Anachronox's subtitle, "An Epic Sci-Fi RPG Adventure," is a bold claim, as epic typically invokes images of a James Michener novel or the English poem " Beowulf" rather than a videogame. Yet Anachronox shoulders the mantle of epic adventure easily with vast and detailed locales, interesting characters that mature throughout the game, and a storyline that is literally the size of the universe.
The story begins with a money collecting thug showing detective Sly Boots (your alter ego) the nearest exit, which happens to be the second story window of the sleuth's office. Scooping himself off the pavement, Boots strolls up to the local bar looking for a drink to kill the pain and a job to pay off the goon. The job involves helping track down Mysteria, unique alien artifacts imbued with magical powers when activated. Soon Boots and company are trekking to distant planets, hoping to unlock the secrets of Mysteria and ward off a threat to collapse the universe.
Anachronox is powered by a heavily modified, though admittedly outdated, Quake II engine, which is fine for landscapes but not for items. The end result is imaginative worlds filled with flatly textured gear. The original ideas are somewhat tarnished by aging technology, but levels are still well designed.
In addition to solid levels, the cut-scenes take advantage of the engine by making even the simplest scene changes, such as boarding an elevator, a joy to watch due to cinematic styling. The camera pans across cityscapes, plunges through space, and creeps in caves with Hitchcock-like grace, sometimes inducing vertigo and minor nausea. Unfortunately, the game is too enamored with its own style to allow bored players to skip the animations and get back to the action.
The heart of any good RPG revolves around the storyline and characters, and on this level, Anachronox delivers. The storyline is a larger-than-life tale that draws you in -- after all, who isn't ready to save the universe, discover new powers, and possibly find true love? All the elements of a great legend are present, including a worthy cast of principal characters. Sly Boots is accompanied by his pal robot, an ex-partner/love interest, a superhero, a scientist, a planet (with the ability to shrink or grow), and a grumpy Mysteria expert.
The seven heroes (and heroines) are as three-dimensional in personality as they are graphically rendered, each varied and complex. The sub-stories provide an extra facet to the already gigantic gem of a story, as the characters' histories, loves, hates, and ambitions are all inviting trails worth following to their satisfying ends. Be forewarned, though, it takes a while for the real story to emerge, but patience will be rewarded.
Combat takes place ala Final Fantasy VII in a turn-based and real-time format, with each character taking a turn after a few moments, during which faster enemies can attack. Unlike the random combat encounters in Final Fantasy VII, Anachronox has set battle areas, making for easy power leveling. This is especially true in the easy mode, where players do more damage and take less. Experienced players will want to immediately jump to the hardest setting for a tougher challenge.
In addition to poking fun at itself and other RPGs, Anachronox skewers Star Wars, democracy, comic books, collecting fads, strip clubs, road trips, religions, cults, business conventions, and much more. The recommended system requirements wisely suggest having a sense of humor installed before playing the game, and indeed, the gang's antics while drifting in space waiting to be rescued are especially well done. The mature themes push the game to a teen rating and those offended by roaming through a fully clothed red light district with risqué humor should probably avoid the game.
It's impossible to discuss the sound quality without praising the music. The instrumentals are appropriately moody or jaunty, depending on the event and setting. Especially well done is the simple piano music that plays while you're exploring tunnels. The return to organic and quality tunes is music to the gamer's ears.
Single player games with a set storyline usually have little replay value, but anyone expecting to waltz through Anachronox and find all of its secrets in a single play session is in for a rude awakening. There are simply too many collectible items to find and weapons to discover. Dedicated players can also unlock Master Level skills to assist the team. The game reacts differently to which three of the seven characters are in the group at any given time, making back tracking a necessity over the virtual miles of landscape to discover some secrets. These side-quests somewhat help break up the linear storyline.
There are times where gamers will be loath to march back to find a vital clue or item, but the game is fairly adept at giving hints on what needs to be found before advancing. The constant revisiting of fully explored areas to find an updated wrinkle in the storyline gets a tad old, considering cut-scenes can't be avoided. The game has more walking than a Roger Corman movie, but perseverance pays dividends in both character and story development.
Anachronox also has a nasty habit of crashing when loading from area to area. The game auto-saves after loading a new territory, so it isn't too devastating to have to reboot the game, just annoying. The load times for these areas are only 10-15 seconds, but it adds up when running back and forth so often. Again, expect the game to soak up a large chunk of your time; it is most sobering to notice the time elapsed display in the menu change from merely hours to days and hours.
Players with even a passing interest in science fiction or role-playing games should consider adding this title to their library. Those that do will be taken on a galactic journey that evokes the full gamut of emotions from anger to laughter to sadness. The game is reminiscent of a well-written novel that is funny, suspenseful, and, yes, epic in scope.
Graphics: Aging engine mars excellent ideas. Some textures look flat, but the architecture and character designs make such complaints trivial.
Sound: The game features exceptional music. The voiceover actors don't sound stupid or overact. Ambient sounds are rich and varied as well.
Enjoyment: Anachronox is an enjoyable game that helps revive a struggling genre. The mandatory requirement to constantly revisit explored areas can detract from discovering the storyline, but also indicates a changing environment and highlights the attributes of the different characters.
Replay Value: Will take a few times and a walk-through guide to find all the secrets. Players will want to explore different party member combinations to see the game's varying responses and actions.
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