Review by Jen and ...
Well, I did it. I finally did it. I completed my first PC nonadventure
game, Anachronox. All the while I was playing, I had sort
of a love/hate thing going on. Let me tell you about it.
First, a little about me. I consider myself a pure adventurer,
point-and-click all the way. I have completed several nonadventure
games in the past, the distant past, but they were always on consoles.
I later put aside any kind of swordplay or action in favor of
graphic adventures, once I learned there were such things, and
I have never looked back. I am an action weenie all the way, and
you know what? I'm proud of it! It is definitely one of my defining
characteristics as a gamer.
Anachronox is an RPG, although I think diehard RPGers
would consider it an RPG "lite." Your main player has
stats and level-ups and finds bigger, meaner weapons along the
way. You must complete levels, or missions. You must manage a
party after you get people (I use that term very loosely) to join
you in your quest.
Anachronox has your typical save-the-universe story. You
start as a down-on-his-luck PI named Sylvester Buccelli, aka Sly
Boots. In the opening cinematic, you are taking a beating from
a thug and end up doing a face plant in the bar that your office
is above. (Don't ask; the architecture was hard for me to get
a handle on.) You learn early on that you need to scrape up the
dough to pay off Detta, a loan sharking mafioso type. You are
unfortunately broke and drunk, and so you set out to earn some
cash. As is so often the case, your simple "will work for
food" quest snowballs into an epic story of intergalactic
proportion with you alone as the barrier between the ultimate
forces of order and chaos in their purest forms.
Anachronox is a masterwork of game design. Even the basic
interface is woven into the story. Your menus are all contained
in a device called a "Lifecursor," which also holds
the digitized personality of your deceased secretary, Fatima.
Fatima is actually a major character in the game. She offers up
advice and commentary at strategic points throughout the game,
and sometimes she shows herself in the form of a holographic image
outside of the Lifecursor. She keeps track of your inventory and
your party members (when you get some), and all this with the
simple touch of a key.
By the end of the game, you will have a party of seven. Usually
you choose three of them for each mission. Sometimes the choice
is yours; other times your choice is forced by the game design.
Sometimes you play a mission as an individual character, and one
part of the game has you making use of all seven characters in
three separate groups, and they must all cooperate and coordinate
from different locations in the game. This last is one of my absolute
favorite gameplay devices, and that part of the game was by far
the most fun for me.
Each of the various NPCs, whether playing a very small part or
a very large part in the overall game, has his or her own distinct
personality and tale to tell. Some provide clues that only become
relevant at some later time in the game, others will offer you
side jobs for money or useful objects, and yet others are just
there to populate the universe. These last will always have something
to say, and usually it's pretty entertaining.
The humor is abundant in Anachronox. This is one game
that does not take itself too seriously, and yet all of the emotional
heartstrings were pulled at exactly the right timeno mean
feat considering many areas of the game are nonlinear and there
are many, many side quests you can do if you so choose. I laughed,
I cried, I pulled my hair out in frustration, I rooted for the
characters like never before, at least not since Grim
Fandango. As well, there are numerous sight gags
and occasional references to silly things in other games. Whoever
wrote the script should get the gaming equivalent of a screenplay
Anachronox's graphics are fully real-time-rendered 3D.
I have spent half of my adventure gaming life bitching about how
3D games all look the same because the graphic designers all seem
to have the same texture palette. Not so in Anachronoxthe
visual design is very well-done, even magnificent in places. There
are probably hundreds of locations in the game, and the whole
thing ships on only two CDs.
There is voice acting only in the cinematics; the rest of the
dialogue is presented as text. What voice acting is present is
exceptionally fine; the actors are really acting, not just reading
a script. At first the switch from full voices to plain reading
was jarring, but it seemed natural before too long. The music
is full and rich, with sweeping crescendos in all the right places
and different pieces for each game area, but the game is so long
that the music becomes repetitive in places. Each party character
has a "world skill," or minigame, and the music is the
same for everybody's minigame. I sure got sick of that tune. The
music is also the same for every one of the eight million battles.
Battles, you say? Let's talk about the battles. There is a lot
of fighting in Anachronox, but fortunately for this point-and-clicker,
they were, well, point-and-click. The good guys get a turn to
whack the bad guys, which consists of waiting for your strength
to build up to a certain point and then choosing the icon for
the type of wallop you want to deal out. Then after your turn,
the bad guys get a turn to wallop you. A successful wallop results
in loss of life points and eventually (hopefully only for the
bad guys) death. At the outset, Anachronox gives you three
choices, "Really Easy," "Normal," and "Way
Too Hard." The only difference in gameplay is the amount
of damage you deal versus the amount of damage you take. Of course
I picked "Really Easy," and I never lost a battle, except
once ... due to a bug.
Bug? Yep! Anachronox is easily the crashing-est game I
have ever played. Granted, I played in Windows 2000, which is
technically not a supported platform. The game ran just fine for
the most part, but frequently during the load transitions between
one area and another, I would get the dreaded "Program Error,"
which is sort of the Win2K equivalent of the all-too-familiar
"blue screen of death." But I have heard even worse
tales of woe from Windows 98 users. I learned to save right before
the transitions, when I knew they were coming, but here's the
rub: You can only "save anywhere" if you play on "Really
Easy." Otherwise, you can only save at designated save spots,
marked by creatures called Time Minders. Granted, the Time Minders
are pretty plentiful and well-placed, but there are definitely
instances where you'd be in for a lot of backtracking if you suffered
an inopportune crash. In fact, even as it was, I did a lot of
backtracking due to the crashes. My logged time was about 32 hours,
but I probably really put in over 40 hours. (And before you ask,
both Minnie and I applied the patch. Minnie went to extraordinary
lengths to stabilize the game, all to no avail.)
Another factor contributing to the length of the game was some
arcade sequences that are unavoidable. Most of these are pretty
easy, taking no more than 10 or 15 tries over the course of five
or ten minutes to get through them. Nevertheless, they are a pain
in the ass. There was one, however, that I found purely awful,
almost a game-stopper for me. In hindsight, once I figured out
the mechanics of it, it really was not hard to last for a long
timein fact I never did die after I resolved to beat that
$#@! thingbut at the time I was playing it I absolutely
loathed every last millisecond of it. It consisted of navigating
a maze all the while shooting, and being shot at by, alien spacecraft,
only to confront a "boss" at the end. For all you pure
adventure types, "bosses" are the biggest, meanest,
hardest-to-kill monsters in a game and are usually found at the
end of levels. (I learned about bosses playing The Legend of
Zelda way back in the olden days of electronic gaming, before
I hung up my scabbard for good. Back then, they weren't even called
"bosses," they were called "those big monsters
at the end.")
All in all, Anachronox is a long, rich, elegant, worthwhile,
and above all satisfying gaming experience. The characters, story,
and quests are really loads of fun. The goals are always clear,
and if you get sidetracked you have no one to blame but yourself,
and ultimately no harm is done. The interface is easy to learn
even though it was combination keyboard and mouse. My clumsiness
didn't matter because the characters never get hurt from bouncing
off walls and it is impossible to fall off cliffs or leap to your
death. The only drawbacks were the program crashes and the fact
that the battles were irritating after the first three or four.
Since they were so easy to win, there really was very little strategy
involved. Deeper into the game, you get some attacks that will
mow down all of the enemies in one fell swoop, and of course I
started doing that every chance I got since battling really isn't
my bag, but I'd imagine if you like it, you'd want a little more
meat on the bone.
I am giving Anachronox the FFC Gold Star but with reservations,
as discussed above. In closing, let me just reassure all you fearful
adventure gamers: don't be afraid of the RPG aspects. This is
one game that you can play and probably not even need a walkthrough,
although it's likely that you'll need a hint or two (I did).
... Skinny Minnie
I began as an adventurer in the late 80s under the tutelage of
Sierra's reigning sleuth, Laura Bow, and continued purely mouse-clicking
my way to happiness until the late 90s, when Eidos's Lara Croft
took me under her wing. Laura, Lara; they were only one letter
apart. How different could they possibly be?!
I would call Anachronox an adventure story/RPG. The RPG
and puzzle elements are basic but the tale is complex, with its
escalating sci-fi plot and wide array of emotionally charged personas.
In Sly Boots I saw a perpetual tip of the hat to my favorite gaming
detective, Tex Murphy. Fatima is also a total gas with her sarcastic
wit. The way all of the characters' lives have been and/or do
become intertwined as this epic progresses are classic. How was
Fatima killed, and what did Stiletto and Boots feel for each other
before that? Will old curator Grumpos ditch his hired hand Boots
as they solve the mystery of the alien technology, so he can cash
in on it alone? Just what intergalactic secrets got Dr. Bowman
spurned from the scientific community? Will the huge planet Democratus
ever quit breaking away from its orbit and shrinking itself down
to the size of a beach ball so it can spend its time following
Boots around?! The story just goes on and on.
This game mostly has simple, automated fighting and character
stats buildups. On "Easy" you virtually can't die, and
on whatever setting, the slow, turn-based combat is basically
a "ducks in a row" lineup of heroes versus villains.
You always see the baddies waiting in the distance, too; few surprise
attacks loom. Most weapons even have unlimited ammo. If you're
an action gamer, you may feel frustrated at the lack of both challenge
and control here. You just click on a weapon and the game takes
However, the enemies are unique and comical, and some of the
late game weapons effects look spectacular. Anachronox is
mainly populated by adventure purist characters, though, because
both the righteous and the evil usually can't hit the side of
a barn with standard weaponry. One shred of excitement did happen
late in the game, when I discovered that certain enemies can cast
a spell over one of your party members, making them spontaneously
kill another member of your own party. This can be quickly rectified
by equipping certain deflective armor, though.
Things also got more interesting in the end battles as I enabled
some special weapons devices with MysTech (alien artifacts found
freely around Anachronox but misunderstood by the population)
and some special alien bugs that bring out MysTech's true power.
These weapon and bug configurations do require some experimentation
far beyond what you learn within the game.
As for the infamous "Hive FPS Scene," where you're
picking off attacking robots while you're flying through tunnels
in your fighter ship, ahem. This ain't Rogue Squadron, Descent,
Wing Commander, or Freespace here, folks. (Mental note:
Take these games off of the Christmas list for Jen.) You don't
even have to pilot the danged spaceship, for Pete's sake! You
just get chauffeured around through some tunnels where flying
robots want to do you in. Simultaneously, your cursor becomes
the biggest, thickest crosshairs in the history of computer gaming.
Said crosshairs are colored stoplight red to boot, except when
you are centered over the flying body of an enemy robot. Then
your cursor becomes, well, golight green. Click. Robot go boom.
Yes, there is a boss robot, but the green cursor quickly reveals
the best strategy; after that it was a done deal, my first time
through. Sorry, Jen!
Anachronox is 3D-rendered in the much-maligned Quake
II engine, but facial expressions and scenery are enhanced
with vibrant detail. The musical orchestrations are high quality,
at times reminiscent of a John Williams score. The in-game text
is a bummer, but the cutscene voices are as fabulous as the graphics!
I loved that the save feature and the mouse clicking have been
woven right into the tale. The Time Minders are bird-like creatures
who are both revered and reviled by the people of Anachronox.
They are strategically placed; your lead character must pet them
so that they allow you to "turn back time" in the story
if need be. Your mouse arrow, which changes when you can interact
with someone or something in-story, is called a Lifecursor. As
Jen mentioned, Fatima resides in yours except for her occasional
holographic appearances. You will see other characters' Lifecursors
too, and some NPCs will agitatedly comment about your abusing
them with yours if you ask too many questions!
Adventure purists need not fear Anachronox's third-person
mouse-and-keyboard interface, either. The arrow keys and some
mouse clicks are all that is required to get through this free-roaming,
nonlinear 3D world (where once again Anachronox gives a
nod of the trench coat to Tex Murphy). There is a lot of trekking
back and forth in the worlds, but the varied locales are gorgeous,
and your party (maximum three at any given time) moves along at
a healthy jog. Inventory becomes large, but carrying space is
infinite, and usually an acquired item is used automatically when
Anachronox is fired from the Stability Department in Windows
XP (though the game doesn't state support for it anyway). I don't
run any other programs in the background while gaming on my 1.6
gig Athlon XP, and I did try four different GeForce 2 Ultra video
drivers and XP's Program Compatibility Wizard, all to no avail.
I did the full install (and delete and reinstall) on a huge hard
drive, too. The game tended to crash at scene changes, and I did
hit a battle bug where clicking on Grumpos in one scene continually
froze the game.
I guess I would rate it the same hesitant Gold Star that Jen
did, for the same reasons: Top rate story, characters, and graphics,
with crappy (albeit mostly boring) battles and crashing issues.
Still, if you love great stories, it's a wonderful adventure game
and one not to be missed...
Release Date: 2001
Four Fat Chicks Links
PII 266 MHz (AMD Athlon or Pentium III recommended)
Windows 95/98/ME (98/ME recommended)
64 MB RAM (128 MB recommended)
12 MB 3D accelerator card with full OpenGL support (16 MB recommended)
DirectX 7 (included)
4X CD-ROM drive (8X recommended)
Where to Find It
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