Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Anachronox (PC)

Anachronox logo
Developer:Ion Storm|Release Date:2001|Systems:Windows

Deus Ex-style spinning logo!

This week on Super Adventures, it's Ion Storm's fourth game (of six), Anachronox! It was supposed to come out much earlier than that, but then that was true of everything Ion Storm's Dallas studio worked on. Dominion: Storm over Gift 3 was supposed to be released in 1997 and came out a year later in 98, Daikatana was also supposed to hit shelves in 97 and was eventually finished three years later in 2000, and Anachronox was planned for 1998 and was finally released in 2001. It's not really a mystery why the Dallas studio was closed down the month after Anachronox's release, as even if the games had sold well (they hadn't) they must have been way way over budget.

The company's second studio in Austin had a lot more success with the legendary Deus Ex, and survived a few years longer to produce the considerably less legendary Deus Ex: Invisible War and a third Thief game, Deadly Shadows. Which means that during its life Ion Storm released Dominion, Daikatana, Deus Ex, Deus Ex 2, Deadly Shadows... and Anachronox. One of these titles doesn't match the pattern. They should've called this Danachronox, or Daikatanachronox.

Ion Storm was formed by John Romero and Tom Hall, who had both gotten pushed out of id Software due to creative differences. I haven't read Masters of Doom, but it seems like they wanted to be creative, while John Carmack wanted to get games finished. In fact Hall was technically lead designer on Doom, but the character-driven story he'd come up with was thrown out, because who even needs story in video games? To be fair, Doom did just fine without it, but Anachronox was Hall's project, and this time no one was going to stop him putting in all the story and characters and space adventure he wanted.

Hopefully that'll turn out to be a good thing.



Alright, here's the options menu for you. Generally the best place to start I find. Seems like the game gives you multiple user profiles, each with their own set of saves. That's awesome, I like it. Though I'm less keen on the resolution options being 'Low-Res' and 'Hi-Res' and that's it. This isn't an N64 game, I need a bit more to work with than that!

Turns out that low res is 640x480 and high res is 1280x960, and you can get more resolutions by using the separate setup tool included. Well, it's included with the GOG version that I'm playing anyway, you'll need a patch if you've got the original game. Unfortunately if you want any other graphics options you're pretty much out of luck, though it's running on a modified version of id Tech 2 (that's the Quake II engine), so I wouldn't be surprised if there's a config file to edit.

I chose to start a 'New Universe' and the game threw me into a real-time 3D cutscene, with the camera flying around a domed city floating in the inky blackness of deep space. That's it over on the right, next to the massive space spike.

It seemed like this is where it was going to drop me off... but the camera soon got bored and hovered over to check out the giant spiky sphere on the left instead. A ship flew past the camera, with the flash of its glowing engine exhaust disguising a cunning transition inside the sphere.

So there's a city inside the sphere as well! This one's a tiny little city planet, which presumably somehow has gravity despite having the mass of New York.

Another transition brought me close enough to see that sections of the city sometimes rotate around the core, like it's a giant Rubik's Cube… uh, Sphere. It doesn't seem like they're going for absolute scientific realism here.

The next transition took the camera down to the streets... and then the action was interrupted by a loading screen. They did well to get so far into the cutscene without a pause, but I suppose PC only had so much RAM back in 2001. The camera eventually made it into one of the buildings and decided to stick around to watch our protagonist get his face hammed concave by a space thug in a very contemporary-looking suit and tie. It's a little bit... anachronistic you could say.

Wow, they've got actual expressions on their faces! Kind of. People might not have separate fingers in this world, and that guy's glasses are clearly just painted on, but at least they're not all locked in a permanent grimace like Max Payne. The thug is grinning here because he's just noticed that the protagonist's office has a window, and he knows just who to throw through it.

First though the camera wants to to go another quick flight around outside. It drops from a spotlight, takes a quick tour of the bar downstairs, and then flies back in through a second spotlight. Some directors try to keep camera movements subtle and realistic so that viewers aren't pulled out of the story... this guy on the other hand seems to be after a job on Star Trek: Discovery.

(Incidentally the cinematics director, Jake Hughes, decided to stitch two and a half hours of the game's cutscenes together as a full length movie, which apparently went on to blow everyone away at the 2002 Machinima Film Festival. So I guess it must get better!)

The hero picks himself up off the street, stumbles over to a chair, and orders a drink. One of the many advantages of living above a bar.

He can't quite hold the glass properly with those hands and I think most of his drink's going down his neck, but it's not a bad effort for the time. Plus the characters move their lips when they talk, which puts this ahead of its sister game Daikatana. Actually Daikatana is way way in the rear view mirror at this point in terms of quality, and I haven't even reached the game part of this game yet.

Our hero talks to his bartender friend about his problems, and it's revealed that he owes people money. Fortunately it turns out there's a fairly obvious solution that'll get him out of this mess: he can do his damn job and earn some cash.

Meanwhile a woman wakes up in a sterile white room that may be inside the tiny dart that's currently flying out of the protagonist's office.

She flies down to have a chat with them via the big screen on her wall, so I guess she's going to be the guy's helpful assistant. She's a bit Cortana in Halo and Sally in AquaNox, except she's not a sexy blue/green computer woman for a change!

Except she sometimes is?

Also she's apparently dead... maybe? So I suppose Fatima here is actually a simulation of a dead woman's consciousness that's running on the computer inside the dart and the white room is probably a virtual environment that's only real to her. Either way, Fatima's clearly sick of the protagonist being a lazy useless bum and has some tasks for him to complete.

You know, I think I like these characters. They're well acted and have a bit of a personality. It's just a shame that the music doesn't. I mean I'm grateful they didn't throw in some comedy music, but this soundtrack's been as dull and monotone as the scenery so far.

Oh damn, Fatima lives inside the mouse cursor! Her dart is my mouse pointer. That's awesome.

Anyway, I've got objectives now. Even better, I've got an explanation for what 'Anachronox' is and what the word means! Not sure that's the correct use of 'anachronism' though. Also I figured the 'nox' part meant 'night', but nope it's short for 'noxious' in this game.

Okay, I suppose I should go find my office, so I can find my desk and pick up my camera.

Right, this is what the actual gameplay looks like. It seems like I should be able to jump all over things like JC Denton, but I'm firmly attached to the ground.

Also the game's got a fairly unique control system, as when I'm walking around the camera's locked directly to the mouse, but when I stop moving Fatima's mouse cursor dart appears and I have to move it near to the sides of the screen to turn around. I'm finding it really awkward, though that's probably because I'm not used to it.

I tried flying Fatima's mouse cursor over to that table on the left and was surprised to find I could actually play it! It's some turn-based game about moving blobs down that constellation of lines to take enemy blobs without leaving your own guys open to be splatted. I failed miserably.

Fortunately I had more success finding the ramp leading up to the hero's office, so I can finally reveal his dark secret, which is almost certainly the thing that's got him drinking:

The guy's a private detective called SLY BOOTS! That's really his name. It's actually genuinely what the main character of this story is called. And he has to live with that every day of his life.

Wikipedia claims that it's just a nickname though and his real name is Sylvester Bucelli, so he actually chose to be called Sly Boots. He also chose to wear that trenchcoat, but then it was 2001 so he was just following in the bootsteps of heroes like Neo and J.C. Denton.

Finding the camera wasn't hard, it was just lying on his desk (objective 1 complete!), but it's going to take more work to get his wallet from the back room because he seems to have lost the key.

Oh shit, did Anachronox invent the lock-picking minigame? Nope, it had been in games before, but this does predate all the famous ones.

I've got three tumblers to get past in a very short amount of time, and each one has a number from 0 to 9 I need to guess. The lockpick comes with meter built into its handle which tells me far I am away from the right number, so I can make the correct adjustment. Trouble is, the meter doesn't seem to have any bloody clue how wrong I am, it's all over the place, but I still have to wait for it to do its thing each and every time I refine my guess. I don't know, maybe I'm just reading it wrong, either way I feel like I'd be doing much better here without it.

Fortunately I had just enough time to crack the lock by just trying every number until I found the right one, and I successfully located his cash in the back room... along with a box locked with a master lock I don't even stand a chance of opening. The time limit's just too tight.

I still have to cross 'find a lead on a job' off my to-do list before my spiky computer assistant will permit me to leave the bar, but I think I'm on the right path here. Can't say I typically appreciate having to speak to every NPC in the area to find the one with the info I need, but it's a small bar so I'll give the game a pass... this time.

The voices have stopped for the time being, but that's not too weird for a game with tons of dialogue like this. Though it's still putting the camera up in their faces, and no voices means no lip movement, so that's a bit weird.

I went over to pet the Time Minder save point on the way out so I could tick the last thing off my to-do list, and with all my tasks complete I walked into the darkness to the next area. I don't think it was supposed to be pitch black dark, but the gamma slider seems to be broken and I can't find a way to fix the brightness without switching to 3dfx mode and dealing with all the issues that causes.

I didn't have to walk far before I got my first taste of the combat system. Well, I got a glimpse of the HUD at least, before this guy came over and knocked Sly Boots down with one hit on the first turn.

For a moment it looked like that was going to be it for Sly, I was going to lose my only character because of certain things he'd apparently said to this guy's sister before the game had even even started. But his attacker ultimately showed mercy... and only smashed his gun.

Afterwards Fatima reappeared to jokingly suggest self-defence lessons. Except it wasn't a joke, it's in my journal as a quest goal, and honestly I'm on her side here. Seems like this hero I've been given is a bit of a useless wreck of a person right now.

Finding Whackmaster Jack's place wasn't hard, but finding the man himself took a bit more work. In fact I eventually got bored and gave up, but on my way out I noticed a ramp hidden in the darkness and followed it up to a new area, where Jack offered me a lesson in the basics of combat... at a cost. Yep I'm actually having to pay for my tutorial.

I'm starting to feel like I put on Barkley, Shut up and Jam: Gaiden on by mistake though, with the names of these stats he's teaching me about. Jack also told me that my Bouge energy builds up during a fight, and I can use it for Bouge powers, like calling Fatima down in her mouse pointer to put up a shield. That way I only lose a third of my health in the next hit instead of most of it!

Alright, here's what combat in the game is like. It plays like a 90s Final Fantasy game, one of the ones where you have to wait for you characters' timers to fill up before they get to take a turn. Once the circle around Sly's face turns green I get four buttons to click on, which let me use my turn to either attack, step to a different position, use an item or use a special move. But this is a tutorial so I'm going to do what I'm told and shoot the robot.


Final Fantasy X (PS2)
Here's what Final Fantasy games looked like in 2001 by the way. It's not a great looking shot, but man it's nice to see some light and colour for a moment. It also shows that they'd switched from Active Time Battle to turn based by this point.

Anyway, I followed the instructions and got an asswhooping, some healing items and a level up for my trouble. Plus the Whackmaster even let me keep the crappy gun he gave me to use during the tutorial. Thanks Jack!

Right, now it's time to find Frank's Flophouse so I can talk to Deanamo about a job. I don't have a map or a quest marker, and I can't ask for directions (unless I manage to find an NPC who offers to tell me), so I guess I'll just keep walking through the level until I either reach the Flophouse, a sign, or a dead end.

I don't know if I'm going the right way, but there's an enemy here so that seems like a good sign.

The game's very JRPG once the fighting starts, but combat takes place in the level instead of whisking you off to a separate battle dimension where the character models are better. All the enemies are visible as you're walking around, there's no random encounters, though it can still be a surprise when an NPC you're approaching turns hostile and the game suddenly switches to turn-based mode.

On the one hand it's more immersive this way and it's still got the dynamic camera moves you'd expect, on the other hand I miss having exciting battle music! It's playing the same low-key atmospheric strings like nothing's happened, and it's not exactly getting me psyched up. In fact I'm mostly just getting beat up and Sly can only really take two more hits, but my options are limited so all I can do is keep hitting 'attack' and hope the enemy drops first.

Anachronox game over screen
Nope, the enemy just wasn't interested in dying, and I managed to get KO'd by the first proper battle in the game.

Fortunately those Time Minder save point creatures are all over the place, and I turned 'save anywhere' on anyway, so I was able to jump right back into the fight with a new strategy. This time I waited a couple of seconds for my Bouge to charge, then used my Fatima Shield move on my first turn to decrease the damage I was taking! So I wasted my first turn not hurting him, then he went and killed Sly in a few hits again.

Giving new players a difficult battle right out of the gate is a bit of an unusual choice, but at least I'm learning an important lesson about how crap I am. Honestly, this seems like this should be the canon ending. The character I'm playing as is so entirely useless that him winning a fight is way too implausible.


LATER


Ananchronox battle booty level up screen
I actually beat him on the fourth try! Turns out that the trick was to use up both of my 500 health HealGrease Plus healing items to survive for the extra couple of turns I needed to take him down. I did get a replacement HealGrease Plus for killing him though! Hopefully he's the only enemy between me and a second one or I could be in trouble.

Look at that beautiful overly complex interface though! It doesn't quite match the style of the menu screens, but I don't care because it's a work of art. More games should look like a WinAMP skin.

Aww there's a cute little tv and keyboard flying around.

I came up here following a sign for Frank's Flophouse but I think I've gotten turned around. I mean I've really gotten turned around; seems like the route I took has turned 90s degrees and left me walking on the wall. You can tell by those signs over on the left... which I think are the signs that led me up here. Man this game needs some kind of a map.

There's an alien up here with information to trade, but they'll only trade it for information of my own, so I guess I'll have to see if I can pick some up along the way. I also met an NPC who wants to avenge the death of her father by finding Simon Langer. Which is a weird thing to tell a complete stranger in a back alley.

Man this place is a maze of interconnected mazes. There's another sign for Frank's Flophouse though, so I am still on the right path! I'm glad defeating that enemy earlier wasn't a total waste of my precious healing items; I was getting worried he'd been placed there to discourage level 2 players from wandering into a higher level zone, but I'm clearly where I'm meant to be.

I don't know what the guy running around on fire is all about though. I suppose I could go down there and ask.

This... just raises further questions.

By the way, I should mention that I have to click the message box to continue a conversation, and clicking anywhere else does nothing. I got a bit frustrated about how didn't always recognise my clicks until I figured that out.

I carried on following the signs, walking around dark streets and watching short elevator cutscenes, until I finally reached exactly what I wasn't looking for:

It's another fight! Only this time I have to fight two goons and all I have is one health kit. It took me four attempts and two health kits to survive fighting one dude, so it's not looking good for me.

Though I actually lasted longer than I thought I would here, because they kept missing or throwing over molotovs that did a small amount of fire damage over time. But that small amount kept adding up until Boots kicked the bucket once again. This reminds me of playing Baldur's Gate and getting annihilated by the first wolf I found in the forest, except there's no way to walk around or escape these two. No way that I can see anyway.

Okay, I'm checking a walkthrough because I'm already bored of losing and I feel like if I'm getting my ass handed to me by the first battles I must be doing something very wrong. I could just lower the difficulty from normal to easy, but I'd like to avoid that if possible.

Oh, apparently I walked right past a shop that sells healing items. In my defence, I can't see a bloody thing with the gamma screwed up! Also the guide mentioned that I'm supposed to be photographing certain aliens for some reason. I guess that must be for a later sidequest.


SOON


Haha, this guy and his kid.

This is that shop I mentioned earlier which sells healing items. Turns out it was right behind me, with a big obvious sign on the front. Trouble is I didn't know that and ended up triggering that fight again while looking for it. Only this time I actually won! Seems that putting up a shield on the first turn really does help, if you've got the patience to sit through the animation.

I still need to find the person here who actually sells things though. There's NPCs all over the place, and no one seems to be who I'm looking for. Though I did find a "TACO"! It was a little statue of a taco, just left lying there on the floor in a hallway. Game's weird.

Anachronox shop screen
Here's Anachronox's shop screen for you.

I've decided to load up on cheap HealGrease, but not too much because money isn't exactly flowing into my pockets right now. I can't even grind enemies because they don't respawn. I did find $50 lying in a box next to the shop though, so I've decided that's my spending limit for now.


SOON, AT FRANK'S FLOPHOUSE


Hey I found a second TACO! Unfortunately I've learned that it stands for 'totally arbitrary collectable object' and they serve absolutely no purpose. Can't believe Anachronox was mocking Assassin's Creed six years before it even came out.

Oh this is a room I'm renting by the way. I finally reached Frank's Flophouse, but Deanamo's locked away in one of the rooms where I can't reach her. So I figured I'd spend $5 on a room of my own to get some cheap healing and possibly open up some opportunities to sneak into Deanamo's place.

Turns out I can't take the toilet roll, flush the toilet or turn on the sink, so this place is a real disappointment so far. But I was able to pick the lock on the back door and get to a secret hallway! Which didn't lead to Deanamo's room! Though it did make me realise something... I could just go to her front door and pick that lock!

Lockpicking has gotten easier since I figured out how to use the lockpick meter. Turns out I was just reading it backwards, thinking it was telling me I was getting colder when I was getting hotter. The timing has gotten really tight though, and breaking into rooms seems to be necessary to make progress, so this could become a problem later.

I've finally found Deanamo, the person I was sent to get a job from, and damn!

The voices are back and her performance is pretty low key considering she's lost an arm and half a leg. Well she hasn't lost them exactly, she knows exactly where they are: in the tunnels she was sent down. It seems like the job I was after may be off the table, but she has a new job for me: find the person who hired her to go down the tunnels and didn't pay up after her maiming, and punch him in the face.

Honestly I don't think Sly Boots is up to the task, as the only thing he's any good at is lock picking, but in the absence of anything better to do I'll give it a shot! Right, I'm looking for an old guy called Grumpos.

I backtracked a bit from Frank's Flophouse and found the building Grumpos lives in. It's Building 5 on the left.

This place actually looks a bit like a proper cyberpunk city when I stand here and face this direction, but if I backed up here I'd walk straight into a wall. The areas aren't that small, but they're mostly made of winding passageways, ramps, walkways and elevators, and almost all the doors are fake.

It does remind me a bit of Hong Kong in Deus Ex though, except without the catchy music, or all the stuff to do.

Right, first thing I need to do is find Grumpos in the building directory, because there's multiple floors full of doors here and only one that's going to lead me to him.

Uh, how do I look this up? All I'm seeing here are jokes. Nice artwork though; it's got the same style as the level up screen that I like.

Anachronox building 5 directory
Ah, turns out that the building directory was on the wall next to the news terminal. I just assumed the info I was after would be on a computer and walked right past it.

I'm sure there's a lot of jokes and deliberate references hidden in here, but the only candidates that jump out at me are Tim Schafer (creator of games like Full Throttle and Psychonauts). Billy Blaze (star of the Commander Keen games), Stephen King (horror writer) and HoboCop (the hero of Disco Elysium). Hang on, "Langer, S"... that's the name that vengeful NPC gave me a while back. I can go tell them where to find their nemesis now! If I can ever find them again.

Turns out that the one I'm looking at is right at the end: Grumpos Matavastros, section C, room 19 (lucky for me the name was written in my journal so I could check.)

Sly's decided that the best way to get a job from Grumpos is to break into his room and… take it I guess? Well technically I chose for him to do it, but my options were limited.

Unfortunately a security guard decided to pick this moment to come out of his room, so this is a tense scene of Boots trying to get the door open before the guy gets around the corner and sees him. Fortunately the time limit's not my problem this time, it's all cutscene!

After a lot of tense lockpicking action, Sly finally gets the door unlocked just in time to meet the end of Grumpos' cane.

Sly keeps trying to convince the guy he's up to the task of working for him, but after immediately getting caught and knocked down by an old guy with a stick, he's not looking all that impressive. (I don't believe he's up to the task either).

The cutscene's threatening to drag on a bit too long so Grumpos finally relents and gives him a test to get rid of him prove his skills: Sly needs to acquire a NoxGuard helmet, size-five. Only someone who can steal a cop's helmet will be tough enough to take on... the tunnels.

I suppose I'll go do that then.

I'm still not entirely convinced this isn't Barkley.

The journal's giving me no hints on how to get this helmet, so I'm going around talking to the NPCs for clues. I suppose I could go around beating up NoxGuards until I find one with the correct sized head, but that would likely go badly for me. Also I can't start fights.

I chatted to a guard and learned there might be a guy with a size-five helmet in the platform division, I just don't know where that is.

Turns out the floating TVs have a use! Seems I just need to pay this one some money and it'll take me where I want to be, (hopefully with fast travel).

So I handed over the money and... nothing happened. Am I at the platform area already? Is there a way to find out?

I eventually got bored of giving away all my cash to a TV screen and took a ride on the elevator next to it instead. Turns out I'm definitely not at the platform area, but there's a sign here telling me where to go to get there, so I'm back on track.


A FEW LIFTS AND LEVEL TRANSITIONS LATER


Here's something I hate in games: having to initiate conversation with an NPC twice before they'll admit they're the person I need to talk to for my quest. It means I have talk to everyone two or three times just in case they have something else to say!

All the guards I've met in this game so far have either been beating people up in the street or chatting about beating people up in the streets, but this one might not actually a total piece of crap. In fact he's not entirely against just giving me a size-five helmet, he just wants me to understand that it's not going to bring me happiness.

Now I have to retrace my steps back through all the other areas to get back to Building 5, then take another lift up to Grumpo's apartment. Man I could really use a map, or an (optional) quest marker at least.


MORE LIFTS AND LEVEL TRANSITIONS LATER


Grumpos joined the team so we can explore the tunnels together! Can't say that I expected that, especially seeing as he sent Deanamo in there alone.

I'm so close now to achieving that first task I got right at the start: get job, earn money, I just need to make it to these tunnels and I'm done! Though I can switch to Grumpos and make him the party leader for a bit, so I'm going to drop by to visit Deanamo first and see if she notices.

I... did not expect this outcome. I actually have the option to make Grumpos pay her the cash!

Of course it's probably my money I'm giving away here, but fuck it, she needs it more than I do. I mean I really do need the money for healing items, but I'm not currently bleeding out of a stump, so it's all relative. Now I have $111 left... I'm doing quest rewards wrong.

I ran into Deanamo again a little while later, in Ghalla's Creature Repairs and Ferriplasty getting ready for surgery, so it seems like she'll be alright! Unfortunately getting Sly the money he needs is going to be trickier as the tunnels are currently being guarded by a DoorLord, the ultimate door guard, and I can't get past him.

Fatima told me to go back to that information trader I met ages ago (K'Conrad Khk) and trade information to learn about another information trader (Eddie) who might trade information about how to get through the door... so I guess I need to go do that then.


LATER


Okay, K'Conrad Khk sent me trailing a guy through tons of elevator rides and he led me to this dude taking a piss. This isn't Eddie though, this is a guy who knows where Eddie is.

I'm tired now. I've been hiking back and forth across the city following leads and it starting to seem like it'll be a long long while before I finally get to explore these bloody tunnels. At least there haven't been many fights to slow things down. In fact I think I've only had those two proper battles during the hour I've been playing.

Anyway, I can't go to Eddie yet, because first I need to get him something stinky and chewy. Fatima did the research and discovered that someone in the Fountain Spiral has a really gross sock, so that's where I'm headed next.

No seriously, that's what I'm doing.

I had to wander around Fountain Spiral area for a while before I found the guy, but I finally have my gross sock! Just, pretend it's in his hand, I don't know what happened with the cutscene.

Okay now I need to bring the sock to Eddie in the junkyard! I have no idea where that is.

I went wandering around looking for signs that say 'JUNKYARD AREA' and came across a cop who wants photographs of aliens. So this is the sidequest that the walkthrough told me to take pictures for! He's offering $500 for five shots of people belonging to a certain race, so that he and his mates can go on a 'miscreant roundup' later.

Uh... how about, no, fuck off. 


LATER, IN THE JUNKYARD


I eventually found the junkyard, putting me one step closer to reaching these bloody tunnels.

Turns out that the junkyard is more of a dungeon level though, with nothing but enemies to fight. Which means I finally get to see what Grumpos is like in combat! Turns out he hits people with a hilarious spinning stick leap attack that'll probably get less funny after I've had to sit through it 400 times. Trouble is, his attack is only short range, so sometimes I have to waste a turn moving closer to an enemy.

See that network of lines marked with grey 3D arrows on the floor? Ignore them, I've only got one button to press and it'll only take me to the arrow in the green circle.

Grumpos also has a skill where he keeps babbling streams of gibberish until an enemy is left dazed and unable to think. I've experienced this effect myself in a few games. You know, the ones which start off by dumping their entire backstory on you or try to teach you everything about the gameplay all at once. To be honest I was a bit surprised that Anachronox didn't do either of those things.

Fights have gotten very samey, as I'm facing the same few enemy groups over and over, but I'm flying through them now that I've gotten a second character and a few levels under my belt... well I'm not dying and having to replay them at least. It's become less of a test of skill and more a test of endurance.

The game reminds of Septerra Core in a number of ways, as they're both story-driven JRPG-style Western RPGs, and the battles take too damn long in both of them. They're not that bad here, my patience has a little left in the tank, but everything takes a bit longer than it should and it adds up. I've heard that one of the later patches made holding the '\' key speed up animations, but I'm not noticing anything in my version.


SOON


Anachronox equipment screen
I finally found my first new weapon! It's Vistin ThreeBeam pistol for Sly, which seems to double his damage. So that's probably going to help.

I haven't had much reason to check the game's equipment screen yet, but it seems functional enough. There's also a lot of mysterious bars there on the right which hint at hidden depth. I hope the game gets a bit more complex later, because right now I'm just waiting for a character's bar to go green, clicking on them, and then clicking the attack button. Over and over.

Oh by the way, this new gun of mine comes with a story attached. See, I got stuck two thirds of the way through the junkyard because I couldn't see the next bit of path, so I checked that walkthrough again (only done it two times so far). The walkthrough helped me figure out where to go, but it also mentioned that there was a pistol hidden inside Eddie's shack.

So I went in to get my gun and while I was looking for it I accidentally crossed an invisible threshold which triggered the cutscene with Eddie. Afterwards the game kicked me out of the shack without my gun and I couldn't get back inside, so I had to load my save and try again. This was when I discovered that cutscenes are unskippable. They're pretty great the first time through, but man I was not interested in sitting through the whole thing for the second time in a row.

Anyway, I met Eddie, fed him a sock, and got the info I need to get past the DoorLord. So I can finally go to these bloody tunnels and do the job I've been trying to do since the very start of the game! Hopefully without getting my hand and leg bitten off.


SOME BACKTRACKING LATER


Eh, the tunnels are boring and I can't be arsed sitting through any more of these fights. I'm turning the game off now.

Actually I played the sewage boat explosive box dodging minigame level first, but after that I was done.


CONCLUSION

In 2001 Anachronox finally answered the question: 'What would happen if the studio that made Daikatana tried to make a Square-style JRPG inspired by LucasArts comedy adventures that runs on the Quake II engine and takes place in a maze of late-90s first person shooter levels?'

And the answer is: the studio immediately went out of business, but I don't think that's really anything to do with the quality of the game. It's not amazing like Deus Ex, it's not terrible like Daikatana, it's... alright, for the time.

The game came out a couple of years after Shenmue and a few months before Metal Gear Solid 2, so it's hard to call it a leap forward in video game cinematics, but it's not bad for the Dreamcast era, and I can see why people were impressed by the Machinima movie they made out of it. In fact the cutscenes were definitely the highlight of the game for me, with solid acting and, uh, enthusiastic camera work. I may not have encountered the actual plot yet, or any kind of threat that needs sorting out, but it's a comedy so it's fine. I also appreciated how the cutscenes typically knew when to quit and didn't wear out their welcome, which almost makes up for the fact that you're not permitted to skip any of them.

I've only played it for maybe two hours, so I'm not sure if it's going to open up a bit later, but so far it's kept me focused on the main plot for the most part. It's a lot like a JRPG in that way... and in plenty of other ways too (like the combat). But the big difference is that you can't use a controller! At all! Actually the big difference is the art style and level design. The city you start in is more 3D than your average chaotic maze of RPG passageways, with ramps and elevators all over the place, and it makes trying to map the place out a bit of a pain in the ass. It would've really helped if the game had a map built in. Some fast travel options, like the train stations like in Flashback, would've been nice as well, so I could've gotten to where I needed to be without having to walk through every other area along the way. It's not like it would've skipped all the scripted encounters, as I barely encountered any!

It didn't help that almost every objective I got was either 'go here and talk to someone' or 'someone needs to be talked to somewhere, figure it out', and I wasn't encouraged to think outside of the box (or think at all) to achieve them. The game hasn't had the exploration of Deus Ex or the puzzle solving of an adventure game, just lots and lots of backtracking (and elevator rides). But what really puts me off playing it any further is the combat. Getting to move around the battlefield adds a tiny bit of a twist to the Final Fantasy-style battle system, but otherwise it's just felt like a shallow imitation so far. A soulless clone without the magic that (sometimes) makes this kind of turn-based combat fun. Not magic like Curaga or Ultima, I mean the dramatic battle music, the colourful art style, the imaginative enemies!

Final Fantasy 7 Cloud Aeris Hell House battle
Fighting a nuclear-equipped house in Final Fantasy VII
Worse I didn't feel like I was getting anything for my hard work except for a few experience points and the privilege to walk a few steps further. I wasn't working towards buying a new gun or unlocking a skill or whatever.

There's been no room for creative tactics so far either, I just clicked the thing and then clicked the other thing, over and over. The battles were speed bumps, there to slow everything down and get me turned around so that I kept forgetting which way I was supposed to be going afterwards. Plus the animations are unskippable and take just a little bit longer than you want, so I was deliberately not using skills like my mouse cursor shield because I couldn't be bothered waiting. Sure I played it for two hours and I only got to see the game at its most shallow, but the prospect of getting even more elaborate and time-consuming special moves later isn't exactly enticing.

I do know one thing about the remaining 26 hours of gameplay though: it leads straight to a cliffhanger! I'd get no closure from this even if I finished it. But I feel like there'll be enough story here to make worth continuing, once my tolerance for the battles has recharged. And even if I don't end up going back to the game, I'm still interested enough to want to give the movie a shot (YouTube link). I think that's got to be enough to earn it a 'not crap' star:



Thanks for dropping by to look at my screenshots, I'm just sorry they were all so dark this time. I'm sorry they're going to be dark next time as well, but that's the only clue you're getting for the next game, aside from the picture on the left.

What do you think about Anachronox by the way? Let me know in the comments! Or I suppose you do have another option...

I'm not going to keep putting this ugly box at the end of articles like this, but I do need to promote my brand new...


It's been around for a week now and has actual people talking there, I promise. Not many people mind you, but that just means that it's cosy. So if you want to chat with other people about retro games, spy on what's going on behind the scenes, or just want to point out all the typos in my latest article, it's worth dropping in sometime.

6 comments:

  1. I see popular TV chef/drunk Keith Floyd lives in that cyberpunk apartment building. Well, I assume that's the reference they were going for.

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  2. Next game looks familiar, is that Noctropolis?

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    Replies
    1. Yeah it's Noctropolis. Congrats on getting it right.

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    2. Ran out of -nox games, did you? I can't wait to see how many -tropolis games you can play in a row.

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    3. Well, I can promise that you won't be waiting long at least!

      Also I didn't run out of Nox games, I just figured it'd be better to switch to something different before they got obnoxious.

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  3. Hi Ray, after you mentioned that they made a movie out of this games cutscenes I had to go and check it out. I must say that as cheesey as it was I really invested by the end. I feel bad for the folks that played this game and never got a conclusion to the story

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Semi-Random Game Box