has Bacardi Jim been for the last two weeks?
Why haven’t we heard from him?
And what the heck is up with reviewing an RPG on an adventure game
site? All these questions have the same answer, Constant Reader:
BJ discovered the sublime joy that is Anachronox.
me say this right up front: This
is one of the most pleasurable, smart, sly, funny, engrossing and flat out fun games I have ever played. Take
the writing and plot construction of the Gabriel Knight or Journeyman
Project games, the humor of a Douglas Adams book, the slick pop culture and
film noir references of Discworld Noir
and set them all in a galaxy far, far away and you’ll have some vague idea
of the pleasure to be had.
all the gin joints…”
heart, Anachronox is classic film
noir. In the game’s
introductory sequence, we meet the protagonist, Sylvester “Sly Boots”
Bucelli, a private eye whose office is a saloon’s storage room in “the
Bricks” of the planet Anachronox. When
the game starts, Sly is getting his face rearranged by a lieutenant of crime
boss Detta… prior to a message-emphasizing defenestration.
When Sly shakes off the shattered glass and wanders into his host bar
for a post-beating drink, we meet his long-suffering secretary, Fatima.
Actually, “long-suffering” is an understatement.
Fatima is dead. Long dead. Pushing
up alien daisy-counterparts. Recognizing
Fatima’s indispensability (and maybe a little bit more), Sly has had
Fatima digitized into a holographic “life cursor.”
She acts as your “smart cursor” through the game, storing
important info on quests and the various planets you visit while remaining
free to offer asides about your missions and her boss worthy of Myrna Loy.
in debt and seeking anything that remotely resembles a job, Sly soon finds
himself on a mission that will repay his debts, bring him back in contact
with the woman he used to love, settle old scores with Detta and
(incidentally) save the Universe. Along
the way, Sly collects (in true RPG fashion) a party of compatriots.
They include Sly’s faithful robotic lackey (think R2D2 meets Eric
Cartman), the crusty old prospector/museum curator, an alcoholic comic book
superhero, Sly’s former protégé (now a stripper-cum-assassin), a
physicist who watched The Matrix a
few too many times, and an entire planet
that exemplifies why there is an Electoral College while demonstrating (and
this will be message of hope to male RPG players everywhere) that size
we have a game that succeeds in merging far-flung science fiction, comedy
and film noir in a way that Discworld
Noir could only hope to approximate.
Whether you are meeting the Galaxy’s biggest pop group (The Meatles—and
make sure you talk to them until you finally exhaust all conversation),
sneaking through alien sewers or visiting Sender Station’s famous Red
Light District (where you can get Sex-While-U-Wait), Anachronox
pays homage to its roots in both Bogey and Lucas with loving fondness and
inventiveness while poking hilarious fun at those conventions in often
unexpected ways. I simply do
not recall laughing as much or as hard at any game ever.
It is also one of the few games I stood up and applauded at the end.
is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
I am flayed alive by angry villagers and have my empty skin run up the
nearest flagpole, I’d better explain why I think adventure game fans might
want to give this title a try. Although
there is some crossover audience, AG enthusiasts and RPG players
traditionally look for different things in games.
While AG fans are interested in plot, writing, puzzles and
exploration, Those who
prefer RPG’s look for depth and detail of environment, open-ended
exploration, interesting non-party characters (NPC’s) and a bizarre
fixation, shared by sim/tycoon game players, to micro-manage their
manages to include all the AG elements that are normally missing from
RPG’s and minimize those elements that turn off adventure enthusiasts.
At the same time, it remains true to its role-playing roots, allowing
but not necessitating endless
most definitely is puzzling in
this game, though little of it is of the traditional AG type.
There is some decoding and figuring out “riddles.”
But most of the “puzzling” comes into play in either figuring out
what character or skill is needed to achieve a certain goal, finding a
requisite item, or determining what specific strategy is needed to defeat a
particular opponent. Where Anachronox
may let adventure gamers down in the puzzle department, it more than
compensates in every other way. The
overriding plot managed to keep me prisoner, twice imprisoning me in
twenty-hour sessions just to see what
happens next. The script
had me bursting out laughing, often at 3:00 a.m. (much to my girlfriend’s
chagrin). The non-traditional puzzles had me wandering away from the
computer to smoke and mutter through possible solutions to myself.
really good news for those who hate RPG’s is twofold.
First (and maybe most importantly), there are no random monster
encounters. Much of the
downside in RPG’s rests in the fact that you never know when you are going
to have to encounter another fight on your way to some objective.
Coupled with this is the fact that in order to achieve some goal, you
must run around outside a city doing nothing but fighting monsters in order
to “level up” to the strength necessary to beat the next “Boss.”
Anachronox does away with all of that. Encounters with monsters are pre-scripted and occur only at
particular times. The 3-D
interface even allows you to see such encounters before you get to them;
permitting you to refit your party if you wish or go back to a previous
save-spot before you wade into the bloodshed.
If you want to, you can
leave an area and fight the same monsters again, but there is no need to do
so. As a bonus gift to
adventure gamers, there are really relatively few of such fights (for such a
long game) and there are only a very few areas in which you will have to
face more than a couple of such encounters.
other tedium for strict adventure gamers when they play a role-playing game
comes in the character management. If
they are involved in the story, the last thing most adventure gamers want to
do is take a break and decide which character is wearing which armor and
carrying which sword. Anachronox
has a feature that I believe should be incorporated into all RPG’s:
an “Equip Best” button. With
a few quick clicks, you can assure that every member of your party has the
gear best suited to their needs. On
the other hand, there are times when you can, if
you want, improve your party even more by going in and tinkering with
the distribution of items.
short, this may be the most AG-friendly RPG I have ever run across.
than just a pretty face…”
have to take a minute to discuss what may be Anachronox’s
main drawback for adventure gamers. It
is presented in real-time 3-D. Furthermore,
it requires two hands to navigate, one on the arrow buttons to move you and
one on the mouse to steer. And
yes, even the cutscenes are presented in the same polygon-filled 3-D style.
If that isn’t enough, the 3-D graphics were already being panned as
“outdated” when the game was released.
me jump up and assure you that this is absolutely
no problem! It is extremely
rare that you will have to press any key other than the UP-arrow key to
move, and you can adjust the mouse sensitivity and even the mouse movement
range within the screen to fit your individual needs.
Both the mouse and the keyboard are completely customizable to
provide a two-handed interface with which you can get comfortable.
to the graphic quality, while I wasn’t blown away by the beauty of the
game, I had few complaints. Syberia
it ain’t. But the 3-D engine
by id Software (who gave us both the Doom
and Quake engines) do a more than
satisfactory job this time. Non-verbal
expressions and subtle subtext were more-than-adequately conveyed with
character facial expressions, and the freedom of movement/viewpoint allowed
by the engine was not just welcome but essential at many points.
While it is true that the limitations of such a design in individual
character or location detail result in “all the NPC’s looking alike,”
the writers have managed to supercede that, giving these characters
individual personalities and locations. And there are even “in-jokes” about the graphics
themselves. “No, that
wasn’t me. It must have been
someone who looked just like me!”
fly in the ointment
this is not to say that Anachronox
is not without its flaws. There
are a couple of sections where the continuing battles will wear thin the
patience of an adventure gamer. There
is one character who has a skill that requires massive pixel hunting in
order to use… usually for little reward when you succeed, but essential in
places. I hit occasional
crashes. And there is the
omnipresent fact that wherever you need to go on a planet (even if you’ve
been there before) is as far away from your current location as is possible.
There is a lot of needless running down long empty corridors and
rampways just to get a vital bit of information and then travel back up the
same corridors. (Think Schizm
and then choose your favorite multiplier.)
a doubt, though, the game’s biggest flaw lays in a poor melding of its
linear and non-linear nature. For
the most part, Anachronox is laid
out in traditional adventure game linear style.
However, as is the case with most RPG’s, there is the ability to go
back and explore regions you have already visited, searching for items you
missed the first time around. The
problem is that there are a couple of “best weapons” and skills that can
only be acquired the first time they are encountered.
The requisite skill is essential
to finishing the game… and there are three different occasions in which
you can screw it up and find yourself at the end of the game with no way to
complete it because you can’t get through a particular doorway.
Given that the path to getting this skill starts at the very
beginning of the game, you could find yourself at the 99%-completion point
and discover you need to start over.
this is not a problem! The
game includes a “cheat mode” which is only slightly ornery to access,
allowing you to equip your characters with any skills, weapons or other
paraphernalia you missed along the way.
is a bit of an issue. There
were major problems with Anachronox
in its development stage. Amazingly,
a patch was released on the same day as the game itself!
The patch is available from the Eidos website.
It fixes pretty much all the game flaws and even includes fixes for
XP compatibility. Personally, I
crashed the game a total of five times.
Four of those occurred after I modified certain files using the
“cheat” mode. And, to be
fair, you are warned that doing this may cause crashes.
Fortunately, you are never too far from a save point.
While there are only eight save-game slots, careful management of
them should allow you to get through any crashes with a minimum of trouble.
stuff that dreams are made of…
you are an RPG fan it is easy to dismiss Anachronox
as “too easy.” If you are
an adventure gamer, it is easy to dismiss it as “too much detail.”
Strict devotees of either genre are doing themselves a disservice if
they write off this little masterpiece.
Anachronox manages to
bridge the gap between the two genres, melding them seamlessly into exactly
the game that you want to fill the current void left in both markets.
If you missed it the first time around, I strongly recommend getting
a copy now. I got mine for $12
and I spent about 50 hours playing it…. loving every single minute of it.
If you can find a better bargain today, jump on it!
And then… play Anachronox
anyway. You won’t regret it.
Final Score: 9 ˝ (out of 10)
Mystery Manor Home