Gotta Snap Em All: Capturing Cryptids on Film in Project Anomaly: Urban Supernatural Investigator

There’s such a disparity between the real-life enthusiasm and joy for seeking out the supernatural, mysterious, and dark corners of our world and how movies and games tend to portray that. In media form, the constant is ‘fuck around and find out’. Why can’t we just go and search for spooky shit? Why can’t we be pleased with what we’ve found? An excellent happy time for all?

Why couldn’t the trio that went in search of the Blair Witch just find her and have a nice chat? Why can’t Sadako just be happy people watched her tape? That Necronomicon? It should encourage teenagers to read, not violate their souls. TikTok already does that.

So this is what makes Dark Science’s Project Anomaly: Urban Supernatural Investigator a pleasantly refreshing experience. The game as a whole is still in development, but the demo on Steam offers up a nice idea of what it’s all about. And what it’s all about is snapping pics of mythical creatures, cryptids, and urban legends. And then you get to make friends with them! It’s a nice mixture of Pokemon Snap with a more traditional adventure underpinning it. Oh and instead of Pikachu you have Goblins and Ghouls.

There’s a shred of darkness in Project Anomalys makeup. A hint of danger in its story and world which is understandable given all manner of invisible creatures have been accidentally released into the world. But the core of the game is pretty serene. A game that’s about understanding the monsters is a dangerous format to tackle, but the early signs with Project Anomaly show an earnestness that overrides any concern.

You begin Project Anomaly as a paranormal investigator undertaking their first day on the job. They are told of the collected creatures and cryptids getting loose and are tasked with finding them. This is done by wandering around the East Borough region of the city of New Noir and using a special camera called the Beholder to seek them out.  They are invisible to the naked eye, but with the camera out, you can see them and catalog them.

The residents of East Borough are the best way to discover what happened to these missing myths. They have personal cases to solve that lead to discovering your overarching objective. So a resident is alarmed by a trail of fire. Following it leads to a fiery little rodent that is more than a little nervous until it is assured you pose no threat. Encounters like this show an approach to the creatures not unlike regular wildlife. They are probably more scared of you than you are of them.

Conversations with creatures aren’t all like this. Some can be friendly, others brusque and maybe even a bit sad. The large handful in the demo (which takes just over an hour to get through) shows a decent amount of variety, with a heavy reliance on utilizing real-world mythology, folklore, and cryptid stories to fill out the roster of catchable creatures.

East Borough works on a Day/Night cycle that comes in four stages. This gives this slice of the vibrant city a different feel at different times of the day. Time moves on whenever you’re not stopping to snap some pictures. And in a limited sense, it helps the unusual world to feel a little bit more alive.

The pace is serene for the most part from what I’ve played. With a focus on drinking in the world and chatting with its freaky inhabitants. While there’s a sparseness to East Borough outside its people and beasties, Dark Science is already packing lots of nice tidbits about everything in it via the Pokedex-style classification system. And by listening to the people occupying the area. So far, I’m impressed with the scope and structure of what is essentially a debut game from an independent studio. 

I know it becomes very easy to focus on what scares us in horror. But you can’t deny there’s a certain thrill and excitement in the discovery that transcends this. I’m all for more games that tap into that. And think about it. There are few gateways into the genre for newcomers that have the comforting embrace of a fairly chilled-out photography game about cryptids, creatures, and urban legends.

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