Ayane help you hack into Ann’s brother’s apartment with a short but serviceable hacking mini-game. Hopefully, the full game has a large focus on exploring the various cities, as I found myself immersed with the locations I had the pleasure to trek through!
The Splendor of the Cities
If there’s one thing you no doubt immediately noticed was ANNO: Mutationem’s visual style. All the characters and enemies are all created with pixel art, with the environments being rendered in full 3D. Simply put, this game is a feast for the eyes! Every character has a ton of detail and their animations are all smooth and sublime! What’s even more impressive is that even though your character is 2D, you can interact with certain objects with working physics. I was quite surprised to find this out when I knocked over a chair when exploring a derelict apartment!
Though the game’s greatest achievement is its lighting. Regardless of the light source, it properly shades the characters to make it seem like they’re actually in this environment! Add to that the dynamic shadows cast by objects and characters, it helps add to that illusion! The best moment that showcased the game’s visual style was when Ann stood on a balcony and gazed at the massive cityscape with gigantic hologram advertisements adorning the skies. It was breathtaking and I cannot wait to see what new sights we’ll get to see! And to top it all off, the game performs very well at a smooth 60 frames-a-second on my PC, but it’s yet to be seen how well it can perform on the PS4.
The game’s sound is quite good too. Techno beats and electronic sounds are infused across all areas of the game’s soundtrack which not only sounds great, it helps add to the game’s futuristic tone.
One oddity I did find was in regards to the game’s voice acting or lack thereof. While in combat or jumping across rooftops, short sound clips like Ann attacking or her assailant readying up a move are performed by voice actors, but not during the game’s many story segments. This comes off as odd since the way the dialogue is timed in cutscenes makes it seem like they should be voiced, This is only made more noticeable thanks to the game using character portraits when talking. Their mouths are moving and even reacting to things being said, but no sounds leave their vocal cords. Perhaps the full game will have voice acting in these segments, but that’s yet to be seen.
So what’s my overall take on ANNO: Mutationem’s demo? I was quite impressed with the game’s world and visual style, but some aspects like the combat and platforming could definitely use some fine-tuning.
Recently, it was announced that the game will be delayed until Q3 2021, and that’s probably for the best. Considering how 2020 threw a wrench into the works of game development, the extra time Thinkingstars is taking will definitely be well spent. Regardless of my issues, I’m looking forward to playing the final version and can’t wait to see how Ann’s tale unfolds in this neon-drenched future!
Another 2D action game you might be interested in is Touhou: Luna Nights.
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