I really liked this game initially. The first few hours were great. Awesome, funny dialog, a great story, interesting characters. (Including one named ‘Styletto Anyway’. I’m still not sure whether this is the best or the worst name for a videogame character ever.)
And then the combat starts getting tedious.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Anachronox is a PC RPG developed by Ion Storm (of Deus Ex fame) and published by Eidos, released in June 2001, and re-released on GOG and Steam in recent years by Square-Enix. It is built on a heavily modified Quake II engine.
The story revolves around the mystery of MysTech, rocks left behind by an advanced civilization in order to allow future civilizations to battle forces that want to destroy the universe. In order to unlock the mystery, your party will go from planet to planet, investigating all sorts of varied environments (from space station to volcanic planets to a scenic, snowy village where the main character, Sylvester ‘Sly’ Boots, gets stranded at some point). Nothing completely original, I agree, but the story is told through interesting cutscenes, well-written, wacky and funny dialog, and it ends up being a lot more interesting than my quick writeup makes it sound. The section aboard a super-villain’s spaceship is hilarious. I really have nothing to say against the story itself (aside from the fact that what we can play is only the first half of it, the other was to be delivered in a sequel that has yet to be made). I enjoyed it quite a bit, and it is the reason why I actually beat the game. It certainly wasn’t because the combat was engaging, because it wasn’t.
The game is not very pretty to look at. Even at the time it came out, I suspect its graphics were already way outdated. Today, they are downright ugly. Of course, this means the game will run like butter on any computer. The textures are blurry as all heck, the environment geometry is very simple, and the character animations are atrocious by today’s standards. The game even attempts to add facial expressions and some lip-syncing. The results are usually clunky. I’m no expert, but I think this might be due to the technology used, not a lack of skill on the part of the team’s artists. I am under the impression the Quake II engine was built for straightforward first person shooters first and foremost, not an ambitious RPG like Anachronox. An entire scripting system (called APE) had to be grafted on to the engine to make this work. (More on that later).
Though classified as an RPG, I found the game to play a lot more like an adventure game with an RPG combat system grafted on to it than something like Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy. Most of what the player has to do (outside of combat) is gather items for whatever purpose, talk to people, take some photographs here and there.
I am not going to describe the combat in detail, other than by saying it’s similar to the ATB system seen in various Final Fantasy games since IV. Unlike Final Fantasy though, you can move characters around various points of a grid. Some characters and enemies can only attack if they are standing next to an adversary. Most characters can equip guns or long range weapons. I see two big problems with it: It is painfully slow, and the characters miss a lot, making fights take a lot, lot longer than they should. For the most part, it is also very easy (I played on Normal difficulty), which really makes it more of a nuisance than anything else.
In the sound department, the voice-acting is surprisingly good, and there are some real laugh-out-loud funny moments in the game. The music, however, is completely forgettable.
At some point, I encountered a weird bug: I had been playing the game and decided to reload my save game without exiting, and the game timer was reset. My progress would be there, but instead of saying that I had played for 25 hours 34 minutes and 10 seconds, it looked as if I had just started. Which can actually be a pain in one particular area. To get one of the ‘Excellent’ weapon for a character, you have to let the character in a section for several hours. 7 of them, if I remember correctly. You basically have to let the game running while you go do something else (like, get a night of sleep, a day of work, or watch an entire season of Game of Thrones). You can’t just let him get in, get out, and get right back in. You have to wait a certain amount of time (10 minutes, I think). However, it has to be ten minutes between the time where the character last came out of the section. So, if the time reset between the time the character came out and the time you try to get him to get back in, you are screwed. You have to wait. What I ended up doing was: Look for the the APE script file for that section, decompile it, look at the syntax, figure out what I needed to change to bypass the time limit, recompile the script, put it back in the correct folder, and try again. (While I was at it, I also reduced the required amount of time to spend in the section to 2 minutes, because why not?) This was actually pretty fun, even though the APE script compiler was not easy to find online. I was able to do this since I’m a developer by trade. I don’t think anyone without any kind of programming experience could have done this. I have no idea how widespread this bug is. I don’t think I’ve seen it mentioned anywhere online, but I did encounter it on both my work laptop and my home desktop PC.
There is also a bug where one of the toughest (optional) bosses of the game will cause the game to freeze. I tried it. The game froze. I gave up. I did not care enough to go through this long fight again to get an item that makes an easy game even easier (on normal difficulty).
I also encountered a bug where all the photos in my camera were wiped out, while I was trying to complete a sidequest that required me to take photos of small creatures spread out throughout the universe. Luckily, I was able to copy the files (which had not been erased yet) out of my save game folder, and then copy them back, which brought the photos back.
One last quick point: The game’s control scheme is heavily geared towards mouse and keyboard. Having a different control scheme for gamepad would have been cool. (I personally prefer to play while sitting on the couch than in front of my computer monitor.)
Should this game be played? Your mileage may vary. If you want to enjoy the story, I’m sure you can find the cutscenes on YouTube. Watching them will be a lot shorter than having to go through the game and having to suffer through the combat. If you still want to experience this game, then make sure you put the combat on easy. This should make it shorter.