Anemoiapolis: Chapter 1

released on Mar 04, 2023

A short atmospheric terror game about liminal spaces. Escape the grasps of an underground neighborhood that is equal parts comforting and disturbing. If you've explored a dead mall, a foreclosed pool, or a school at night, you might already know what it's like to be in Anemoiapolis.

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The idea of Anemoiapolis, the eternally expanding beige-carpet nightmare of 80s hotels, is a good one, and the game executes a decent rendition of what such an environment would look like in an explorable 3D space. However, the game misses just about every other mark it aims for. It is too open, too empty, and too insistent on how the player is supposed to feel about the space. Anemoiapolis leaves behind an experience that less than engaging, let alone scary.
There is no meaningful tension build or sense of unease in Anemoiapolis. This isn't really a problem itself, but this lack of tension clashes with character dialogue that suggests an unease and desperation that just isn't there. The emotions engendered by the environment aren't allowed to speak for themselves.
The areas of Anemoipolis are not emotionally interesting either. The best are confusing and unnerving investigations of intentionally difficult spaces, and the rest are just carpet mazes. The game needs to fall about on Backrooms-tier paranormal nonsense to get a genuine rise out of players, which is another strike in the "won't let the environment speak for itself" book.
Anemoiapolis is also really slow to navigate, due to how big the environment is and how slow the player moves. Seeing how Anemoiapolis is an empty set of rooms with little to look at or interact with, walking around gets really boring really fast.

Excited to see where they go with it

tldr: if you have any sort of interest in liminal spaces and all that, you should play this, I really enjoyed it BUT I think there’s room for it to improve in future chapters.
-Spoiler warning for the rest of the review-
I think it this game has the potential to be the quintessential liminal space experience, it does a fantastic job of capturing that feeling sometimes and then it just kinda loses it in certain areas. The movie theater area is great, starting in an empty mall and ending up in the theater, love that. The Family Tropical Resort is absolutely the highlight of the game, I think every area within this level fulfills the “liminal” feeling in different ways, starting out almost relaxing and ending with the most traditionally scary area of the game. It’s absolutely the best part of the game and the music that plays in the water park is fav track from the game. The soundtrack overall is fantastic, I love that it’s all diegetic, especially when the music gets drowned out because you’re too close to a light source and the hum overshadows the song. Endless mini-golf is a brilliant idea for a liminal space game but this level is where my main issue with the game begins to show. There is a large part of this game that to me, feels like its missing a final coat of paint. A coat that would add little things to the levels to make them feel more real, like they were once lived in. (Although I can understand that might contradict with the plot?) Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a graphics issue, the game is beautiful throughout. My issue is little things in the maps that should’ve been there, the movie theater could use a menu at the confectionary stand, an empty popcorn machine, cashiers, fake movie posters. The empty store fronts could have more garbage left in them, more furniture. Some levels needed this more than others, with the movie theater and water park it feels like it’s so close to perfection, but in levels like the Conference Center as well as the final blacked out level? I would say the feel like filler with how empty they are. They’re far too vacant, not really feeling like liminal spaces, they just feel unfinished. The conference center could’ve had rooms filled with chairs, maybe a room with office cubicles, anything at all to make the level more than just, white empty rooms with different floor types. I would much rather have a well designed but shorter experience over these long empty rooms that drag because they’re auto-generated, it almost feels like padding which is sad when the game has areas like the water park. Not every level has to have the same amount of events and set pieces as the water park, that’s understandable but when there’s nothing of note like in the conference room, it’s almost better off for it to not be there at all. I don’t understand what the final level is supposed to represent, maybe it is a classic backrooms type of environment? I’m not entirely sure but I think while the conference room had potential to improve, this level should’ve just been cut. If you were to play the game in order of cheapest to priciest level (which is the best way to do it imo) you would go from the fantastic water park and its chase sequence to a level with no notable set pieces that can be beat in less than 5 minutes. The game would end much stronger if the last thing you do is the chase sequence, then you see the ending cutscene. The last level adds absolutely nothing, it ends too quickly for that. Both the intro sequence and hub world are pretty good though, I just wish we could see more things like the closed out food stand on the 2nd floor of the hub world, those are the little things this game need more of. The ticket system seems to be a very big issue for a lot of people, I don’t understand the complaints of not being able to find any and getting stuck though, they’re pretty bright and the levels are mostly empty, I never had trouble finding them. (I had enough to get through the whole game by the end of the conference room level). I would realistically prefer for the game to have a set level order to allow for things like say, the water park to be towards the end as it fits as a good climax. The story I had no problems with, the voice acting worked for me. We’ll just have to see where it goes in the future. I will say that the main character should either have more dialogue or less, it almost feels like the game is scared to commit to the protagonist talking (I don’t mean in the sense of VA I mean lines in general, text or VA) . Certain levels don’t get any lines and then the water park gets a good amount. I don’t mind it being there, it’s just strange that he doesn’t react at all to certain levels. Overall, I can say I’m excited for future chapters, I really enjoyed my time with this game, I just hope to see that extra level of polish/worldbuilding (whatever the right term is in this case). I felt spooked, I felt isolated and got goosebumps a few times, so the game definitely succeeded in the aspects I hoped it would :)
I liked sitting under the mushroom water umbrella, good game.

This review contains spoilers

Huge fan of this type of game. Atmospheric walking sim with very minor puzzle elements. A lot of the gameplay and some other unconventional puzzles are conveyed via navigation. Progress often feels like discovering someplace you're not supposed to be, which for this game is thematically appropriate.
FFO "The Backrooms" viral internet mythos/creepypasta which has inundated internet indie horror for years now, Anemoiapolis captures the original text's powerful ambiguity: "God save you if you hear something wandering around nearby, because it sure as hell has heard you".
Anemoiapolis DOES contain an entity of some kind, although not nearly as hostile or direct as Kane Pixels' interpretation (no disrespect, every interpretation has their own merits). For me, it really comes down to personal taste. I love the idea of navigating uncanny architecture, descending deeper and deeper into bizarre liminal spaces that seem to be manufactured for people, yet spring forth in impossible ways, creating recursive mazes of empty malls, movie theaters, indoor resorts, etc.
Yet, Anemoiapolis is still a game, and that necessitates some objective. Collecting tickets never became tedious, no backtracking to previous floors was required; yet some floors seem to demand much more time and effort than others.
The traditional "Backrooms," the final floor I visited (although you can pick these levels in whichever order you like), lasted about two minutes. Meanwhile, the "Poolrooms" segment took me about 45 minutes -- almost half of my total playtime -- and about 20 minutes of that was navigating the first maze, which seemed to be a never-ending procedurally generated series of similar rooms, often navigated through the water which slows down the player significantly.
The Poolrooms level does have the one bathroom maze sequence, which was one of the few genuinely frightening moments during my playtime; the ambience, sound design, and the ominous warning, "KEEP MOVING" genuinely made for a fun setpiece.
Anemoiapolis' horror is not exciting, but it isn't cheap, either. Its atmosphere is unparalleled. Its architecture is mesmerizing and unsettling. Although some players may find themselves bored within minutes, others will find themselves tourists in a series of genuinely unnerving liminal spaces, faithfully recreated and translated into an interactive medium.
But man, I wish somebody told me the golf minigame was optional.

My god what the fuck did the dev do? The demo was so promising, with an actual entity present. Its been completely revamped and not at all for the better. Now its just another walking sim with mall_furniture.asset copy and pasted.
The Bubble Bass of Gaming burst into the creator's studio.
"You forgot the GAMEPLAY!!" he screams

As someone who loves liminal spaces like this, I hated this game. I thought it would have interesting liminal spaces that make it eerie and instead it was boring, lacked atmosphere, and the tickets design was terrible. The procedurally generated crap was completely pointless and I would've much rather had an actual well-made level than a """spooky""" map that changed without warning. It just had nothing interesting about it and the niche it was trying to fill, which I was an audience for, failed in every way. The ticket thing was awful btw.