Anachronox: My Favorite Game of All Time

I wanted to take a break from writing about current games just to write about an old classic by the name of Anachronox and somehow try to put my feelings for this game into words once and for all.  First of all, how I came across this game to begin with is a story worth telling.  Back in the day, when PC games were sold in gigantic, beautiful, collectible boxes, stores would often bundle them into even BIGGER 2-packs.  Well, my brother wanted to buy the new Thief game (I can’t remember whether it was Thief 1 or 2 at the time) and it came in this 2-pack with another game called “Anachronox”.  We had no idea what it was, but we bought it anyway because it was shiny and looked like it was futuristicy cool and cyberpunky.  Hey, we were kids.

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Look at this box art. The two characters on the right are minor and don’t even come in until later, but come on! It was shiny too and the front flap opened!

Well, I didn’t play Thief.  My brother did.  But I put this game into the computer and loaded it up to see what it was about.  I had no idea at the time that I was about to embark upon one of the greatest sci fi rpg adventures of all time… The game begins with a long, beautiful (for its time, mind you) intro of space, a planet, and ships docking into a giant cool looking space station where the tale begins.  It shows rotating plates on the planet’s surface and people walking upside down and all sorts of crazy sci-fi elements right off the bat.  Now, this game came out in 2001, which was an amazing year for PC games.  I mean, Max Payne came out that year, Baulders Gate II, Dark Age of Camelot, and RuneScape.  This game out almost exactly 1 year after the first Deus Ex, but it wasn’t anything like it.

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One of the first sights you get to see of Anachronox and Rowdy’s bar.

You’re introduced to the protagonist, Sly Boots, when you are beaten up and thrown out a window by a midget who looks like a member of the mafia telling you to pay what you owe.  You wake up in a bar but, lo and behold, you’re a washed up detective and your office happens to be on the second story just above said sleazy bar.  It’s a fantastic starting point for an adventure; you’re a washed up detective looking for work-small time, of course- but you stumble across something big.  I mean, really big.  That’s the premise of the game and I won’t go into huge detail about plot, but I want to move on to the other elements that make this game really special.

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Sly Boots on the platform area, and a man on fire in the background. Yep, you can’t go that way until that guy stops being on fire.

There was so much going on in this adventure that just felt so FRESH.  Your cursor was a character, you had a functioning camera that you used on jobs, and there were a number of collectibles scattered around (like the Anachronox symbol above the platform area sign in the above photo).  The world was filled with a variety of alien species that spoke languages you didn’t, and couldn’t understand!  They even had their own font, which really made you feel like a dumb, alienated human from the start.

The game’s design was perfect in the way it made you feel like you were going from zero to hero, if you’ll excuse the Disney reference.  There I was, a washed up detective at the bottom of his career just looking to make rent, and I wind up getting myself into situations that seem way over my guy’s head.  But the fun is feeling like you’re going along for the dangerous ride anyway!  It’s kind of like being Mal in Firefly; always in risky situations but somehow pulling it off with his rag-tag team of allies.

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Grumpos, Rho, Boots, and PAL-18, your lovable bad-mouthed robot.

The writing is what really makes this game.  It was written and designed primarily by Tom Hall, and it was a long development period, but the outcome was just amazing.  Here’s a great quote regarding some of Hall’s inspirations for the game:

 “In movies, some inspirational people are SpielbergHitchcock,George Roy HillRob Reiner, and now Sam Mendes. Also a big fan of Chuck Jones, who directed Warner Brothers cartoons. Novels: GatewayEnder’s GameSnow CrashHitchhiker’s, so many more. Games: Chrono TriggerFinal Fantasy, LucasArts adventures (Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer rock), Ape Escape (buy it now), MarioUltima IIIWizardry I, oh, I’m sure I’m forgetting some!”

What it wound up being was the perfect blend of adventure, comedy, science fiction, and action.  It’s hard to remember more than a handful of games in which the writing was just so good that I felt like I could not go on until I talked to every single NPC just to hear what they had to say.  This game gave me some real gut laughs and golden quotes I still pull out from time to time.  Among my favorites is when your little robot buddy, PAL-18, turns to a female companion of yours and says in a meatwad-like voice, “Wanna see my batteries?”

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There are a lot more classic speech options where this screenshot came from. I’m telling you.

The characters are so well-written and really feel like people.  You’ll find yourself caring about each one but the sad part is you can only have a party of 3 at any given time!  They each have their own abilities that will come in handy, giving you incentive to switch out frequently, go back for secrets, and use your memory a lot about locations of things in the world.  It is a linear story, but even if the speech options don’t have Paragon or Renegade outcomes, it feels so participatory.  Sometimes it was incredibly difficult to choose a speech option because I really, REALLY wanted to hear the outcome for multiple lines.

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Combat in Anachronox was unique, challenging, and always changing.

The combat in the game was pretty unique albeit a bit weird at times.  It was a timed, turn-based system and you had a variety of options like using weapons, powers, items, or moving/interacting.  Each character had their own little special powers that would charge through battle and god, were they fun.  I mean sometimes you get sick of battles systems like this because you know, like Final Fantasy, you just want to get through it or something.  But in Anachronox, I always felt like I wanted to see a different combination or attack.

 It was kind of funny because the enemies didn’t really have animations for dodging and dying, so they’d kind of just like flop over at a 90 degree angle or side step like a statue, but that just added to the charm of the game for me.  Sure it made me pull my hair out when a giant bear-like creature just floated to the side when I shot a huge bullet at it, but if that’s the worst thing this game had going for it, that ain’t too bad.  The best part for me was playing Grumpos, an old man with a staff, and watching him jump like Yoda from Episode 1 to somersault through the air and whap things with his staff.  Who doesn’t love acrobatic old men fighting like that?!

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I wonder what the deal is with that gross looking sock… you gotta play to find out!

I don’t even know how to conclude this other than with a plea for whoever reads this to go out and try it.  I know a lot of people, for whatever reason, feel that they can’t put up with outdated graphics to play through an older classic these days, but trust me, it is worth it. This game made me laugh, cry, rage, gasp, and smile warmly as it led me through one of the greatest video game adventures I’ve ever had.  If I have convinced at least one person to play this game by writing about it, I’ll be happy I wrote this.  This game deserves to be remembered and I will always have a special place in my heart for it.

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