I'd like to start off by saying that this was a hard game to review. On one hand, it's a lot of fun and the story is superb. On the other, it's filled with more bugs than a fast-food kitchen and lasts less than 20 hours. After thinking about it for a while though, I decided that the game's many problems still weren't enough to warrant a low score. When I can look past countless bugs and still come away with a good impression, that says something about a game. Particularly, it says "That was a great game."
Anachronox isn't terribly unique, gameplay-wise, but it's quite good, nonetheless. The battle system is almost exactly the same as the PSone-era Final Fantasies, but with the added ability to move your characters around the battlefield. For the two of you who have never played a Final Fantasy game, each character in your party (up to three, in this case) has a meter that slowly fills during the battle. When it's full, that character can select an action to perform. It's fast-paced and simple. In Anachronox, magic is handled in two ways. First of all, you can acquire MysTech crystals. Each crystal contains the ability to cast various strength levels of one spell. Only one can be equipped at a time for each character. This limitation makes the MysTech method of spellcasting less useful than it could be. The second method is the Elementor system. This way is much more complicated than the MysTech system. It's also much more useful. You will find items around the game world called Elementors. Each one has several slots arranged in a pattern. You fill theses slots with colored beetles, which can also be found scattered around the world. Depending on the properties of the Elementor, you can only arrange the beetles in certain ways. Some Elementors allow you to combine different beetles, giving you access to multiple types of spells at a time. Others are focused toward making a very powerful version of one spell. When you have configured your Elementors the way you like them, they are equipped just like pieces of MysTech. Depending on how well you arranged the beetles, you can either get very powerful spells, or very weak ones. It's quite complicated, and I still have trouble creating good combinations.
With all the energy the developers obviously put into creating an interesting battle system, I expected a bit more combat than there was. Much of the game plays more like a graphic adventure than a standard RPG. Almost all of the game's challenge comes in the form of puzzle-solving, rather than difficult fights. I didn't once get a game-over during my play-through, and only once did I have to resurrect a party member. On the other hand, though, there were times that I wandered around on the brink of frustration, trying to figure out a particularly difficult puzzle. To be fair though, this probably had more to do with my lack of puzzle-solving skills than the game being a real mind bender. Another thing worth mentioning is the abundance of fun minigames. One of my favorites is a simplified version of the ever-popular rhythym/dance genre. During this segment, your character dances at a strip club for money (don't worry, he leaves his clothes on). Another good one is a fast-paced rail shooter through an alien hive. Overall, the gameplay is solid and varied enough to keep you entertained the whole way through.
Anachronox runs on a very heavily modified version of the now-ancient Quake 2 engine. This provides for an uneven presentation graphics-wise. The animation is pretty good, and the level design is excellent. Textures, on the other hand, are generally pixelly and blurred. Characters are also quite blocky. None of this really hurts the game, though. In a way, it gives the game a fairly unique style. Once you play, you'll see what I mean. The game wouldn't really have the same feel had it possessed a Morrowind-like level of visual excellence. All in all, the graphics aren't in any way spectacular, but they are kind of charming.
Music in Anachronox is generally well done. It never seems out of place, and some songs are so good that I found myself humming them later on in the day, which is a rarity for me. One track in particular, a funky-sounding song that plays during your stint in the Red Light District, had me nodding my head as I played. Sound effects are also quite good. Ambient noise and battle effects are always fitting, and they never seem corny or fake sounding. The real gem of Anachronox's sound department, though, is its voice-overs. It, quite simply, contains the best voice acting I've ever heard in a game. Every major character has a voice, and not one of them is less than amazing. Even during melodramatic moments, when most games' VOs get corny, it remains at a high level of quality. My personal favorite was the voice of PAL-18, your robotic sidekick, who was actually voiced by the game's creator, Tom Hall. The robot sounds like, well, a high-pitched obnoxious robot. A tiny robot calling a depressed party member a "cold bitch" wouldn't be nearly as funny if he didn't sound like a hyperactive five-year-old on crack. Not that I've ever spoken with a hyperactive five-year-old on crack, but you can imagine. Even if the music and sound effects in this game sucked horribly, which they don't, I would still give this game a high score in the sound category, because of its amazing voice acting.
This is the area where Anachronox truly shines. This is easily one of the best game stories I've ever seen. It ranks right up there with classics such as Grim Fandango and Planescape: Torment. It manages to be very funny without resorting to idiocy and toilet-humor, and it happens to tell a serious story at the same time. The dialogue is excellent, and every character has his or her own well-developed personality. Unlike almost every RPG in existence, the story does not, at any time, seem to drag on. It constantly keeps you guessing by twisting the plot and introducing interesting new situations for your characters to get into. In one of my favorite sequences, a comic book supervillain captures you. While trying to escape from his massive spaceship, you will see comic book-styled cutscenes and all of the characters speak with word balloons. Another great part involves an obvious rip on Star Wars, as you are asked to save a group of soldiers (who look suspiciously like imperial biker scouts) from the "Waugees", which are (you guessed it) furry bear-like creatures who throw rocks and sticks. My only complaint with the story is that it ends way too quickly. Without rushing or using a walkthrough, I managed to complete the game in just under 20 hours. Aside from that, if you can't find something to like about this story, give up on RPGs and start playing sports games or something.
Control in Anachronox is excellent. Maneuvering your character around the world is handled in a way similar to most third-person shooters, such as Max Payne. You use the mouse to look around and turn, while moving with the familiar W-A-S-D setup that FPS fans will recognize instantly. The menu is easy enough to navigate, and battles are controlled entirely with the mouse. The only way I can find you having trouble controlling the game is if you are paralyzed or have no arms. Actually, those of you who are armless could probably manage to play with your feet or face, if you were so inclined. Those of you who are also missing your feet and face should look elsewhere, like, say, a hospital.
Despite the fact that it routinely crashes to the desktop, even when patched, and it's shorter than I'd like, Anachronox is well worth your time and money. Whether you're looking to play a good console-style RPG on your PC, or you're just in the mood for a game with a great story, this game is an excellent choice. Like the box says though, "Minimum system requirements include a Pentium II 266, 64 MB of RAM, and a sense of humor". If you have all of these things, I personally guarantee that you'll have a great 20 hours.
|This guy looks good-except for his club-like hands.|
|With a name like Rowdy's, you can bet this place is gonna be filled with tough guys.|