Anemoiapolis Makes a Big Splash in Liminal Horror

Anemoiapolis: Chapter 1
Reviewed On
Steam (PC)
Available For

Before playing Anemoiapolis: Chapter 1 on Steam, I had no idea what was meant by the horror of liminal spaces. I have actually experienced that phenomenon before a couple times in real life, but didn’t know that there was a term for it, or that there was an internet trend where people photograph liminal spaces.

A liminal space is defined as a space between spaces, or a boundary between two points in time, space or both. At its smallest point, it might be little more than a doorway, although it’s often something much bigger, like those long hallways that run between lines of doors in large hotels. In something like a nice hotel, the liminal space of the hallway might be decorated and carpeted, but even so, its only real purpose is to allow travel through it. It’s never the destination itself. Sometimes liminal spaces are also defined as such if someone is in a place at a wrong time, like being inside a store or an office building before or after hours, which makes the entire space “in transition” between two points of time when it is normally used.

On the internet, there is a growing trend where people take photos of liminal spaces which are often abandoned and eerie, that gives them a bit of an otherworldly quality. Go ahead and search for it if you want. I did when I started playing Anemoiapolis.

So, while liminal horror might make someone feel unsettled, like something is wrong that they just can’t quite figure out, it’s not a traditional, heart-pounding, wondering if a player is going to survive the next few minutes type of thrill. Anemoiapolis instead presents an interesting world to explore that will probably make players feel ill-at-ease with their surroundings. But any real horror will be confined to their own mind as they make up all sorts of bad scenarios about what could be hiding in the game’s dark shadows, or its brightly lit but seemingly abandoned and colorful waterparks, mini-golf courses, movie theaters, conference centers and malls. And that may be the title’s real secret, because it may be able to frighten players without really trying.

There is the most threadbare of plots in Anemoiapolis: Chapter 1. You are, I think, someone who was either assigned to inspect a property called Anemoiapolis, or maybe a repairperson who is supposed to fix an electrical glitch with a huge industrial generator sitting alone in a field near where the game begins. You start by parking your car in an empty lot in front of that generator and a huge billboard advertising Anemoiapolis, which looks to be some type of modern planned community, conference center or mall. In the course of walking around and doing your job, you end up falling down a deep pit into the very heart of Anemoiapolis, thankfully landing safely in a huge swimming pool. This is when you first realize that despite the size of Anemoiapolis, that you are pretty much alone inside it.

After drying yourself off and solving the game’s first puzzle, players are able to get into the back rooms behind the pool and begin their exploration. And after solving another small puzzle, they will arrive at the game’s central hub, which looks like an abandoned mall complete with the tables and chairs of an empty food court. There is also a closed restaurant with the façade of a barn – probably a chicken place although I was thinking pizza for some reason. There are two sprawling floors in the hub and two massive escalators that let you travel between them. There are also empty glass display cases scattered around and even racks that might have once held clothes. It’s all brightly lit, whitewashed and highly sanitized in a very corporate way that is void of soul or flavor. There is even a female voice that occasionally says uplifting things complimenting the nonexistent shoppers (or maybe workers) to complete the mood.

Also scattered around the hub are various elevators that advertise their destinations including a conference center, movie theater, golf spa, family fun water park and also an unnamed destination that just has a blacked-out sign. The catch is that to operate each elevator you have to spend tickets, which brings up one of the core game mechanics of Anemoiapolis. Tickets scattered around everywhere need to be collected to get to the different levels, with more tickets required to get into more “advanced” levels. So the movie theater might require 40 tickets while the water park may require 100 or so. The first destination, the conference center, is free in case you didn’t pick up any tickets in the introduction area (they are there but just a little bit hidden). In general, there are enough tickets scattered around that even players who only casually explore the levels should have enough to finish the game.

Completing Anemoiapolis requires visiting each of the aforementioned zones and then finding a different return elevator back to the hub. Once that is done, a master elevator unlocks which says that it will take you up to the surface.

Exploring the various levels is pretty interesting if you like delving into abandoned and slightly creepy places. The main character comments from time to time about how he feels uneasy in certain areas or that he thinks that something is wrong, but there is no overt horror most of the time to scare players, just the uneasy feeling brought on by the liminal spaces. It was funny because sometimes the character would comment about the eerie surroundings at the exact same time that I was thinking how cool everything looked and how much I wanted to dive in and explore, so I guess the horror element was a little bit lost on me.

Some levels in Anemoiapolis are better than others, but that may come down to personal taste. I thought the miniature golf level was boring (and the golf mechanic is really poorly implemented) while others commenting on the Steam forums loved it. However, the water park level was really fun for me, and you can actually use the water slides, although there is no way to ride or paddle those yellow rafts down the incredibly long and winding lazy river, which I thought was a missed opportunity.

Also, certain levels like the movie theater are purposely built, while others like the conference center are procedurally generated, which can lead to some really odd room configurations. The last level, which I think is supposed to be the scariest, ended up building itself so that the return elevator was just a very short walk down a straight hallway from the starting point, so I barely spent any time in there during my first playthrough.

There are a few times when players might see a shadow person lurking behind them as they explore, and one part where there is a real jump scare. However, I basically missed it because even though the character was saying that someone was in the room with him, I could not see anyone even though the music cranked up and the screen started sort of flashing with dark splotches. By the time I spotted the shadow, it was already on top of me and…nothing happened. Apparently, you can’t take damage in Anemoiapolis, so I just sat there looking at the shadow for a while, then tipped my hat and walked on. That might be a good thing for those who are really fearful of horror titles, because you can’t get hurt in Anemoiapolis.

I was able to complete Anemoiapolis: Chapter 1 in about three hours, and other than the last level which kind of glitched the exit right next to me, I carefully explored everywhere I could. It was definitely a neat experience and new type of low-level horror for me. Anemoiapolis: Chapter 1 is currently on sale on Steam for under $10, so those wanting to check out the new liminal horror trend or who like to wander around expansive, abandoned areas should definitely give it a try and experience its unique atmosphere for themselves.

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