Some of you may remember a flashy indie game called The Last Night, which they announced at E3 2017. Their trailer showed us a stunning ‘cyberpunk’ world that combined beautiful 2D pixel art with three-dimensional settings. But its director’s controversial support of a harassment campaign and problems in its development caused this title to remain in limbo. We don’t know if it will ever be released. Fortunately, a new work by the Chinese studio Thinking Stars took its flag, and I can already enjoy its outstanding style. We are talking about the game ANNO: Mutationem.
There is no doubt that this title “enters through the eyes,” but does it offer more than just flashy graphics? In this review of ANNO: Mutationem -which is already available for PS4, PS5, and Steam- I will discover what this game really is and if it has something to contribute to a genre like ‘cyberpunk’ that is becoming so common.
|Platform||Steam, PS4, PS5|
|Genre||Cyberpunk, Pixel art, Action-Adventure|
|Special Feature||Built-in arcades|
ANNO: Mutationem Story
Ann Flores is a young private detective who gets involved in a very personal case. She suffers from a strange disease called ‘entanglement’ that causes her to lose control of her actions. Searching for a cure, her brother Ryan has become linked to a criminal organization and has disappeared. While searching for him, Ann begins to discover things about her past and a conspiracy that could destroy the world.
We know it’s an overused expression, but it’s the best way to describe this title. ANNO: Mutationem is “a love letter” to ‘cyberpunk anime’. It is full of references and details that immediately remind us of works like Ghost in The Shell, Akira, and even Neon Genesis Evangelion. It also has quite a bit of Blade Runner and classic science fiction. The soundtrack, full of electronic and synth-wave melodies, fits it like a glove.
In terms of gameplay, this is an action-platform RPG. Ann is a versatile protagonist for combat who can use a sword, two blades, a mandible, and different firearms. As the adventure progresses, we can upgrade and customize this arsenal with chips and modules.
We have two types of scenarios. The colorful cities of this world and some sections of the dungeons can be explored with three-dimensional freedom to search for objects, talk to other characters, and store in stores. The combat and platforming sections are 2D only. Switching between one style and another is perfectly fluid… what is not so fluid is the control.
The Gameplay in ANNO 2
Ann has a lot of combos and abilities, but she doesn’t always react the way I want her to. Some movements have a little ‘lag’ or delay – at least on PS4, which was the version I tested for this review – and while some parts of combos can be interrupted to change direction, block, or dodge, this isn’t the case with all of them. This can cause some frustration.
Once I get used to these quirks, the combat in Anno: Mutationem proves to be very exciting. Most enemies have a ‘shield’ that I must deplete to cause more damage, so I must carefully choose weapons and attacks. Boss fights are incredibly intense and require excellent reflexes from the player. Once I have overcome the difficulty peak they may initially represent, I am eager to get to the next one.
The combat system also uses an elemental system in which I can equip our weapons with fire, ice, or electricity damage. However, the weapon upgrade and customization systems are not very well integrated into the gameplay loop, and many players may not find a good time to experiment with them.
What is well designed are the levels. The game’s dungeons are interconnected areas with an easy-to-read map despite being three-dimensional. They are reminiscent of the ‘Metroidvania’ genre, but each site works well independently. The only thing they don’t excel at is their visual design, as most of them are generic sewers and labs that contrast with the lush beauty of the open areas, which are full of incredible detail.
Details in the Plot
The ‘cyberpunk’ is not only present in the visual elements of ANNO: Mutationem. Its plot is full of the genre’s most prominent themes. Anne’s world was affected by a virus called ‘Mekanica’ that turned organic beings into machines. It’s an exciting take on cybernetic bodies with a touch of ‘body horror.’ We also meet virtual worlds, mega-corporations with political power, and transhumanist conspiracies. The most exciting thing is that it mixes this with supernatural elements, parallel dimensions, and religious iconography. This gives the game a personality of its own.
The plot presented to us is very intriguing but difficult to follow. Much of the exposition and explanation of what happens is found in optional texts hidden in the levels. Still, they narrate events using a language that is too technical and obtuse. We think they wanted to achieve something similar to what games like Dark Souls or Hollow Knight do with their world-building, but it doesn’t quite work. The truth is that its Spanish translation doesn’t help either.
Although the voices are only in Chinese and English, ANNO: Mutationem has texts and subtitles in several languages. The problem is that the quality of the localization is mediocre. Some terms are poorly translated sometimes, they use different words to refer to the same noun, and there are constant errors when referring to the gender of the characters.
Hopefully, this will be fixed soon with a patch, as it’s a really annoying problem.
Fortunately, this game has many strengths that make it easy to ignore those flaws. We have to keep praising its beautiful visuals. The character designs are so incredible that one could mistake a random NPC for a protagonist in their own adventure. The main characters have a lot of charisma. Although Ann is the typical stoic warrior with an overly cheerful and enthusiastic companion – a very familiar ‘anime’ trope – their relationship is endearing and, yes, quite gay. It’s a shame that they sometimes resort to unnecessary fanservice.
ANNO: Mutationem SummaryANNO: Mutationem
Storyline75/100 Very goodThe story is classic and interesting as for a cyberpunk game. Though, some plot twist were unnecessary.
Graphics / Design100/100 The bestComplete 100 points for graphics, music, sounds and design in ANNO: Mutationem.
In-app purchases100/100 The bestNothing to say. You buy the complete game at once.
Controls70/100 GoodHard to navigate the camera on levels and move the character.
- Fantastic visual and musical style
- Excellent character design
- Exciting boss fights
- Imprecise controls
- Narrative is unnecessarily convoluted
- Some wasted gameplay systems