ANNO: Mutationem is a title that I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time now. The game approaches the cyberpunk setting with a somewhat dark, complex and at times even supernatural plot and combines its story with a unique mix of 2D and 3D graphics, creating a rather unique art style in the process. The game has a lot to offer, so I’m happy to announce that I’m finally able to review it. In ANNO: Mutationem, you step into the role of Ann, a highly-skilled combat-trained lone wolf/detective/bartender who is on a personal mission in the giant Metropolis known as Skopp City.
Developer: ThinkingStars Publisher: Lightning Games Genre: 2.5D, Indie, Cyberpunk, Action-Adventure, RPG, Pixel Art, Retro-like Release Date: March 17th, 2022 Reviewed on: PC Published on: PC, PS4, PS5 Copy was provided by the developer.
The streets of Skopp City are futuristic and bright, full of life around every corner. Wherever you go you’ll encounter NPCs that you can listen to, as well as various things to interact with that give the world meaning. Through clever environmental storytelling, you get to know the intricacies of this world that obviously has seen some influences from the likes of “Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep?” – aka Blade Runner – and even “The Fifth Element”. Right from the get-go, I felt at home in this world with its colourful, retro-esque art style and its endearing characters that contrast the grim and gloomy backstory that the world is built on. All the while, there are mysteries to solve as Ann is searching for her brother who set out to search for a cure for Ann’s disease. On our search for Ann’s brother, we’re helped by a wide cast of characters from the adorable Ayane who accompanies us in the form of a hologram assistant to Professor Alan who helps us with various gadgets.
As we set out on our journey to find clues about what the fuck is actually going on, we’ll find ourselves exploring cities, back alleys, laboratories, sewers, construction sites and other places, each with their own charm. The graphics switch between 3D exploration and 2D fighting sections rather fluently, very much like how the NieR games do it, which I found quite lovely personally. Combat itself is simple button-mashing á la Hack and Slash games, utilizing a trusty gun, a light sword, and later other weapons that will help you penetrate shields or unleash powerful attacks onto your enemies. As you battle robots, mutants, cyborgs, and other villains, you’ll find yourself amassing blue currency for normal enemies as well as red currency for mini-bosses and boss encounters. Red currency is used to improve your base stats while blue currency is needed to unlock skills in a skill tree. This skill tree improves your parry ability, your slashes, unlocks combos, and even gives you other benefits, depending on what you opt into. Given that you can’t grind currency like in other games to become incredibly overpowered, you’ll have to pick and choose the options that sound best to you or that fit your playstyle the most. Initially, I enjoyed smashing enemies with a giant sword but eventually, I ended up mainly playing around with the dual-swords that can switch between two modes. This skill tree isn’t too novel, in my opinion.
The weapon customization, however, offers a lot more as you may install chips onto your weapon slots, allowing you to deal elemental damage or potentially increase your crit or penetration stats. Combat in itself is kept interesting as well thanks to the shield mechanics. Instead of facing off against enemies and just bashing buttons until their health bar goes down, you’ll need to use heavy attacks to destroy the enemies’ shield before you can unleash powerful finishers. On the fly, you may even switch between your weapons, allowing you to equip different weapons with different elemental properties, giving you even more edge in combat.
While the combat is more than satisfying, the exploration bits aren’t bad either. The areas that you find yourself in offer a lot of exploration opportunities with chests and other potential loot being tucked away in areas visible though not accessible to you. Hence, you’ll have to explore the area and navigate the map to find shortcuts and passageways that lead you to these aforementioned chests, often rewarding you with rare materials and even collectables. Speaking of collectables, there are these Gacha-style cybernekos that you can find throughout the world. These can be used to unlock outfits and even cars to travel in, which is a neat little touch. What’s more, is that the world is riddled with small easter eggs and movie posters. I had a lovely time seeing the little touches they made to these and how they translated real-life movie artworks into pixel art cyberpunk versions, which got a good chuckle out of me.
I was at times a bit annoyed by… Ayane… kind of. I really like her because of how aggressively gay she is (I mean that in the most positive of ways btw)… but… she’s sometimes just too much… Ayane is overly cheerful and very otaku-esque, kind of representing most of the stereotypes that you might think of when it comes to weebs. Her joyous nature is a very welcome contrast to the grim and gloomy plot that we unravel but I would have loved it even more if she could have been a bit more serious at times. Yes, she has her more mature and calm moments but most of the time when she makes an appearance, I just wanna take that holographic robot thing she uses to stalk us and throw it away into the ocean or something. Just a small nitpick. I love Ayane otherwise though.
Apart from that, I found the story to be a bit too complex for my taste. The story isn’t bad at all, especially with the later aspects that were quite unexpected for me. It’s just that Ann’s brother is this MacGuffin of sorts that kind of drags itself through the story. Right as I got very invested and right as I couldn’t wait to see where the plot was going, Ann’s brother is mentioned again and we’ve got a new lead on his whereabouts and I was just a bit disappointed in that. Similarly, there are some exposition-like cutscenes in the game that felt too out of place with characters that got introduced that I wouldn’t see until much later. It felt a bit weird and all over the place, almost. But again, the story goes to a lot of places with a tragic backstory for Ann, a bunch of more wild twists as it goes on, and by the end of it, I was incredibly hyped at what I just witnessed. I found it incredibly awesome and absolutely loved it. I would have just wished if the story was more streamlined if that makes sense.
All that being said, I found ANNO: Mutationem to be an incredibly great experience with a lot of different influences that I very much enjoyed. The mix between the 2D and 3D graphics was incredibly well-done, giving it a retro-chic vibe. The soundtrack has been great. The voice acting was excellent, even if it was only available for some lines of some characters. I mean, yes, full voice acting would have been great but the lines I heard from Ayane and Ann were frankly stellar, both in the Japanese and the English dub. Most of the characters don’t overstay their welcome and more than anything, the combat systems, the slight puzzling, the exploration, as well as the small bits of platforming really were satisfying! I believe that the flaws that the story has can be very well overlooked if you look at ANNO: Mutationem as a whole. I highly recommend this title to anyone who’s a fan of Action-Adventure games with fluid and interesting combat that isn’t just “button-mashing” on repeat. Similarly, if you enjoyed the Megaman games or even titles like the NieR Games, then you may enjoy this one, given due to its similarities in the combat system. I believe that this one could very much be a “Game of the Year” contender for me personally – although it’s only April, so let’s not go there just yet, of course.