Anamorphine: review

  • Format: PS4 (version reviewed), PC, PC VR, PSVR
  • Unleashed: Out Now (PSVR patch TBA)
  • Publisher: Artifact 5
  • Developer: Artifact 5
  • Players: 1
  • Site: https://anamorphine.com/
  • Game code provided by PR

The term “walking simulator” is a bit of an odd one. It’s intrinsically misleading, but more interesting are people’s attitudes toward it. Some fans of such games embrace the term, while others angrily reject it. The mere mention of the phrase is enough to make a person either instantly lose interest, or immediately become hungry for details. As you may have guessed, Anamorphine is a walking simulator.

Although you do also ride a bicycle.

This is a story told with virtually no dialogue (and what dialogue there is, is missable, right at the end of the experience and required to trigger one of the two endings). You play as Tyler, reliving the memories of his life with his wife Elena. Anamorphine recognises that memories are imperfect, and exploits this well.

Some of these interactive memories are, in theory, relatively straightforward. Taking a bike ride with Elena and then catching up with her in a crowded square, for example, is a prosaic experience decorated with crowds of strangers represented by blank mannequins. Nobody remembers each individual face and outfit that they pass, after all. Elsewhere, memories are more surreal and dream-like, sometimes to truly impressive effect.

Elena is never animated, but you’ll bond with her nonetheless.

Much of the game takes place in Tyler and Elena’s apartment. Consisting of just a few rooms, it folds in on itself and presents new experiences in a manner reminiscent of PT. Walk to investigate something, turn around, and you’ll find that time has jumped forward while your back is turned. Elsewhere, things are much more symbolic. At the beginning of the game for example, you walk through a physically impossible moving van, browsing your possessions on the way to your new apartment. Other sequences are significantly more detached from reality.

The skeleton of the story is that Elena, a cellist who loves her music and is thrilled when she begins to find success, later has an accident that renders her unable to play. The story after that is about how she tries to deal with this, the effect it has on her relationship with Tyler, and the effect everything has on Tyler himself. Early in the experience, you explore a colourful alien landscape with an undulating ground, where huge and strange flowers bloom at your approach. Later, you return here; the music is now discordant, the flowers dying halfway through their bloom.

There are layers to peel back without pretentiousness, and matters laid bare without being oversimplified or patronising. Telling a story with symbolism and delicate, raw, human elements to it is a constant (and difficult) balancing act. Generally speaking, Artifact 5 handles this extremely well. It’s a very small team though, which has become visible in some extremely unfortunate ways.

We’ve not played the PC version, but apparently playing in VR is at time of writing very underwhelming. Whichever version you play, on either format, it is sadly riddled with bugs despite a few patches (a launch patch broke the PS4 version completely halfway through, necessitating a hotfix). We can only speak to the PS4 version at time of writing for the following issues.

The bike sequences may drag, but take solace in the fact that you appear to be talented enough to both ride and steer without using your hands. Or your feet.

Anamorphine has frame rate and lag problems. We’re not talking about annoying but forgivable hitches. These are fairly regular and significant interruptions to movement that unceremoniously punch progress in the gut, doubly painful for an experience that is – or, at least, should be – a deeply emotional one. Assets that do the job and little more, we can easily and happily give a pass. Unintended interruptions to what is already a slow-paced game, not so much.

To their credit, the team has been open about admitting the problems, and they’re working extremely hard to fix them all. Even if/when all of the technical issues are finally tamed, there are issues this work won’t fix. The whole thing is only perhaps two hours long and, while this isn’t a problem in and of itself, there are severe pacing issues. Most of it is well judged, and carefully crafted to gently nudge the player in the right direction. The bicycle riding sections are easily at least twice as long as they should be though, and rarely offer the player anything of interest to look at while they endure them.

When the PS4 version is finally technically stable, and the promised PSVR patch has finally arrived, we’ll re-review this. It’s easy to see the game it could be and, indeed, the game that the developers intended it to be. For now, although it does some things very right, Anamorphine is worth a look but not worthy of hitting the top of your shopping list.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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