Anaksha: Dark Angel
Santa Lina is an old-fashioned kind of city: big, dark, ugly, and corrupt to its core. The streets are as dirty as those who run it, and poisons runs in the veins of everyone from the lowliest pixie-dust dealer at the school yard, to the tycoons who play with neighborhoods as if they were chess pieces. One of the small few willing, or even able, to take a stand and protect the helpless is Anaksha, a vigilante sniper dubbed "The Virgo Killer" by the press. Once a successful businesswoman, the murder of her best friend snapped something in her mind. And so Anaksha took to the streets, a lone huntress with a rifle, dedicated to the destruction of evil, no matter what the cost, ever-pursued by both the police and the criminal elite. But now an young girl has been found shot through the neck; killed by a very familiar kind of ammo. Anaksha must clear her name, yes, but she is not the only one with a role: private eyes with grudges, seductive women in red dresses, and a lost orphan teenager all have their parts to play on the streets of Santa Lina. Anaksha: Dark Angel is a sniping simulation adventure game by Arif Majothi, and its got atmosphere as thick as blood.
Anashka: Dark Angel has two different modes: one that features all the motion-comic story cinematics, and one that features just the sniping missions. Prior to each mission, you'll receive intelligence and mission parameters on your cell phone, and decide what kind of ammo and upgrades to use. During a mission, mouse your mouse to the place you wish to zoom, then hit [spacebar] to enter scope mode. [Q]/[P] and [A]/[L] zooms in and out to get a better shot, and a click of the mouse fires your weapon. Reload or switch ammo types by clicking the icon in the lower right of the screen. Some missions require specific kinds of shots, or certain conditions to be met before you can fire. Avoid shooting innocents. In addition to your mission target, gang-members (identifiable by their tattoos) can be shot for extra points to spend in the between-mission upgrade store, but doing so can draw police attention. Good luck!
Analysis: If one were to describe Anaksha: Dark Angel in a single word, it would be "impressive". Impressive graphics, impressive programming, impressive soundtrack, impressive plotting. There is such a mass of content, presented with such care, that it's impossible not to be impressed. Clearly every day of its 34 month development cycle was put to good use. It pushes the concept of its genre to its very limit. There are so many little details and bonuses to discover that even after completing the game (something that, if played with the cinematics, will not be done in one sitting), it feels like only the surface has been scratched. A look at Majothi's site makes it clear that he's created a whole world for Anaksha to play in, and a backstory we've seen only a glimpse of in the games and scripts he's released. The author has thought deeply about the implications and morality of his character and it shows... even in the numerous content warnings that attempt to separate the philosophy of author and protagonist.
Where the game falters is in its tone, which is quite uneven. The inspiration is clearly the neo-noir of Blade, The Crow, and especially Frank Miller's Sin City, and therein lies the problem. Like those works, Anaksha: Dark Assassin walks the fine line between the super-serious and the ludicrous, and it stumbles quite a bit. For instance, take an early scene where Anaksha tortures a low-level dealer for information. The violence is as over the top as an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon, but is played with such gravitas that it's like the game cannot decide what it wants to be. There feels a disconnect between the cinematic and gameplay sections: when the former is neon, the latter is monochrome. Where the former is tight and technical, the latter is loose and artsy. Both excel on their own, but like chocolate and mashed potatoes, it doesn't quite work together.
While this is a concern, this has little to do with the gameplay which, after all, is what matters most. In short, it's probably the best sniping game we've seen in years. Your ability to appreciate all the available effects will depend on your CPU speed, but when, even on the lowest setting, you can zoom in to see the Triforce on a random passerby's arm, it's very cool. The missions are varied and success requires close attention to detail. Each level does have random elements in it, which can be a pain when seeking out a specific achievement, but it keeps things realistic and adds to the replay value. The lack of center-mass shots goes against all the regular gaming-sniper instincts, and some mission conditions are strangely over-specific (is there really that much difference between a shot to the throat and a shot to the jaw?), but those are quibbles. You'll feel like Golgo 13 while playing, and that's what really matters.
There remains little to say: some will be turned away by the violence and mature themes, and some will enjoy the trip to the darker side of flash gaming. It's likely though, that Anaksha: Dark Angel will make it to the Best of 2011 list with a bullet.