We are living in a Materia world...
What a bunch of losers. Dr. Rho Bowman used to be the most promising scientist in the galaxy, and now she's been branded as a heretic. Paco "El Puno" Estrella, former comic book superhero to many, now just wants to drink his malt liquor. And then there's the king of the clowns, Sylvester "Sly" Boots, a detective way past his prime, eking out his existence. These are the heroes who are supposed to save the universe? Looosers! And I mean that in the nicest way possible.
It's a refreshing dynamic to have a bunch of unglorified has-beens and rejects pulling together to fight chaos and ne'er-do-wells. Kind of like Rudolph and his ugly toy buddies off to save Christmas (which, by the way, was a big lie). That's what I love about Anachronox - it never takes itself too seriously.
Anachronox has been touted and marketed as a Science fiction / RPG / Adventure, but there's more adventure than RPG in this puppy. Adventure elements take their cue from the smart control interface, a marriage of third person controls with your classic point and click controls. The ubiquitous flying cursor is even explained in the story: Sly Boots has a FDA - a flying digital assistant. Palm should get off their duff and make me one of those.
Most of the adventuring is triggered through conversations. Unlike the conventional PC adventure game, there's little by way of item inventories. Puzzles involve clicking at things rather than digging through some backpack of items for the right one to use. If something needs to be used, your character will automatically use it. Item "gathering" on the other hand...
Errands, errands, errands. Talk to one guy, who will tell you to mosey your way across town and pick up a grocery list of items, or perhaps he'll tell you to talk to some other guy, or to talk to yet another guy, etc. Sometimes the game manages to conceal the core concept of item gathering by labeling it 'detective work', but no matter what you call it, it can get to be a drag. This is particularly true for the first several hours of gameplay, though eventually things pick up.
Anachronox is certainly well written. It's clever and filled with all the things you'd never find in your conventional PC Role Playing Game. One moment you're listening to a thinly disguised attack of electoral-colleges on the planet Democratus, the next you're rubbing elbows and more in the Red Light District on Sender Station. And you thought Final Fantasy 7 was schizo.
Indeed, Anachronox has studied under the Eastern dojos of Japanese styled RPG creation, though it carries a distinctly American flair. There aren't any random battles. Enemies are set in pre-scripted locations and battles happen right then and there. No longer are you whisked away in a flourish of screen transitions to some faraway battlefield.
Just because the fights are no longer random doesn't mean they are avoidable. A fixed number of preordained fights take away from the leveling-up and character strength development. Sure, you can exit some areas and let enemies reset back into place, but the fighting and leveling simply lack a little something and feel almost arbitrary.
There's also a Materia-esque magic system (dubbed 'Mystech') that isn't very interesting. Using little elementor bugs, you can create all sorts of nifty spells. It's got depth, certainly, but feels derivative.
As a whole, the battles play conventionally to a fault. Still, some strategy has been added in the ability to move your character to set points, and your FDA replaces traditional menu wading nicely.
Anachronox is built upon the elder Quake 2 engine. It's not bad, per se, but certainly dated; you need look no further than the blocky, overly pointed character models. The environmental design makes the most of the situation - beautiful gothic cathedrals and spaceship terminals that feel like airports really add some immersion. The world is a believable one.
For some inexplicable reason, the two graphic modes are Low-Res: 640 x 480, and Hi-Res: 1280 x 960. What about everything in between? There's a way to decrease the upper limit of the resolution, but it involves muddling through configuration files. Not for the uninitiated.
Musically, there's a full gamut of different styles. The plinking of a sad piano on the planet Hephaestus highlights the melodies that translate the different moods of Anachronox. During key scenes, the game utilizes voices. These are aptly chosen and capture the snappy attitudes of the characters. I still haven't totally figured out why Sly Boot's robot, the Pal-18, has the voice of Eric Cartman (South Park). Hrm...fat little boy, fat little robot - sure, why not?
It's ironic that bug collection is one of the in-game tasks, since the game itself is a locust infestation of bugs - programming bugs, that is. Prior to the patch, there was a doozy of a bug that gave you unlimited money. I wouldn't mind one of those bugs in my ATM, but it's a bit much in a game. The most recent patch released fixes a long list of problems, but still not all of them.
I just finished fighting a major boss. A small cutscene ensues, and then....Windows desktop! Maybe your computer will never run into a crash, but with the infinite number of PC combinations, I'll doubt anyone will be completely free of the dreaded bugs.
I have this real love/hate relationship with Anachronox. The writing and design are fresh and clever, but the actual gameplay can drag at times. Still, it's not a bad RPG effort from an American developer. Maybe these guys aren't losers after all?