The game's title shown over a dystopian cyberpunk city

Review

Anno: Mutationem Review

March 18, 2022

By: Tyler Chancey

 
 
More Info About This Game
Developer
ThinkingStars
Publisher
Lightning Games
Release Date
March 17,2022 (Calendar)
Purchase (Some links may be affiliated)

Anno: Mutationem might just be one of the most infuriating games I've played this year. I can see the talent behind the scenes mixing together 2D pixel art with 3D environments for a novel visual aesthetic. The passion of dozens of creative ideas flying at breakneck speed throughout the game's runtime, as if the game itself is screaming at me to be remembered fondly. But even at the best of times, it barely manages to be a decent but forgettable experience with some shining bits of novelty peppered throughout. And at the worst of times, it plays like the scattershot ramblings of a team in dire need of an editor.

Ann standing in front of a bar full of neon signs and cyborg patrons
Welp, time to start asking questions.

Good Morning, Skopp City

You play as Ann Flores, a young woman that does odd jobs in the cyberpunk dystopian far future in which she lives. While trying to find a cure for a mysterious illness that causes her to blackout from time to time, Ann starts looking into the disappearance of her brother Ryan. This leads to Ann diving deep into underground laboratories and sewer systems all to find out what has happened.

 

That paragraph might just be the most straightforward plot synopsis I can possibly give. This is because while the central story of Anno Mutationem boiled down to the bone is a straightforward missing-person conspiracy mystery, everything else surrounding it is a jumble of half-formed story turns, subplots, and world-altering revelations. In many ways, these interludes and diversions try to emulate Deus Ex's worldbuilding conceit of “every single harebrained conspiracy theory you've heard of is true,” but in practice feels like a hollow recitation of mid-2000s anime cliches.

What doesn't help these derivative story tropes is some pretty spotty English localization. While about 75% of the game's subtitles match up with the voice-actors lines, the remaining 25% are bafflingly inconsistent. Some of these can be written off as light improv changes to the script, others completely change the context of the line altogether. Worse still, these major changes keep happening in cutscenes featuring the shadowy cabal of mad scientists trying to keep their highly unethical experiments with beings from another dimension under wraps, which makes an already overstuffed story harder to follow.

 
 

This rough translation extends to proper names and key plot points as well. Case and point, Ann's degenerative disease, one that is revealed later to actually be a super mode power-up, is actually called Entangleitis. If you have even a passing knowledge of medical jargon, that should make you wince.

Ann staring down a giant mech with a laser chainsaw
Alright, time to dodge roll and shred.

Guns and Lasers and Swords, Oh My!

Things do fair a bit better on the gameplay side of things. At its core, Anno: Mutationem is a hack and slash RPG. You'll control Ann as she goes through various underground facilities where you can chop through enemies with both light and heavy laser sword slashes or gun them down with a sidearm. There are some Metroidvania elements, side passages with collectibles, and the like, but level progression is a mostly linear affair. As you complete story missions and defeat enemies you'll gain points which you can spend in two distinct skill trees. One gives you new attack combos, the other increases your health and defenses.

 
 

As you progress through the game, Ann will visit multiple shady cities and derelict districts. These serve as hub areas where you can take on side missions as well as buy or build new weapons for your next story mission. While these systems do help add some variety to the game, they're really rudimentary. Most of the side missions you can undertake amount to basic fetch quests – go around a corner, buy something from a vendor then come back – or additional combat arenas. There are a few standouts like a murder mystery in Ann's apartment that takes on a supernatural twist or uncovering the secret identity of a beloved virtual pop idol, but they're more the exception than the norm. As for weapon upgrades, they mostly amount to unique chips you can slot into each weapon to make them more effective against armor or give them elemental damage.

As for Anno: Mutationem's combat, it gets some fundamentals right. Every single enemy has an armor gauge in parallel to their health bar. Keep attacking them enough times and you will open them up to a devastating super attack. In addition, you can freely combo and juggle them until their armor fully recovers. As for defense, Ann can block incoming attacks to mitigate damage as well as a parry if you block certain attacks at just the right time. Finally, there is a super mode that Ann can enter once her bar is fully charged, which regenerates her health and greatly increases her attack power.

A mysterious suited man kneeling in front of a collection of giant crosses with cryptic symbols on them
No, I don't know what is going on here, it just kept reminding me of a different anime.

Wait, What Just Happened?

Overall, the basics of a solid action game are in Anno: Mutationem if you just focus on Ann's repertoire. But what ends up souring the entire experience comes down to difficulty and pacing issues. The game's first half is full of decent – if unmemorable – boss battles and set pieces. But as things progress, enemy types start becoming increasingly obtuse. Giant health sponge enemies start being regular enemies rather than a strategic challenge in a wave of variety for example. In addition, boss battles start moving away from human or moderate size to screen-filling giant monsters complete with inconsistent hit detection. All of this is not helped by unreliable UI glitches and miscommunications like enemy health bars being shown as empty but they're still up and fighting.

What fully soured my experience however came in Anno: Mutationem's final two hours or so of its twelve hour runtime. I seriously cannot tell if the developers were rushed or didn't fully playtest the final levels because they become relentless gauntlets of back-to-back giant mech fights. There was a point where I got out of a fight with three giant mechs in an underground meadow, ran through a secret lab where yetis were being vat grown... and instead got jumped by three more giant mechs. The yetis never came up again.

 
 

The crowning moment of this dreary finale came when Anno: Mutationem's unfocused story beats and uneven combat slammed together. I was forced to protect a character who was trying to exorcise an interdimensional demon possessing a member of the scientist Illuminati trying to stage a coup – even in context it is a bizarre change of pace – and the game decided to throw every single dirty trick at me in a relentless wave of enemy assault. Not only was it one of the most asinine defense setpieces I've played in recent memory, but it also made me completely detach from any of the game's tension or stakes. At that point, I just wanted the credits to roll and be done with the whole thing.

And that is a genuine shame since Anno: Mutationem does have some great art direction. The various random NPCs are racially and culturally diverse, and the main cast of characters do have distinct visual pop. In addition, when the story isn't playing out a middling cyberpunk story and just lets the various characters hang out, it lends to a cozy atmosphere. It helps that the pixel art for the 2D characters are expressive and colorful, which helps them stand out from the dreary PS2-era 3D environments. It's a distinct look and I hope this studio goes further in future projects.

Ann holding up  the plug to a computer in front of her dad, Holtz
There are also some decent jokes and character moments throughout. This scene got a laugh.

Anno: Mutationem | Final Thoughts

As a cyberpunk sci-fi story, Anno: Mutationem is a disjointed mess of half-formed ideas wrapped around a bog standard conspiracy story. As a gameplay experience, it starts off promising before completely devolving into some infuriating difficulty spikes. There is some novelty to be found in its visual design, but you might have trouble remembering your time with this one.


TechRaptor reviewed Anno: Mutationem on PC with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.

Review Summary

Review Summary

6.0
While Anno: Mutationem sports an interesting art direction, the disjointed story and uneven combat make this game hard to recommend.

Pros

  • Unique 2D Meets 3D Art Direction
  • Solid Hack and Slash Combat and RPG Elements

Cons

  • Confusing Unfocused Cyberpunk Story
  • Uneven, Infuriating Endgame Encounters
a candid selfie of the staff writer, husky build, blond hair, caucasian.
Staff Writer

Born in 1990, Tyler Chancey's earliest memories were of an NES controller in his hands, and with it a passion that continued into his adulthood. He's written for multiple sites, has podcasted, and has continued to shape and encourage new talent to greater heights.