What is it?
Anachronox is one of the few games that developers Ion Storm ever
actually released. Unlike the massive hype and disappointment that
surrounded their best-known game Daikatana, Anachronox had a
relatively quiet time on the shelves. Development began, using the
aged Quake engine back in 1997. But by the time the game was
released in late 2001, the developers had upgraded it to use the
Quake 2 engine. To very good effect, as it happens.
game is now available on the Sold Out label, rather than from the
original publisher, Eidos Interactive. In fact, Eidos’s website no
longer even mentions Anachronox. This is a shame.
Anachronox is a role-playing game with plenty of adventure attached.
It isn’t just a sequence of fights with bigger and bigger enemies,
though the game does contain its share of combat.
Is there a plot?
What plot? Well, as a matter of fact, there’s plenty of plot. That’s
what happens when you have a game with seven player characters and a
wide range of non-player characters. Seven? Yes, seven! The main
character to begin with is Sylvester Bucelli or, as he’s better
known, ‘Sly’ Boots. He’s a detective. You know the drill; private
eye, down on his luck, up to his eyeballs in debt to the local crime
boss, seems to have a drinking problem (well, he does live above a
bar), desperate enough to take any job that comes his way before the
debt collectors start extracting payment in ‘un’-kind, if you know
what I mean.
such an unpromising start on a weird tech-planet that used to be
occupied by an unknown race of aliens, we travel to a number of
other planets, space stations and space ships, meeting, beating and
greeting a wide variety of humanoid, mechanical and alien creatures.
Including a planet! (I’ll say no more on this subject, because I
want to leave that one as a surprise for you!)
of the characters have a backstory associated with them. This
succeeds in giving them a little more depth than is often the case.
Some of those other characters join Boots in his various quests to,
you guessed it, ‘save the universe from the forces of chaos.’
How do you play?
enough with the clichés, on with the game.
I’m coming to expect from these games, the controls are right hand
on the mouse (for the camera), left hand on the ‘W, A, S, and D’
keys for driving character movement, plus a few other miscellaneous
keys for menu functions. When there are multiple characters in the
active party (there are never more than three in the current party,
even though there are seven to choose from), you switch between them
by using the ‘tab’ key. During a later part of the game, you control
three sub-parties, swapping between the sub-parties with
‘shift-tab’. As complex as this might sound, I found it worked out
just fine, as the level of complexity in party control ramps up
gently through the game.
you’re a lefty, there’s no reason why you can’t swap hands, and have
the mouse in your left hand, and your right hand on the cursor keys.
of the time, the lead character will run around the environment,
although there is a walk option (holding the ‘shift’ key whilst
moving forwards). Interaction with the world; opening doors for
instance, is achieved by left clicking with the mouse.
functionality – load game, save game, options menu access, quest
goals, inventory and character/party status and so on – are
activated using the function keys. F1 leads to the menus that are
framed in terms of Boots’ Life Cursor – the device through which his
former secretary continues to ‘live’ after the fatal accident that
is the subject of one of the subplots of the game.
Inventory is handled in a simple manner – each character can equip
five items of weaponry and shields, and all other items are held in
common. There are a few inventory-based puzzles, one of which
involves the smelliest, greenest, most disgusting-est sock I have
character has a ‘World Skill’ - lock picking, in Boots’ case,
computer hacking for one of the other characters. Using this
requires a Ctrl-click. The game provides a nice ‘Seems Interesting’
cue when you come across a place where a world skill is applicable.
However, it does not indicate which character’s skill it is that’s
applicable, so the indication can come even when you don’t have the
relevant character in the active group.
World Skills require the player to succeed in a mini-game to cause
the skill to work. In the case of the lock picking skill, the player
has to break a combination lock with the aid of a Sonic
Screwdriver-like device. These mini-games require some small degree
of reactions and dexterity, and so might cause some players some
difficulty. Keep a junior member of the household handy if this
should prove to be the case, because some of these are essential to
getting through the game, though plenty of them are only used to
gain extra healing items.
Combat is handled turn-wise. In any given combat situation, you can
only have three party members involved – the controls for more would
obscure the screen for action. Each character and opponent gets
turns in which to shoot a weapon, use a hi-tech device (MysTech),
apply an inventory item, use a combat skill or move. Combat takes
place in the same view as the rest of the game, but movement for all
participants is limited to a grid of positions in the 'arena'. Each
of the characters has his or her own set of unique combat skills and
weapons, some of which have 'area-based' effects, but most of which
are targeted at an individual.
Having played Gooka - the Mystery of Janatris a few years ago, I
found the combat system quite easy to get used to as the systems in
the two games have much in common. So much so that, despite knowing
I'd selected the 'Normal' difficulty level at the start, the combat
seemed very easy for about three quarters of the game, only to ramp
up quite steeply in the last 10%. All the same, I found it enjoyable
to do, and the graphical effects in combat are rather good.
environments in Anachronox vary widely from the conventional
spaceship interior, to artificial worlds with gravity set in
arbitrary directions – like an M.C. Esher drawing. There are also
natural planet-side, space station, and hive environments to tickle
your fancy. Furthermore, there are lots of mini-games, above and
beyond the characters' world skills. These include a space-age
checkers game, a Galaga clone, a sequence comparable to parts of the
arcade game Descent, and river rapid riding. Some are optional, and
most of the harder reaction-based mini-games can be skipped if you
find them too hard. I skipped a couple when the option was given to
biggest novelties in this game were the wide variety of
environments, and the (almost) fair balancing of male and female
party characters -- 3 male, 3 female if you count the Life Cursor, 1
other, and an android -- all of which had plenty of opportunities
for being involved in the adventuring. All (bar one) of the female
characters were decently dressed too! And for the other, the costume
made sense. Well. Nearly, anyway.
Anachronox developers, Ion Storm, are no more as a company, but
individuals from the team have continued to provide unofficial
support for the game, in terms of community building and the
provision of patches. It is thanks to them that, amongst other
things, the game can be played on Windows 2000. They've also fixed a
number of bugs, and provided a more comprehensive configuration
program for the game.
really nice feature, I felt, was the availability in the shops of
comments from the various party members as to the usefulness of
particular items. Each team member was shown either facing away from
the player, or towards, to indicate whether the currently
highlighted item was applicable to them. Not only that, but this
feature was subtitled with comments like 'Boots really likes this
item', or 'Boots doesn't like this item', to indicate whether an
item is better, as good as, or worse than the one(s) already in the
inventory. I think this one was underused... or maybe that's just
because I didn't spot it until some distance into the game.
with any product, there were a few things that let Anachronox down.
The cut-scenes, of which there are many, some fairly lengthy, all
play without interruption. This is good if you don't want to miss
anything the first time through, but it is particularly annoying if
you have to re-load from a save game just before a big cut-scene.
to the graphical scaling method used to give the game more graphical
modes, there are graphical glitches around text which I found
distracting. Some of the text for some areas of the menus was also
small and difficult to read – particularly when examining the
details and getting the characters' comments for items in the shops.
I've since discovered that by dropping the resolution to one of the
more original settings, the graphics look much cleaner.
has been an enjoyable experience. Anachronox may not feature the
smooth, high-polygon count graphics of games in 2005, but the
storytelling, the variety of settings, the music, voice acting
(which was universally excellent, by the way) all combine in a way
that is rarely seen to provide an engaging game. In fact, during a
long weekend when my family were away, I found myself playing
Anachronox for three days straight, and taking an extra day of leave
from work to play for a fourth!
final warning, however, if you have a problem with running around 'a
lot of twisty passages all the same', beware. There are times when
you are in location A, you realise you need to be in location B, but
you have to spend five minutes running through half a dozen complex
sections in between, including several loading screens. I suppose
there is always a price to be paid for an extensive, wide-ranging
and engaging environment.
What do you need to