Posted in Retro Gaming

Anachronox: Up is down

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2001’s Anachronox. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Shortly before John Romero’s infamous studio Ion Storm imploded in the early 2000s, it released an odd cyberpunk film noir adventure with chunky graphics and a big heart. Anachronox never got the acclaim of Deus Ex or the sales of Fallout, but over the past two decades, it’s garnered somewhat of a loving cult following.

I did play this game way, way back in the day, but not too much of it (the more’s my shame), and certainly not enough to complete it. Considering that it boasts Chrono Trigger as one of its key influences, Anachronox has been on my “must play” list for this series for a while. So after tucking a few adventure games under my belt last year, I feel I have the breathing room to investigate a huge CRPG.

Welcome to Anachronox. It seems that the most famous thing about this game is its setting: A dead alien city-planet that “the refuse of the galaxy” took over. It’s strange as the whole place shifts like a Rubix Cube on a regular basis for no useful reason I can tell.

There’s about five minutes of a fly-through of this place, establishing it as this cyberpunk neo noir playland. It finally lands at the most noir of all noir places, a detective’s office.

The chunky guy on the bottom getting beaten up by the chunky guy on the top is Sly Boots, our protagonist. Anachronox stylized itself as a “console RPG on the PC,” so there’s no making your own character or anything like that. No, you play the character the game gives you, in this case a loser detective who gets thrown out the window because he owes money to gangsters.

So let’s talk about the graphics, because there’s no way of getting around this. Even for 2001, this game looked pretty clunky. That’s sort of excusable for MMORPGs of the era — which had to keep the polygon count low for latency — but not in a single-player game. Yet if you squint a bit and accept that this is the style of the game, there’s also a charm in how it looks. The artists did a lot with what little they had, that much is clear.

As Boots drinks away his sorrows after that merciless beating, we’re introduced to his secretary, Fatima. Fatima is completely dead, yet she “lives” in a computer matrix that is housed inside a floating cursor and can appear to Boots in holographic form. Her living space is seen as this sterile white prison, but she doesn’t seem to have lost loyalty for her boss.

There are some small tutorial-like tasks in the bar area which should go without note. What I will comment is that while I can make an uneasy peace with this game’s graphics, the control scheme is another thing altogether. The cursor and movement is sluggish, making me annoyed any time I try to swivel the camera around or try to get Boots to move in a particular direction. I’m worried I’m going to have to fight the game all the way through, and I don’t want that.

Anyway, there’s a lady at the bar who knows Boots and is part of some Resistance, but I have no idea who or what she’s resisting in this lawless city. In the next area, Boots has his first fight… and instantly loses and gets his gun destroyed. This game really doesn’t feel like it’s starting fair. Where are the lil’ rats I can beat up?

If you like MC Escher drawings, you may like the world of Anachronox, where up is down if you happen to head to the right area and the gravity flips on you. I always get lost in RPG cities as it is, I don’t need this too! I mean, when your main character growls, “I hate this place,” what are we supposed to think?

And here’s the thing — after this, I kind of lost the will and desire to play this game. I did forge forward perhaps another 30 minutes (which included a combat tutorial), but it wasn’t that exciting or blog-worthy. I was really hopeful about the premise, but the game’s clunky controls and ugly graphics soured it.

So in accordance to my self-made rules for Retro Reprise, if I’m not having fun or enjoying blogging about a game… I’m going to stop and try something else. This will end up as a one-shot post instead of a series, and I’m sorry for that.

However, last year Zinn over at Jinxed Thoughts played through this game and has a lot of great commentary for it. Give her series a read, why don’t you?

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