Developed by: Artifact 5 inc.
Published by: Artifact 5 inc.
Available on: PC, PlayStation 4

“Anamorphine” is a game about investing in a personal vision, grappling with life’s blows, failures, and the effort it takes to mend a broken self. Though it’s not a horror game per se, the story it tells concerns mental deterioration. As one moves through its stylized environments, familiar spaces, visually transform. A hallway might lead to a new place or a room might open onto incongruous terrain. These spatial changes correlate to the main character’s emotional fluctuations.

From a design standpoint, “Anamorphine” cleverly builds on Hideo Kojima’s “P.T.” One progresses through “Anamorphine” by looking at objects or phenomena in the environment — from beer bottles arrayed across a living room to the eye of a cellphone camera, and these visual triggers propel the game’s story line. In “Anamorphine,” like “P.T.,” home is an unstable place that inspires us to reflect on an unstable psyche.

“Anamorphine” is a game that largely forgoes dialogue and completely eschews cutscenes. One experiences the game simply by moving through its areas and absorbing the details of its environmental storytelling. At its start you find yourself in the bedroom of someone who is clearly disturbed. Piles of garbage take up most of the surrounding area and there is evidence of unbridled drinking. “Anamorphine” begins at the nadir so that we’re made to wonder how the main character, Tyler, came into his predicament. Walking around the room you’ll spot luminous bluish-white pieces which look to belong to the violin family. Moving next to them causes them to scoot in the direction of an empty cello case resting in the closet where, piece by piece, they take on the shape of the missing instrument.

Once the spectral cello is formed you can pass through it like it’s a portal, into a strangely arranged space: a moving vehicle whose interior is abnormally sprawling. Wending your way around the interior’s surreal right angles, it’s difficult to miss the boxes with the portentous labels: Elena fragile, Tyler fragile. At length, the storage space opens onto the couple’s freshly moved-in apartment whose walls have yet to be fully painted. Standing outside on the balcony, Elena’s hair shimmers from light blue to light purple. Though she says nothing, she looks in your direction with a contented air.

Walking through the rooms past the boxes causes books to leap onto bookcases, bottles to array themselves in a liquor cabinet, and dishes to take up residence in the shelves above the kitchen counter. Passing through the rooms of the apartment, a new scene opens in which Tyler and Elena play host to a few friends in their tidy, decorated home. Maneuvering over to where Elena is seated at the kitchen table, drinking with two people, freezes the moment into a picture. The new space in which you find yourself is a small chamber where, on the far wall, hangs the picture of Elena at the kitchen table. In the surrounding corners of the room are boxes, pictures of Elena and Tyler, a cello, a few potted cactuses and the liquor cabinet. Stepping out of the chamber reveals a dreamy unfinished amphitheater-like structure. Along its perimeter are curtained nooks that resemble the room from out of which you stepped. As you progress further into the story, these rooms are eventually revealed to contain snapshots and mementos from important junctures in Tyler and Elena’s life together.

The transitions in the game — the manner in which the scenes easily skip back and forth from the pedestrian to the abstract — make “Anamorphine’s” visual editing stand out. Because the game is about working through memories and emotions, both of which are nothing if not edited experiences, it’s understandable that the game unfolds as a series of disconnected scenes. Such an aesthetic highlights that this work is not about life as it happens but life as it is remembered, distorted by the prism of emotional interpretation.

Tyler and Elena’s story is an uncomplicated tragedy about an artist who loses her ability to perform. I wasn’t moved by the story’s central calamity because the characters in the game have the dispositions of mannequins, but a certain amount of emotional detachment from the characters is not a problem here. Free from impulses of mimetic realism, “Anamorphine’s” emotional energy arises from the movement through its environments, seeing how they connect and comment on one another. The characters in the game are unemotive but its spatial dynamics are anything but. “Anamorphine’s” art lies in its fascinating manipulation of a virtual world.

Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.

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