AnaCapri: The Dream
First posted on 04 March 2008. Last updated on 18 September 2014.
After spending a lot of time playing AnaCapri: The Dream, I still find it difficult to formulate exactly how I feel about the game. On the one hand, this father-and-son team have put together a rich aesthetic experience, taking players (or perhaps "participants" is a better word) on an immense tour of the island of AnaCapri. AnaCapri (and the nearby Capri) are popular tourist destinations, and for good reason—the beautiful tropical scenery, punctuated with ancient Roman architecture and ruins, is vibrant, relaxing, and historically relevant. The game even includes an exploration mode which lets players journey about the island without having to worry about puzzles or other obstacles. Simply put, the game consists of some 8,000 carefully set still images of the island, and the nice ambient sound further enhances the experience. On the other hand, the gameplay ranges from frustrating to exhausting, and the absolutely unforgivable voice acting, lack of puzzles, and the questionable plot sadly ruin what may otherwise have been a good game. So, if you are purely interested in a sort of virtual tour of a beautiful island, this game is an excellent find. However, if you are aspiring for a more Myst-like experience, you should look elsewhere.
The story of AnaCapri: The Dream concerns the Obsidian Disk, a magical artifact thought to have powerful but unpredictable powers. The disk is rumored to have been lost sometime during the Roman occupation of the island in ancient times, but has cropped up unexpectedly a few times in history since. Your character, Dr. Nico N, has been sent to the island to track down the disk, hopefully to preserve it in a museum. While this may seem like a straightforward enough assignment, Nico soon finds himself in the midst of a bizarre and surreal world of dreams. Using a mystical concoction and a bell, Nico can switch back and forth between the dream and the reality, though both worlds are presented with live photography. The main difference is that Nico finds magical beings such as talking turtles in the dream world, whereas in reality he is stuck in a hotel room. Each world contains clues to help Nico in the other, and there is more than a hint of Freud's Interpretation of Dreams theory at work here. Eventually the player learns more about Nico's personal life, which is related to the search for the disk in some intriguing ways.
The characters Nico encounters are tremendously varied and occasionally entertaining. Besides the talking turtle, there are talking birds and snakes, but most characters are humans like Nico. These include Giulia (Mirta in reality), a woman who appears to be part of a love triangle with Nico and the domineering Adriano (Hadrawa in the dream). Indeed, Nico's family, friends, and enemies all have their counterparts in the dream, though there are subtle and interesting differences. Clearly, this setup appeals to anyone with an interest in dream interpretation (particularly Freud's work). Unfortunately, the game is marred by some of the worst voice acting I have ever heard, and the actors' lack of talent is certainly not assisted by the turgid, almost unbearable dialog. I suppose it is possible to rationalize many of the more unlikely pieces of dialog by pointing out that they take place in a dream. Nevertheless, the effect is that the player suffers not infrequently through a lot of lengthy and boring monologues.
The production values of this game are best described as uneven. On the positive side, there is no arguing about the quality of the images and photography in this game. Besides a few shots that reveal the cameraman's shadow, the images are crisp and pristine. The music, much of it played on a classical guitar, is mesmerizing and beautiful. Anytime I hear a song playing I feel like cranking up the audio. At the best moments of the game, the music and images really work to give the game soul. On the downside, the shots in which the developers have inserted their own graphics in the scene are poorly composed. Clues, door knobs, and objects that are not part of the scenery look out of place. Simply put, the photographs look great, but the drawn and animated parts look amateurish. This turns out to be an advantage, though. Since they look so out of place, it is easy for the player to pick out objects that are important.
Navigation in this game is based on a node system, and rectangular outlines drawn on the images reveal the possible exits in each scene. Some scenes can be panned. The problem is that there is simply so many scenes to click through. Of the 8,000 images in this game, perhaps 90% of those are shots taken a few feet apart down trails and streets. The player must continuously click to move a few feet, click again, and again, and again. The raw, repetitive nature of the game makes for very dull gameplay. Thankfully, Nico can activate certain points along the map, which allow him to instantly teleport to the location. These points are helpful, but do not eliminate the problem entirely. This is definitely not a game for the impatient; the developers seem to want you to constantly pause and enjoy the scenery.
The puzzles in this game are generally disappointing. The exception, perhaps, is a card game called Scopa, which Nico must win to gain access to a boat. Nico's opponent in the game is witty, and the voice acting here is uncharacteristically good. There is an odd glitch in the game, though—at certain points (often after several minutes into the card game) Nico is inexplicably unable to proceed further and must restart the game. The game is not bugged; rather, it is only waiting for the player to select multiple cards. However, it is not readily apparent that this is the case, leaving the player confused about what needs to be done to continue the game.
Other puzzles require Nico to visit certain locations, find objects, and occasionally operate machinery. The problem is that most of the puzzles are just not very imaginative or fun, and plodding all over the island gets tedious after awhile. In fact, the tedium of traveling all across this huge island quickly makes any conventional trial-and-error approach unbearable. Getting lost on the island is not a problem, since there is a built-in map that clearly shows where Nico is standing and the direction he is heading. The bigger problem is just that getting from point A to point B can require dozens of mouse clicks. Furthermore, the huge size of the area Nico can explore makes it easy to lose track of the objectives, or determine what order he needs to perform the tasks. Many parts of the game will only activate after Nico has performed some arbitrary action or sequence.
One serious glitch I experienced with this game was a sliding puzzle near the very end. Even after attempting the in-game puzzle bypass system, I was unable to move on. The bypass did not work, and the tile pieces would not move no matter how I tried to move them.
Overall, AnaCapri: The Dream has some great qualities, but the tedious gameplay, rancid voice acting, and lack of good puzzles greatly detract from its potential. Players coming to this game seeking a Myst-like experience will be severely disappointed. However, if you are looking for a virtual tour of a beautiful island, you will not find a better product. I only hope that if the developers decide to create another game, they will focus more on puzzles and gameplay and not try to cram so many thousands of unnecessary scenes in the game. Sometimes, less is more.