I understand now, Dr. Chandra…
September 10, 2007
Modern works of science fiction, whether movies, stories, or games, rarely connect with what could be called “classic” science fiction. In classic science fiction, once known as “speculative fiction,” stories put humanity under a microscope, examining what life would be like if we had new technologies, such as the ability to predict the future in Asimov’s “Foundation” novels, or if our society were guided by philosophies different from our own, such as the radical egalitarianism found in Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron.” These stories were always written with a point in mind, and the futuristic trappings that often followed with their settings: ray guns, high-speed spaceship chases, etc., always remained incidental. Yet, with few exceptions, modern science fiction has turned this paradigm on its ear; the reason that things are set in the future is so that there can be ray guns and spaceship chases galore.
This is precisely why Vince Twelve’s “Anna” is such a breath of fresh air. “Anna” is a short and sweet adventure/puzzle game that features two characters, the eponymous Anna, a philosophical A.I., and Hero, her level-headed technician. The game opens with Hero beginning his daily inspection and maintenance of Anna’s hardware, accompanied by a bit of inquisitive banter on Anna’s part, which Hero responds to with patience and good humor. Yet, as the space station Anna controls is suddenly threatened, her train of thought reaches a paradox, and she shuts down. Given control of Hero, the player must attempt to repair Anna in time to salvage the desperate situation.
Rebooting Anna’s systems is not a linear process, and the interlocking puzzles that serve to represent different aspects of Anna are challenging but very doable. Some of the puzzles may seem familiar to more experienced adventure gamers, but they fit the setting well, such as a cleverly implemented Tower of Hanoi.
The graphics do a perfect job of setting the mood. Set in gray-scale with smooth (but spartan) animations and parallax, the overall effect is a kind of neo-noir, perfectly conveying the sterility of the clean-room in which Anna’s hardware is housed (and the action is set). The audio is similarly sparse, but it evokes a definite claustrophobia; perfect for when the computer controlling the life support on your tiny space station is shutting down or on the verge of going bonkers.
The dialogue is strong throughout, as is the storyline as a whole (there are a few devilish plot twists). While the dilemma that freezes Anna, which has to do with free choice and determinism, is only liable to confound that contrarian kid in your freshman-year philosophy class, it seems suitable that an A.I. with a tremendous capacity for abstract intellectual thought might be stymied by a question that is self-evident from everyday living. •
Recommended both as an intriguing, artistic mind-warp and as a great game to try out on people who claim they don’t “get” games.