When I think back to my time with the brave cyberpunk beat-em-up Anno: Mutationem, the first thing I think to myself is that I wish they’d included a pronunciation guide for this bite of a wrong Latin title. But the second thing that comes to mind is the setting. From the colorful retro-chic art style to the lovable, ass-kicking protagonist, this is a world with a strong sense of identity that knows from the start how it wants you to feel – even if the story told there sometimes seems like one bit more lost.
The streets of futuristic Skopp City are where most of the action takes place: it’s a delightful expanse of chrome and concrete, packed with influences from Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell. Its various districts each use color, tone, and small environmental details to create a textured world that feels light and homey despite its dark backstory. I had a lot of fun exploring the bars, shops and alleyways, listening to random conversations and discovering off-the-beaten-track secrets. It’s not exactly a groundbreaking setting – although some Stranger Things-esque weirdness adds a pinch of spice to it – but it’s one I’d happily spend a lot more time in.
Anno: Mutationem gameplay screenshots
When trouble arises on these roads, the skilled and daring Ann Flores is ready to shoot, slash and smash her way through hordes of goons, robots and mutants. Combat is responsive, fast-paced, and at its best, the enemy design and combat flow reminded me of old-school Mega Man. There are plenty of interesting and challenging bosses and lieutenants to pound to a pulp, and the fact that you have to wear down their shields with slower heavy attacks to unlock powerful finishers while dealing damage with faster light attacks just sucks tactically more interesting than pressing buttons on a health bar. The only thing that sucks is that there are a few too many encounters that rely on infinitely respawning minions for my liking. There are many ways to make a boss fight harder and I just don’t like them.
Ann’s progression as a professional ass kicker comes from two skill trees, where defeating story bosses gives you money to boost your base stats, and defeating normal enemies lets you unlock new moves. This works really well in the end because you can’t really grind to get way too powerful for a given area, but as you earn a new heavy hit or improve the effectiveness of your parry you get more tools to experiment and craft the correct fighting style for tougher encounters.
Much of the main story takes place off-grid in long, varied dungeon crawls that create a sense of isolation and provide a nice contrast to running around town doing odd jobs. There’s always a hint that they’re part of some slowly unraveling mystery, but that hasn’t saved me from feeling like I’m being led by my nose with too thin a connecting motivation. The locations you can explore along the way, from a secret laboratory full of mutant plants to a hidden cyborg civilization, are really interesting and weave into a richly detailed world. It just lacks a smoother flow between them to keep it from turning into a whirlwind tour that sometimes seems a lot less interested in why you’re discovering these places than in the places themselves.
The huge, colorful cast of characters represents both one of Anno’s most visible strengths and weaknesses. There is limited voice acting, but where it does appear it’s done really well. Most notably, Ann herself, voiced in English by the fantastic Suzie Yeung, comes across as a confident and ambitious young woman trying to make sense of a mysterious and traumatic past. The dialogue writing itself isn’t quite as impressive, though. It often happens that the spoken word doesn’t match the written subtitles on the screen, and far too many conversations felt like a rushed performance that wasn’t presented in a very natural way.
Sometimes Anno just throws too many new characters at you, often in one-off cutscenes that don’t make sense until much later in the 20-hour story. While some of the revelations are definitely cool and I like how they brought an odd, metaphysical twist to the cyberpunk genre, it felt like the plot might be a bit too complicated for its own good. It tries to do too much, with too many performers not getting enough time to develop or make a difference. The little I’ve seen of characters like Ann’s snappy sister Nakamura or cranky cowboy Raymond got me to know them better, but they just get shoved on and off stage too quickly.
The only person you can spend a lot of time with is Ann’s best friend, Ayane. And, well, I love you girl, but you’re just a little much sometimes. The bubbly, manic, aggressively gay buddy who follows you in the form of a hologram is an effective foil to Ann’s straight-forward stoicism, but it also reminds me of some of the over-caffeinated anime addicts I hung out with in college and I often watch just wished i could tell her to turn it down a few notches. In her defense, she sometimes breaks out of a living stereotype with moments of emotional depth.
https://www.ign.com/articles/anno-mutationem-review Anno: Mutationem Review – IGN