Ion Storm’s epic galaxy-trotting RPG has to be seen to be believed. For now you’ll have to make do with our interpretation. And some screenshots.
Britain and America are, as we all know, two countries separated by a common language.
So it wasn’t until a few hours after Tom Hall confided to us that he came up with the name Anachronox when he was in the bathroom, that we wondered exactly what kind of ‘bathroom’ he meant. Being ‘in the bathroom’ in the American fashion could mean something other than performing one’s ablutions, and frankly we’re far too British and polite to ask Tom for clarification.
Whatever. Even if he was perched on the porcelain when he conceived Anachronox, you can be sure it’s not a load of shit.
So, what is it? The brief answer is that it’s an RPG centred around an enormous galactic mystery. But the brief answer’s rubbish. Anachronox is shaping up to be a genuine epic of galactic and cinematic proportions, and it uses the Quake II engine. Yes, really.
To be fair, it uses a version of the Quake II engine that’s been chipped and turbocharged well beyond the manufacturer’s recommendations, and while it might look old compared with today’s shiniest, cutting-edgest engines, it performs its duties admirably and turns a few tricks that you probably haven’t seen before, such as facial expressions. Tom Hall showed us a scripted scene from the game where Paco, a superhero who’s lost his powers, encounters a lost little girl. Apart from maybe one short line of dialogue, the entire scene is played out without words and conveys everything through facial expressions and bodily postures. Incredible.
Anachronox rather likes throwing amazing things like that at you, but to concentrate on them would detract from the game itself. Yes, it’s an RPG, and a slightly more traditional one than its stable-mate, Deus Ex. Featuring seven main characters of whom any three can be banded together as your party, it starts off with the central character, private detective Sly Boots, taking on a case that inevitably turns out to have more to it than meets the eye. It then expands into a universe-spanning mystery in which you attempt to discover who’s trying to collapse the universe and why, and in which you travel through an enormous variety of disparate worlds in the course of your quest. Your party’s made up of the traditional mixture of characters and abilities, resulting in a pleasing non-linearity when it comes to overcoming obstacles. Need to get some information? You could just ask, or you could do some hacking, or some light-fingered thievery, all of which helps provide a pleasing illusion of total freedom.
Combat is turn-based, but avoiding the baffling stat-o-rama that might well put you off the likes of Final Fantasy. It’s also wonderful to look at (another sign of Anachronox’s utterly cinematic approach to gaming – fabulous effects and wonderful explosions ahoy) and thoroughly non-arbitrary. In other words, you’re unlikely to be wandering down a road one minute, and then thrown into a pitched battle without warning the next. You’ll be able to see trouble approaching, and back off to prepare for it.
The main thing, though, is the story, and beyond the basics of a sinister plot to destroy the universe, the story’s something you’ll have to discover for yourself. As it plays out in a different way depending on who’s in your party, it’s a story that has plenty of opportunities to branch out in unexpected directions.
Oh, there’s more. Much more – we haven’t even mentioned the in-built APE system that powers Anachronox’s many sub-games (including a beautiful Rebel Assault-style shooter and a weird homo-erotic dancing game) and which will be included with the game so that you can write your own games with it. We haven’t mentioned the two new languages that Tom has crafted for the game; if you learn them you’ll get extra clues. We really haven’t stressed enough how incredibly cinematic the Anachronox experience is. We don’t have the space.
What we do have space for, is an interview with Mr Anachronox himself, Tom Hall. See it here soon.