Anacapri: The Dream

Review by MrLipid
November 2007

Bigger Is ... Bigger

What a difference four years makes. In 2003, Old Rooster gave A Quiet Weekend in Capri FFC's highest award. Now comes Anacapri: The Dream, the sophomore game from S-G Software, the father and son team that created Quiet Weekend. Unlike its two-CD predecessor, Anacapri comes on one DVD, filling it almost to the 4.5 GB mark with close to 35,000 compressed files. While there is no disk-swapping, as the files are streamed onto your hard drive and uncompressed, you'll still have plenty of time to do other things before the game is ready. Anacapri, which takes up nearly 7 GB when installed, has a footprint roughly ten times larger than Quiet Weekend. And, like its predecessor, it builds its point-and-click game world out of still images of a real place, which puts it on the same shelf as Force Majeure II: The Zone, Golden Gate, Magnetic, Noir: A Shadowy Thriller, Tellurian, Umbra, and Xiama.

And how does Anacapri stack up against its shelfmates, including its predecessor? In terms of sheer bulk, nothing compares. It is, to the best of my knowledge, the biggest point-and-click, real-world-image game ever created. Sadly, in all other respects, it gives even the least of its peers nothing to aspire to. It doesn't take long to realize that the full screen images of Anacapri (the place) are the only good thing about the game. All other aspects of Anacapri: The Dream—graphics, audio, music, voice work, user interface, story—are either merely passable or unrealized. What a difference four years makes.

Place Your Bets ...

Here's the main menu. If you didn't know this was a 2007 game, what would your best guess be for its year of release?

Here's a typical scene. The rectangles outlined in black indicate navigational hotspots. While this optional feature takes the pixel-hunting out of getting from one image to another, it also reveals how little of the content on the screen is involved in the game. One can click and click and click and find nothing but one more screen to click on. While there is a zip feature, it only returns you to the opening location of the game until you finally reach another zip site.

What's That You Say?

You can drown out the clicking by cranking up the audio. For most of your wandering, you'll be accompanied by a soundscape of random chatter, birds, children, and heavy items being moved or dropped, perhaps in a restaurant. That these sounds are playing over images of empty streets seems odd. There is no suggestion that the developers intended the audio to be ironic or haunting or discordant. It's just a loop, running under images of empty streets.

Now and then, the loop has its volume lowered to make way for quirky musical interludes. These appear to function primarily as a way to let players know there is something nearby that needs their attention. At least, that's my guess. I have no other explanation for the eclectic eccentricity of Anacapri's tunes. But I'm getting ahead of myself. When the game opens, you, the player, are sitting in a restaurant.

Head out on the Byway ...

Eager as you are to hit those empty streets, you must first finish your coffee. You must fortify yourself for the quest ahead. You are in Anacapri as Dr. Nico N., an apparently mute fellow charged with finding the legendary/spooky/missing obsidian disk thingy. Your mission is no secret to the locals. Everyone knows who you are and why you are in Anacapri.

A waitress, her motion represented by a choppy series of still images, appears, speaks, hands you a letter, and disappears. The voice you hear, while female, is obviously not that of the waitress. Or, for that matter, of an actress. Her haltingly read lines are just your first taste of how little thought (or investment) was put into localizing the game for the English-speaking market. The dubbed voices frequently stumble over Italian names and, in one case, give a not-quite-Italian, not-quite-English pronunciation to one of Anacapri's most popular exports: majolica. Not MAY-oh-lee-kah (Italian) or mah-ZHA-lah-kah (English), but mah-zhoh-LEE-kah (who knows?).

We're Only Going to Record this Once!

The poor quality of the line readings is matched by the poor quality of the audio recording. Performers are either too close to the microphone, producing pops and breathiness, or too far away, leading to low signal levels and muddy playback. And when, as in the finale, more than one voice shows up on the soundtrack, the result is a sound editor's nightmare. Every voice brings its own unique level and ambient with it, yielding conversations that are the audio equivalent of a cut-and-paste ransom note. The last time I ran into sound work this poor, I was playing Tellurian. But I digress.

Once you have the letter in your inventory, you'll have the chance to try out the user interface of Anacapri. While not as horrible as that in Forever Worlds, it's inefficient enough to become tiresome quickly. Getting to the contents of the letter given you by the waitress takes six clicks. Reading the flipside of the letter adds one more. Closing the inventory closes the letter, which means reading it again will require another seven clicks.

One feature of the interface that deserves praise is the special conversation computer, which not only captures a picture of everyone you meet but also transcribes every conversation. Got a hunch that someone has dropped a hint? Click on the computer and see what was said. This bright spot may reflect the training as electrical engineers of both Silvio (son) and Gey (father) Savarese of S-G Software.

Go Ask Alice ...

Back to the business at hand. Assuming you've read the letter, clicked on the globe icon to open the map of the island, checked your position, closed the map, and set off on your way, you'll find the aforementioned black rectangles showing you where you can click. Sometimes you'll get a small black-and-white eye cursor within the rectangle if you can examine something and sometimes a small hand cursor if you can take it. One of the first instances of examining and taking involves a postcard. You examine it and take it. And no one asks you to pay for it. Are you a thief, or is there something deeper going on?

Perhaps the giant turtle blocking your way can provide some insight into the matter. Yes, you read that correctly. The giant turtle. Gaze in wonderment as the giant turtle's head, unlike the heads of all of the human stiffs you've been talking to up to this point, cycles back and forth as he/she/it disgorges a steaming pile of exposition about, well, things. Pain, torment, looking through time, the anguish that comes of greedily loving an obsidian disk ... the usual sorts of things one hears from a giant turtle in a place like Anacapri.

If this prompts you to exclaim, "I must be dreaming!" you're right. You are. You've been dreaming since the beginning of the game. This is, after all, Anacapri: The Dream. Will things change dramatically once you awaken? Um, no. Not really. Instead, you'll spend the rest of the game trying to figure out how what you do in the dream world of Anacapri relates to what you do in the reality of Anacapri. Or something like that. Ringing a bell (not quite "Please ring bell for Reality" but close ...) pulls you out of your dream. A special potion known as the Syrup of the Dreams aids you in slipping back and forth between two worlds that both look like Anacapri while you continue your explorations. Given how much of this syrup you toss back during the game, it's probably a good thing that you either walk or take the bus.

You'll stroll into shops for the free gifts and stay for the portentous warnings about reality and illusion. You'll use your free postcard to rend the very fabric of time and space. You'll get stuck making limoncello as if visiting a Nancy Drew game. You'll bounce back and forth between Reality and Dreams looking for clues to pattern-matching and slider puzzles. So much to see, so much to do, and not nearly enough of it sufficiently engaging to overcome the difficulties the game has telling its own story. In that respect, Anacapri resembles, of all games, DogDay.

Completely Hidden Meanings ...

While many of the failings of the English-language version of Anacapri: The Dream can be attributed to indifferent localization, the fundamental problem is the complexity of the story the game is attempting to tell. Imagine trying to turn the movie Memento—the one where Guy Pearce has no short-term memory and the story is told backwards—into a game. How does one dramatize amnesia in a game? How does one dramatize recovering memory through the use of dreams in a game? How does one do this in a point-and-click adventure set in a maze of still images of Anacapri where dreams and reality look the same and the performers take on different roles depending on where you run into them? One indication that even the developers were not entirely pleased with how well they'd told their tale was the inclusion of an explanation of the story in the walkthrough. An explanation! As if clicking through a 7-GB behemoth would not be enough to reveal what happened to the obsidian disk and Nico N. and the big-ass turtle.

In place of a finale that is both surprising and inevitable, as good finales should be, Anacapri gives players who solve all its puzzles a choice between a good ending or a bad ending. The bad ending wraps up the tale in about four minutes. If you choose the good ending, I'd advise having a thermos of coffee and perhaps a sandwich close at hand before you make that final fateful click. The good ending, though it covers much of the same ground, takes almost fourteen minutes to unspool. Fourteen minutes. To quote Duke Nukem, "It's epic, baby!"

Verdict!

I've given Anacapri: The Dream a "Not Very Good" because it's not very good. Ambitious, yes, but still not very good. Only the full-screen images of Anacapri keep it from sliding all the way to "Super Stinker."

Tours Now Departing ...

For those with no interest in solving the mystery of Anacapri: The Dream, the game, like Quiet Weekend, also offers a puzzle-free exploration mode. The End

 

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: S&G Software
Publisher: Got Game Entertainment
Release Date: September 2007

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Pentium III 1.0 GHz or equivalent
256 MB RAM
64 MB video memory
7 GB free hard drive space

Where to Find It


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