Good Old Reviews: Anachronox

Good Old Reviews: Anachronox

Anachronox Cover Image

Anachronox's excellence can be found at GOG for $5.99.

It's my fault that Anachronox never got the sequel it deserved. How could it not be? I stumbled across a preview shortly before its release and almost fell in love: Anachronox would be a sci-fi-comedy-RPG set in a universe where film noir detectives walked alongside superheroes, rendered through a heavily modified Quake engine by Ion Storm. And I. Didn't. Buy it. Not until I found Anachronox in a bargain bin two years later, after low sales had crushed any hope for a follow-up and Ion Storm's demise slammed a final nail into the coffin.

Skip ahead to 2014, and Anachronox is remembered by many as a gaming gem that nobody played alongside titles like Psychonauts and Beyond Good & Evil. Sure, it's a little rough around the edges by modern standards, but its strong writing, unique characters, and detailed world-building help it stand out all the same. On top of that, it's also absolutely hilarious and certain to prompt repeated chuckles across its 50+ hour campaign. If that sounds in any way intriguing, don't make the same mistake I did: pick up it up for six bucks at GOG.com. Then you can beat it and start hoping for a sequel with the rest of us.

Your main character is Sylvester "Sly Boots" Bucelli, a private investigator living on an artificial planet named Anachronox. Boots' current predicament is that he's desperately short on cash and in debt to a crime lord, one who intends to collect either the money or his life within days. In a last-ditch attempt to pay his dues, Boots takes a job to collect a MysTech artifact from Anachronox's depths, kicking off an adventure that will take him across the galaxy and expose a conspiracy to destroy time and space.

Perhaps it sounds cliched for a down-on-his-luck protagonist to save the universe, but Anachronox takes such unlikely tropes to their extreme. The game's scope and tone varies wildly from mission to mission and even moment to moment. At one point I was casting votes for a clearly broken alien democracy. Literally minutes later I found myself fighting an army of planet-destroying space insects. Shortly after that, I agreed to find a wedding ring that was lost in a brothel. And those are all main quests! The game changes tones and genres more often than you'll jump between planets, to the point that I often wondered if I was even playing the same game. Taken as a whole, Anachronox allows for a large and varied universe where everything fits together in ways that always manage to surprise you.

If you want proof, just look at Anachronox's player characters. Among the seven personalities joining your party, you'll meet an assassin, a super-scientist, a superhero, a sentient helper droid, and a planet. Yes, an entire planet, complete with moons, shrunk to human scale to help your film noir detective. This is a motley crew that breaks the mold for mismatched protagonists (Avengers, eat your heart out), yet thanks to the game's clever writing, they form a surprisingly cohesive unit. Character interactions are believable, within the logic of its universe, and everyone has their own arcs and internal struggles that help you sympathize for the entire cast. Even the planet.

Unfortunately, Anachronox hasn't aged quite as well mechanically. The game follows a fairly traditional RPG system and linear RPG storyline, where I'd walk through a sequence of rooms, resolve a few turn-based encounters, and watch the plot develop via cutscenes. There are a few roleplaying moments where players can choose how to interact with other NPCs, but Anachronox isn't about player consequences; these choices have almost no impact on the story and don't even always provide tangible rewards. This means that most of the time, you'll forced to watch the same battle animations unfolding over and over again, hoping that this will be the last one before something exciting happens.

When you're not resolving combat encounters or watching cutscenes, you'll be exploring the environment like it's an adventure game. This is both a positive and a negative point. Like an old-school adventure game, Anachronox is filled with details and jokes that reward patient exploration, like an NPC doorman with poor artistic skills, or two potential lovers that can be drawn together from opposite ends of the map. The problem is, this often reduces gameplay to monotonously clicking on every object on the map, usually multiple times to get the full effect with each character.

Anachronox also has several "one obstacle, one solution" puzzles common to adventure games that forced me to figure out the developer's logic instead of leveling up to beat a challenge. Ion Storm tried to mix things up with clever mini-games for each character: Boots has to solve a lockpicking puzzle when breaking into secret rooms, while your party has other skill-based games to turn to. Trouble is, most of these are finished in about 30 seconds, leaving me to wander the map and see if I missed any clickable objects.

Thankfully, Anachronox's story and characters offer more than enough rewards for putting up with these frustrations. The environments are varied, the world-building is rich and nuanced, and I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of the little details permeating throughout the game. Personal details like the notes Boots' secretary leaves in your quest log, or that your in-game cursor is technically a major character, gives Anachronox a heart and soul that help it rise above its flaws. It also makes the lack of a sequel all the more tragic. The game's plot was resolved to my satisfaction, but it provided a jumping-off point for future installments that might have resolved the game's mechanical problems.

Tom Hall has teased that he still would like to make sequel in the coming decade, but until someone Kickstarts him the intellectual property rights, the original remains a worthwhile classic. Do not make the same mistake I did: Play Anachronox for yourself!

Come back next week for the beginning of a month of first-person shooters starting with Duke Nukem 3D!

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I just finished Anachronox a couple of weeks back - such a lovely game. Even though it's not Japanese, it's best JRPG ever.

You should've seen my face when I saw what my new party member was after I saved Democritus.

Anachronox is one of those games that I smile just thinking about it, I would LOVE to see a new game, if just because it would be nice to see a less buggy interface. I also enjoy how you get dragged into the main plot on accident. Sly's starting story is actually a side story

This game was just fun the writing is gold. I still remember many of the things in this game the jokes it was awesome. Yeah the gameplay is a bit dry, but it's a very interesting universe to explore.

I remember purchasing this game just because of the system requirements, the last one printed was "sense of humor" I loved it.

For anyone that just can't get over the mechanics of the game, I recall there used to be some website or web channel that streamed the whole game in movie form every once in a while. I doubt it still around but it should be possible to find a download for it somewhere.

Anachronox was great, personally I got it from the bargain bin as well after seeing it advertised on the back of my Deus Ex case which I got in 2003... In some ways it sucks being late to the party on these things, but in other ways its awesome because you essentially get instant access to great cheap games. :)

EDIT: yep, the Anachronox movie is an extra that comes with it on GOG and looks like it might also be on youtube.

Such an amazing game this. I still have the giant box the jewel case and manual came packaged in somewhere.

At the time, the Blade Runner via JRPG feel, from a western developer, was just mind boggling. Still such a fun title (though I agree it could use an HD update)!

ION Storm was a pretty schizophrenic company, to say the least. On the one hand, we got such masterpieces in the likes of Deus Ex and Anachronox, but on the other hand, well, the super infamous Daikatana and the pretty mediocre Deus Ex: Invisible War and Thief: Deadly Shadows.

Yeah, along with Final Fantasy VII, Chrono Trigger, Dark Souls (if it really counts as a JRPG) and Bowser's Inside Story, this is my all time favorite JRPG ever. It combines elements from adventure games, making exploration a joy.

The only thing I can complain about it, is how abusively long are the combat animations, not even Pokémon Stadium had such long animations for simple attacks. But other than that, yes, incredible game, anyone should buy it ASAP, either on Steam or GOG.

I finally managed to replay this game after so long (I was way too young back then and couldn't finish it because I got stumped at a puzzle) and finished it last year and I'm really glad that I did so.

It was as good as I remember and I see where the Mass Effect series took some of the inspiration from. Too bad that the cliffhanger`y ending kinda makes me sad that they didn't get the funds to continue with the other two sequels (it was planned to be a trilogy).

All in all a cult classic in my eyes alongside Beyond Good and Evil and Psychonauts and many others that would require quite a big list.

I beat this game a while back, when going through games old classics... which is when I found mah favorite game of all time, Deus Ex... but I played Anachronox too, and I mean the story and characters and universe were all really interesting and the writing was good... just the gameplay was sooooo boring to me... I mean I like turn based combat sometimes, but there's just a discontent between combat and exploring the over world that just comes with trying to emulate JRPGs... and the combat just operates on JRPG logic...<.<

I remeber buying this game when it came out. I think that at the time it was out so was Final Fantasy X. This was by far a better game in my opinion. Loved it.

I always wanted to play this game, but it was nowhere to be found in my country. I read a preview in magazine, but the actual product never got here, and of course there was no digital distribution back then. I should play it now, but somehow it feels like it'll be too long for my busy grown-up schedule.

Also, nitpicking here, there's an "it's" where there should be an "its" in the second to last paragraph.

shiajun:
I always wanted to play this game, but it was nowhere to be found in my country. I read a preview in magazine, but the actual product never got here, and of course there was no digital distribution back then. I should play it now, but somehow it feels like it'll be too long for my busy grown-up schedule.

Also, nitpicking here, there's an "it's" where there should be an "its" in the second to last paragraph.

Not anymore there isn't!

The game is on the long side (50+ hours) but the actual quests themselves tend to be on the short side, so you can usually work through a few in a single sitting.

SupahGamuh:
ION Storm was a pretty schizophrenic company, to say the least. On the one hand, we got such masterpieces in the likes of Deus Ex and Anachronox, but on the other hand, well, the super infamous Daikatana and the pretty mediocre Deus Ex: Invisible War and Thief: Deadly Shadows

This is totally off-topic, but I'm really surprised on how many people has a bad opinion on Thief: Deadly Shadows. Sure, it wasn't as free and open as previous games, but the tight focus was there, the gameplay was solid, atmosphere spot on, and Shalebridge Cradle is a worthy successor of a Haunted Cathedral as a "scary as fuck" level. Great game, one of my favorites of 2004, and this is coming from a guy who has a couple of The Dark Project maps completely memorized up to this day.

OT: Got this game a while back, when I got a gift code for some GOG games, because plot synopsis looked interesting, and a JRPG from creators of Deus Ex sounded like a most bizarrely awesome idea ever. It got eventually buried under many other titles, but this review might just be enough to put it as the next game on my "to play next" list.

Yossarian1507:
I'm really surprised on how many people has a bad opinion on Thief: Deadly Shadows.

I don't have a bad opinion on it, I don't think it was bad, but I also think it wasn't good, just pretty average.

As a stealth game, it was okay at best, as a Thief game, well, it was underwhelming, to say the least.

I tried to finish Ananchronox a few times over the years. Usually, sometime time after

the gameplay would just drag and drag to the point where I got thoroughly bored and quit.

Bought this game in a recent gog sale and installed it just a few days ago. Gonna give it a shot although the mentioned mechanical problems do scare me

I have an original copy of it around somewhere, and I think a strategy guide. I remember when I found it (when it was just released) I was thinking "hmmm, this looks cool, I wonder why I never heard of it". It's one of those games that really needed to be advertised and promoted better, if they did anything to promote the game it must have been a pretty lame attempt because as I said, I had never heard of it, and even then I followed games pretty regularly.

As far as doing a Kickstarter for another one... well, we can always hope.

Anachronox may seem like a silly game, but it will take you on a very interesting journey that you'll not soon forget.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtjo4Cnxx7M

 

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