It appears to be one of those times of year that a whole bunch of different developers on Steam are putting out playable demos of their upcoming titles, and one in particular caught my eye recently: Anno Mutationem from Beijing-based developer ThinkingStars and publisher Lightning Games. (As it happens, the main reason Anno Mutationem caught my eye is that Lightning Games has a sale on at the time of writing, so be sure to check that out if you like what you see here.)
Anno Mutationem promised a blend of 2D pixel art and retro-styled polygonal visuals in a cyberpunk future, and it looked rather visually striking. So I downloaded the demo to see what was what, primarily expecting some sort of cyberpunk-inspired pixel art platformer. What I actually got was much more interesting.
Turns out that Anno Mutationem is an intriguing combination of adventure game, platformer and beat ’em up, all infused with an absolutely delicious audio-visual aesthetic that is simultaneously nostalgic and thoroughly modern. It’s an immensely promising looking game, and I look forward to seeing how the final version ends up.
In Anno Mutationem, you take on the role of a young woman named Ann, who lives in the futuristic metropolis of Skopp City. The demo doesn’t go into a huge amount of detail about the background of the setting, but it seems that we’re looking at a world where humanity has overcome a virus through augmenting their bodies with mechanical and electronic components. In fact, the in-game load screen tips note that those who have been infected by the virus get to own free “BioSkins”.
Ann, it seems, is suffering from some sort of illness, and as the demo begins she receives an invitation from a local acquaintance known colloquially as “the Doc” to come and talk about her condition. What then follows is a short adventure-style sequence in which Ann makes her way out of her apartment building, down into the streets of Skopp City and onwards to the Doc’s research facility, deep beneath a local antique shop.
Impressively, all this exploration is handled on a single “map” that effortlessly adjusts its scope and perspective as you move Ann around; step outside the front door of Ann’s apartment complex and there’s no load screen — you’re just immediately outside. And a convincing rendition of “outside” it is, too; while you are artificially cordoned off from having complete freedom to roam the streets of the city (in this case by police roadblocks at either end of the street) there’s still a decent geographical area to wander around, featuring several buildings that can be seamlessly entered and left in the same way as Ann’s apartment block.
All this provides a very convincing sense of Anno Mutationem unfolding in a coherent world in which things are going on with or without your intervention. There are people wandering the streets, conversations you can eavesdrop on and, of course, cats being dickheads — because some things are constant, even in the cyberpunk future.
While there’s not a huge amount you can do in this lovingly rendered world as of the demo, it’s clear that when the full game rolls around there’ll be plenty of reasons to explore. You can rummage through garbage for discarded relics of a past age, which can subsequently be sold to the antique store for a certain amount of income. You can make use of vending machines to acquire food and drink, which are used to provide buffs in the game’s combat sequences. And, of course, you’ll have the opportunity to overhear conversations or interact with people who can provide you with objectives to accomplish.
Once you reach Doc’s lair in the demo, he puts Ann through a training system for her “GROM” system, which seemingly, among other things, allows her to instantly transform from her rather frumpy tracksuit into her more “all-action heroine” getup with leather hotpants, thigh-high boots and mean-looking energy sword. Part of the ongoing narrative appears to concern Ann and Doc’s attempts to understand Ann’s illness by gathering data from her in combat scenarios; she seems prone to “losing control” when placed in stressful situations, and we see an example of this while participating in what amounts to the game’s action sequence tutorial.
Combat in Anno Mutationem is enjoyable, combining elements of platform action games with more beat ’em up style combos and finishers; the result is satisfying, impactful combat with excellent use of hitstun, timed button presses and invincibility frame-filled dodge moves. In the training sequence, you have the opportunity to try out all these things in a relatively “safe” environment against both regular and boss-type enemies — and there’s another couple of opportunities to engage in combat later in the demo, too.
The platforming, too, works well. Ann is pretty agile, with a large and graceful jump plus the ability to grab onto ledges and vault over, as well as dodge underneath low obstacles. The aim is clearly to provide a feeling of “seamlessness”; much like the exploration allowed you to seamlessly transition from indoors to outdoors, so too do the action sequences allow you to seamlessly transition from one move into another — sliding under an obstacle before whipping out your energy sword to slice off an enemy’s mechanised face before they even have a chance to realise what’s going on. Lovely stuff.
Sadly, the demo ends just as the narrative side of things is starting to get interesting — but it’s definitely more than enough to show that Anno Mutationem is going to be a game well worth keeping an eye on ahead of its release on PlayStation and PC later this year. At the time of writing, if you want to try the demo for yourself, you can do so on PC until September 12, 2021 — just stop by the game’s Steam page and download it from there.
And if you’re reading this in the future and missed this opportunity to try it for yourself, fear not — there’s been a demo available on several other occasions, so you will likely get another chance.
The game doesn’t appear to have a concrete release date as yet, but watch out for it on PlayStation platforms and PC later in 2021.
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