Friendship Ended With Cyberpunk, Now ANNO: Mutationem Is New Best Friend

Friendship Ended With Cyberpunk, Now ANNO: Mutationem Is New Best Friend
Gif: Kotaku / ThinkingStars

During the Steam Next Fest, a week-long event featuring demos and previews for upcoming games, one game called out to me from the crowd: the cyberpunk role-playing game ANNO: Mutationem. The trailer alone felt specifically designed to lure me in, with its rhythmic soundtrack, its neon-drenched cityscape, and its badass female lead chopping up mechas with a laser sword. I was smitten.

Designed by ThinkingStars, ANNO: Mutationem is an action-adventure game in which you play as Ann Flores, a “highly-skilled combat-trained lone wolf,” as she faces off against mega-corporations in pursuit of her missing brother. If her description reminds you of Ghost in the Shell’s Motoko Kusanagi, well, you’re not off-base. Right off the bat, ANNO’s aesthetic recalls the iconic cyberpunk stories that came before it like Ghost in the Shell, The Matrix, and Blade Runner. In the demo, Anno even wakes up from bed and opens her blinds just like GITS’ Major Kusanagi, wears a similar skin-tight combat suit, and has a scripted scene where she looks out at the city’s skyline, like a pixel art version of Rick Deckard looking over Blade Runner’s dystopian Los Angeles. ANNO’s obvious inspirations don’t dip into parody though; instead they provide a familiar foundation from which the game jumps off to tell its own story.

Screenshot: Kotaku / Production I.G, Fair Use

Screenshot: Kotaku / Production I.G, Fair Use

An iconic moment from the 1995 film

Screenshot: Kotaku / ThinkingStars, Fair Use

Screenshot: Kotaku / ThinkingStars, Fair Use

Similarly to Kusanagi, Anno awakens from a dream to see the false night sky of Skopp City.

The demo follows Ann as she visits Alan Doyle, her cybernetics doctor, to discover who has been hacking her virtual assistant. Naturally, the good doctor wants to run some tests through combat simulations, and Ann obliges. In what I can only describe as a cyberpunk magical girl transformation, Ann dons her combat suit and dives into the simulation like Neo in The Matrix. A+ for style points.

After completing a combat tutorial and cutting your teeth on a kaiju battle, you discover that Ann is suffering from “Entanglelitis,” a cybernetic “Mechanika’’ virus that has gone viral in the game’s world. Ann’s Entanglelitis flares up when fights get too intense, causing her vision to distort. Ann then decides to see her brother, whom she hasn’t heard from in ages. She discovers he’s wrapped up in the city’s criminal underworld, and finds herself targeted by the same slew of cybernetic goons that are hunting him.

The game’s combat is just as “smoking sexy style” as the trailer makes it seem. Although it took a bit to figure out the timing for dodges, I did a serviceable job of pulling off sick laser-sword combos on a bunch of enemies, which was satisfying as hell. There’s also a hacking mechanic that lets you not only unlock new story pathways, but also scan an enemy’s stats before you hack and slash your way through them.

This all takes place in a world so packed with intriguing details that you could easily miss many on your first playthrough. I usually get my fill from a demo by playing it once, but I was compelled to play this one multiple times to hunt for new item details, dialogue options, and weapon upgrades.

Screenshot: Kotaku / ThinkingStars, Fair Use

Screenshot: Kotaku / ThinkingStars, Fair Use

Cake probably isn’t the best choice of food, Mysterious Sewer Guy.

Screenshot: Kotaku / ThinkingStars, Fair Use

Screenshot: Kotaku / ThinkingStars, Fair Use

<em>ANNO: Mutationem</em>

Screenshot: Kotaku / ThinkingStars, Fair Use

Screenshot: Kotaku / ThinkingStars, Fair Use

Has Alan Doyle tried unplugging his super computer and plugging it back in again? Preferably without Ann still inside it.

Screenshot: Kotaku / ThinkingStars, Fair Use

Screenshot: Kotaku / ThinkingStars, Fair Use

Player’s won’t traverse the game alone. Ayane, Ann’s plucky sidekick assists her throughout the game and provides much needed cuteness.

Screenshot: Kotaku / ThinkingStars, Fair Use

Screenshot: Kotaku / ThinkingStars, Fair Use

Players can use Ann’s hacking ability to unlock items in the game and assess enemy stats.

My efforts revealed additional lore, more characters to interact with, and weapon upgrades I’d missed, though the demo locks you out of gaining enough credits to buy them, and, tragically, of feeding the mysterious person in the sewers who is worried about their “bubbly farts.”

The stunning pixel art mixes 2D and 3D elements seamlessly in a way that reminds me of 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, my 2020 game of the year. The demo suggests that ANNO: Mutationem could be a breathtakingly beautiful RPG with a strong female lead and a combat system in which I can express myself. Hopefully the full game will live up to that promise.

ANNO: Mutationem is slated to release sometime before the end of 2021.

Comments

  • Interesting but the 2D sprites clash with the 3D. They should have made it pure 3D, I’d have played that for sure

  • If you haven’t played the demo, I highly recommend it. The article isn’t kidding about the level of detail in the world. Just getting from point A to B exposes you to dozens and dozens of overheard conversations, items, investigation points and more, really fleshing out the world. And the art is fantastic, the 2.5D really works. It’s like a https://twitter.com/waneella_ style, but you can explore it. I’d play an RPG in that world that didn’t even have any combat.

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