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.
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.
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.