A game ahead of its time, but now outdated, Anachronox was unlike anything you ever played before when it launched in 2001. Anachronox blends the classic third-person, RPG perspective you use to explore the world with a point-and-click style (usually found in mystery games, like the Myst series) you use to interact with the environment.
An unfortunate result of this hybrid style, the game runs slow — very slow compared to modern standards. It can take ages to find the specific item or person you’re looking for, with a lot of running around and meaningless talking going on. It takes a long time to find a purpose for yourself and really get the story moving forward, which may result in players quitting before they even really begin.
But if you’re a fan of games that layer witty comedy into almost every element and interaction, and you can see past the old-style graphics that make characters look like faces stuck onto blocky, human-like dummies, then there is a lot of enjoyment to be found in Anachronox.
You start off by getting punched in the face. Numerous times. And then thrown out a window. And then hit with a club. Very quickly you get the idea that your character, Sly Boots, is a down-on-his-luck private investigator in need of a purpose. Or just a job.
With your deceased secretary, now preserved in a technologically advanced paper plane, at your side, you set off to explore the world of Anachronox — and eventually many worlds beyond that.
The movement is a bit awkward; you don’t stroll through the world with ease. Often, you’ll find yourself fiddling with the camera trying to get a good look at where you’re going. Or trying to spot the item you’re looking for on a shelf or in a corner. It doesn’t make the game unbearable by any means and pretty soon you’ll get the hang of it. It’s just awkward. And that’s something that will annoy modern gamers.
As with many older games, Anachronox doesn’t hold your hand, which means that sometimes simple things, like using a Time Minder, can take you a while to do. Obviously, everyone knows what a Time Minder is, so Ion Storm (developers of Anachronox) felt no need to offer some guidance here.
Another helpful bit of information would have been to mention that you can walk up some walls, because they’re not really walls at all, just paths that go up. The direction of gravity on Anachronox is controlled and the city blocks can move around like a Rubik’s cube — which is awesome, but it does make you wish you had a map. Can you imagine how hard it would be to find your way around a place like that without Google Maps? No need to imagine, you get to try it in-game.
It would have been a good idea to give your technologically advanced paper plane flying secretary a map. If you don’t want to spend ages wandering the streets, listen to people who give you directions. There are many sayings about the journey being part of the fun and, sometimes, more important than the destination. But when you’ve been wondering around the same gray corridors for a while, you really just want to get to where you’re going.
If you’ve played any form of turn-based game before, then the combat in Anachronox will feel very familiar to you: you have an action bar that slowly fills up and once full, you choose what action you want to take. But it does help to have the hypercritical beatdown specialist, Whackmaster Jack, teach you the finer points of Anachronox’s combat system — the various attributes, actions and interactions that are possible.
The one major thing the combat lacks is an indication of how much health your enemies have. When you’re fighting for your life, which is often when you’re Sly Boots, you want to preserve your health as much as possible and take down the weakest enemies first. Unfortunately, with no health bars, there’s no way to tell what you’re up against — a weakling who’s going to die in one shot or a powerhouse who’s going to give Sly Boots another in a long line of beatings.
The best part of Anachronox is its sense of humor. You’re constantly finding little things that put a smile on your face, whether it’s someone making fun at your expense, Fatima criticizing your abilities and every decision you make, or the witty comments Sly Boots confidently makes as he gets more and more in over his head.
There’s also a lot of humor in the broader makeup of the game’s worlds. Entire planets and their political or social systems are literally a joke in Anachronox. And that’s what makes the game worth playing — if you have 40 hours or so to spare (longer if you don’t pay attention to directions).
Anachronox relies heavily on its characters and their interactions. If you can see past the outdated graphics and forgive the inelegance that comes with an older title, then you’ll be able to enjoy this game for what it is — a well-written, story-driven RPG with plenty of attitude.