Anno: Mutationem Review: Punk Isn’t Dead
Anno: Mutationem is a dark, slick and stylish adventure offering a sense of scope and detail rarely seen in indie titles, but it suffers from a convoluted and jumbled narrative.
The game is the debut title from Thinking Stars and stars Ann Flores, a sometimes bartender, sometimes detective, and sometimes mercenary. That’s what I gathered anyway. The game’s plot follows Ann as she battles mutants, gangs, and a shadowy organisation as she tries to rescue her brother. I mean on paper that sounds pretty simple right?
The narrative starts off strong based on that premise, but things quickly get out of control. There were more than a few moments when the game’s plot completely lost me. Anno: Mutationem very clearly wears its influence on its sleeve, and it wants you to know that it’s a loving homage to what’s come before in gaming, film, and anime. Art imitates art, but there are far too many wink-wink moments packed into the 12-hour storyline, which results in an incoherent plot that will leave you scratching your head by the time the credits roll.
My problems with the game’s narrative don’t necessarily extend to the game’s cast. Ann is a likable enough protagonist, but it’s her dynamic with her woman in the chair, Ayane, that adds some much-needed levity to the game’s tone. The character of Ayane can at times walk a fine line between being endearing and annoying, but the more time I spent with the game, the more I came to appreciate her as its emotional core.
There are also characters that I wish we got to spend more time with such as Ann’s father Holtz Flores, who has succumb to the Mechanika Virus, a disease which turns humans into machines. Another fascinating concept that I wish the game had spent more time exploring. The game’s plot really is the elephant in the room, though. Everything else is, well, it’s actually pretty great.
Anno: Mutationem’s biggest strength is, without question, its combat. At first glance, you would be forgiven for believing that this is just another side-scrolling Metroidvania copycat, but it’s so much more. Combat here, is fast, fluid and sometimes brutal. If anything it’s the closest we’ve gotten to a side-scrolling Devil May Cry. Ann has a vast arsenal of weapons at her disposal, including laser swords, guns, rocket launchers, and a surprisingly deep progression system.
Normal enemies will drop skill points that allow to unlock new combos and techniques, while defeating bosses will give you pints for upgrading your base stats like health and attack damage. A more powerful form is also unlocked fairly early in the game, think of it as this game’s interpretation of a Devil Trigger or Spartan Rage. The game has a fairly steep difficulty curve, but despite the many, many times that I got my ass kicked, playing as Ann always felt kick-ass.
The real star of the show here is the world of Anno: Mutationem, coupled with it’s scope and art direction. Anno: Mutationem has a number of locations that Ann can travel to, each of which contain their own stores, activities and side quests. The neon-lit metropolis of Noctis City feels like a living, breathing city thanks to the sheer number of NPCs on the screen, each of which has their own unique conversations and dialogue. The landscapes and environments may feel familiar at first but Anno: Mutationem carves its own identity through its pixelated art style and anime-inspired character designs.
Taking on extra activities like side-quests will add another couple of hours to your playthrough and most of them are far more entertaining than the main storyline. Mini-games are also scattered across the world. Ann can test her skills as a bartender, take up fishing or rise through the ranks of an arena. My only issue with the mini-games is that there wasn’t much incentive to spend anytime with them as rewards were lacklustre. You’ll also be able to visit shops that will allow you to craft new weapons, and dismantle or combine items. Thinking Stars really have poured a lot into this world, and it’s pretty impressive.
Developer Thinking Stars have come out swinging with Anno: Mutationem, a lot of it works, and some of it not so much. The game feels like the first act of an anime series, or the first part of a bigger story. There is a tease that there could be more to come, but we’ll have to wait and see. As it stands now, Anno: Mutationem is a little rough around the edges, but despite its flaws, I kept going back to it and was endlessly impressed by its scope, ambition, and excellent combat.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PS4 (Reviewed) PS5, PC; Publisher: Lightning Games; Developer: Thinking Stars; Players: 1;Released: March 17th, 2022.
Full Disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Anno: Mutationem provided by the publisher.