Anachronox Review

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Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Ion Storm

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: Pentium II 266 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 4x CD-ROM, 12 MB 3D video card

Anachronox is a console-style Role Playing Game that brings Final Fantasy-style play to the PC in a science fiction setting. Players take on the role of Sylvester "Sly" Boots, a private detective who works out of the back of a sleazy bar. No longer the bright-eyed success of his early career, Boots allowed his debts to overwhelm him as work was increasingly beneath him. Fortunately, two purchases remain: a multipurpose robot (the Personal Android Lackey), and a Cordicom LifeCursor. The LifeCursor contains the digitized personality of Fatima Dohan, Boots' old secretary. When she died, Boots paid to have her personality digitized and installed into a floating arrow, damning Fatima to an afterlife of managing the Anachronox interface.

The story centers around the long-dead alien city of Anachronox in which Boots lives. Believed by some to have been inhabited by millions of aliens quarantined for contracting a mysterious plague, the constantly shifting landscape of Anachronox is home to not only the dregs of humanity, but myriad alien races. Anachronox the city lies at the heart of Sender One, the largest in a network of mysterious alien sender nodes that can transport vessels at incredible velocities, making interstellar travel possible. Anachronox the game chronicles Boots' unwitting quest to save the universe while trying to make a quick buck. Along the way, Boots gathers uniquely skilled companions including an acerbic museum curator, an ex-love-interest, a scientist on the fringes of legitimate research, and the entire populace of the planet Democratus.

A staple of Boots' universe is MysTech. MysTech (Mysterium Technology) is a form of alien technology created out of a poorly understood material called Mysterium. MysTech is tied to forces that threaten Boots, and once it becomes active in a frightening development, Boots and his team can use it to supplement their skills in combat. Boots must uncover the secret behind MysTech, and in doing so, prevent Anachronox and the rest of the known universe from becoming someone else's sacrificial lamb.

Kyle Ackerman

Without question, the redemption of Anachronox is the story, and the concept from which the game grew. The plot and characters in the game seem to have been well thought out, and background story lurks at every corner just waiting to be uncovered. The museum in Sender Station contains a brief history of events leading up to the colonization of Anachronox, if one bothers to examine the exhibits, but the most clever element of the world is the LifeCursor. By justifying the presence of a personality in an arrow shaped container, there is a sensible and immersive context for the very interface of the game. If the player needs instructions, Fatima can speak from beyond the grave through Cordicom technology to provide that advice. Best of all, Anachronox often escapes the space-opera formula that gave it birth, to surprise the player with refreshingly creative concepts. At one point, a planet from which Boots recently escaped miniaturizes itself, tracks Boots down in a bar, and joins the quest as a party member.

This game is very similar in play to console RPG titles. Battle is largely a matter of clicking, and waiting for a timer to fill so that one can click again. Movement in combat is restricted to nodes, so that the character can only stand on or move to fixed locations, and the enemies aren't particularly bright. Also in console tradition, each combat move triggers a spectacular graphic sequence. While this is attractive the first few instances, it becomes cumbersome and tedious. These sequences can't be skipped, and have little variety, so after the first occurrence become quite dull. The interface is simple and well suited to a controller or joystick, but full of useful functions that are difficult to discover. As an example, each character gives feedback in the merchant screen, giving his opinion on the usefulness of items, but one could play the entire game without discovering such things in odd locations. Even the save system is console-like. One must pet Time Minders, beings that exist at a discrete location, but in all times, in order to save. While this feature can be overridden to take advantage of that glorious PC feature, the hard drive, it smacks of a console design, as well.

The graphics for Anachronox are based on the Quake II engine, and while heavily modified with clever attention to detail, the engine is showing age. Scenes are blocky and rough, and many moments rely on distortions of the character models to show emotion. The result is recognizable, but more disturbing than realistic. The game will only run at two resolutions: 640x480 and 1280x960, so although the game has low minimum requirements, a lower-end machine will have the choice of really low resolution or exceedingly slow performance. Combat moves are truly the graphical highlight of the game, but because the delay in the action associated with each combat move is part of what makes combat so tedious, the best graphics are the most unwelcome.

The fact that armed conflict in Anachronox is slow and painful is aggravated by the fact that a thorough player may take ten hours or more to get to the point where MysTech weapons are activated (adding a little variety), and much longer before gaining access to the Elementor System which enables a bizarre customization using colored insects in various combinations. Until that point, there are hardly any choices involved in battling enemies. Fortunately, Anachronox is relatively light on physical conflict. Unfortunately, the linearity of the game makes it impossible to avoid most combat (unlike some RPGs which offer alternatives to combat such as stealth or dialogue), so one must click through to the bitter end each time. Despite the careful thought put into the background and plot, the tasks one must complete to further the game are surprisingly dull. Successful gameplay consists of clicking on everything in the game, often without explanation or justification. Worse yet, some objects can't be interacted with until activated by a plot development, so obviously important objects may remain inert, or regions may need to be thoroughly clicked over two to three times. Some quests are optional, preserving the player's sanity, but they tend to be dull delivery jobs or collection quests. Delivery quests are standard RPG fare ("take this from here to there"), and collection quests involve finding a number of the same object ("take six pictures of this type of alien," or "find thirty T.A.C.O.s – Totally Arbitrary Collectible Objects").

The mandatory collection quests are some of the worst. In order to escape from the planet Democratus, one must learn how the population will vote on eight issues (the quest log is pictured in one of the screenshots), that involves nothing short of clicking on every citizen on the planet until their dialog loops. Things get worse when quests cross zones. Because the play areas are divided into graphical zones which take an interminably long time to load, a quest which crosses multiple zones might be easy to complete but take forever because of the time lost loading. The city Anachronox was perhaps the worst offender, while quests on the science planet Sunder were well structured to avoid zoning. The final straw is that each character in the group has a specific skill, one of which is often required to complete a quest. Because the party can only contain three members at a time, the player must often recross all the zones, with the associated wasted time, to change party members to attack the task with the proper skill set. This is nothing short of infuriating.

For variety, the game occasionally relies on mini-games to further the plot or as optional entertainment. While a commendable attempt to introduce short bursts of light, fun play into Anachronox, the games are typically dull, and executed in a manner worthy of a 1992 console system. Optional mini-games include a variation on tic-tac-toe and two player pong. Required mini games are often simple slalom courses that involve dodging obstacles or collecting boxes. One instance places the player in an arcade-like shooting gallery, but this sequence is so repetitive and long that it loses its charm. Mini-games, which could have broken up otherwise monotonous play, become merely more dull obstacles to progress.

Anachronox ends up as a game with a brilliant back story and tedious play. The irritations manage to ruin the immersive feel that could have been achieved with a better execution. Instead of making the player feel involved, actively participating in the shaping of a universe, Anachronox herds the player through a tedious and painfully linear storyline. Without that feeling of participation, gamers in need of a good storyline are encouraged to go read a book rather than spending time with Anachronox.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on November 26, 2001 6:43 PM.

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