Publisher Ultimate Games are best known for their line of simulators – with previous works including Demolish & Build, Aquarist, Castle Flipper, Fishing Simulator, and the disastrous Deadliest Catch: The Game – yet, and as the name suggests, Anthology of Fear takes the form of a psychological horror adventure. Stepping outside of their comfort zone has led to an expected calling – this is one of their best Xbox games to date. It isn’t genre defining, but it isn’t without merit either.
What we have here is a linear first-person affair with a focus on puzzle solving, and no grounds for failure – even when combat is introduced halfway through, in a somewhat limited capacity, it’s impossible to die.
The story is split into two distinct chapters, taking place in different locations, and featuring different protagonists. First, we’re cast into the role of a detective looking for their brother Nate, with this journey taking them to the clinic where Nate was being treated. Things soon become a little twisted, relocating the action to a multi-floored apartment block with creepy mannequins and the occasional jump scare. Yes, mannequins again. And yes, they relocate and when your back is turned, blocking doorways and such. The apartment’s central puzzle is reasonably engaging, but backtracking and the drabness of the environments are a little soul sucking. Perhaps that’s appropriate.
The second chapter is a lot more vivid, taking place in a bright and tastefully decorated house. Here, a mother is being tormented by an otherworldly being, scolding her almost constantly for allegedly losing and mistreating their child, all the while clouding her memories. The scenes here are more unnerving, including scooping out eyeballs with a spoon to give to a possessed stuffed animal, along with a sequence involving yanking teeth. While this may sound rather grim, most of these scenes merely entail a ‘fade to black’ – you don’t get to see these acts rendered in gory and disgusting detail. This chapter is also more exploration based, requiring items to be gathered. There’s a faux Atari 2600 game to play also, albeit briefly. Retro computers are a running theme, with the first chapter also featuring a faux C64 that “talks” to the protagonist.
While these touches are admirable, it’s the presentation that holds the experience together. The voice acting is surprisingly good, exceeding expectations. The visuals, too, are on par with recent similar games – the environments have a respectable amount of detail and are realistically lit. It even has a bunch of graphic options, including a choice of resolutions. Ambient sound effects, such as hissing pipes, help generate an atmosphere but the central theme tune, although appropriately downbeat, soon becomes monotonous. You may want to keep the TV remote nearby.
Anthology of Fear is a moderately compelling way of spending a couple of hours, telling a somewhat muddled story without overstaying its welcome. If you’re looking for something eerie to play this Halloween, you could certainly do a lot worse than this. A lot better, too, but nevertheless this is a marked improvement for Ultimate Games. Good.
Anthology of Fear is developed by OhDeer Studio and 100 GAMES. Available now on Xbox One and Xbox Series. It first launched on PC and Switch earlier this year.