One Look At the graphics and you might be forgiven for thinking Anachronox is a three or four-year-old title, rather than one. And with good reason. It uses the Quake II engine - complete with ugly, clunky textures - and it gave Daikatana a run for its money in the most-delayed-game-from-lon Storm stakes. But it's also an endearing RPG in the Final Fantasy mould, complete with turn-based combat. The story isn't particularly original (a loser private investigator caught up in a case that turns out to affect the future of the universe) but the mild sense of humour and Blade Runner-inspired city banish the poor graphics from your thoughts.
The writing is sharp and there's a touch of The Nomad Soul exploration as you investigate the sci-fi environments, buzzing with alien low-life. At times it plays like an old-fashioned point-and-click adventure game too, which is no bad thing. Keeping up with console RPG leanings, the game is littered with subgames and, although the turn-based combat isn't its strongest point, at least it avoids Final Fantasy's annoying random encounters. It does make you run around from one part of the city to the another doing silly errands as part of essential subquests but, overall, Anachronox is an overlooked bucket of goodness.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
It's an ostentatious aim, but it's also one that Jake Hughes, the producer of Anachronox, is adamant about: "We're trying to crack Squaresoft's skull. That's our goal."
Squaresoft are, of course, the developers of the epic Final Fantasy series, the RPG of choice for legions of gamers. Attempting to better it is an ambitious move, but Anachronox is an ambitious game. Using the Quake II engine, it's an epic 3D sci-fi/action role-playing affair set over 12 planets and three dimensions. The story is the work of a madman, and loosely involves a space detective attempting to discover why the universe is folding in on itself.
That madman is the game's designer, Tom Hall, whose CV includes Doom, Rise Of The had and the yet to be released Prey, a project that he left to found Ion Storm. Despite a heavy cold, he chatted about the inspiration behind Anachronox.
'The console RPGs are a big influence just from their strong focus on story," he began. "For instance, in Chrono Trigger, near the end you're sitting around with your friends - or the characters are - and they're talking about regret. In a game where characters would be talking about something as interesting and subtle as regret, as opposed to dubbing people over the head and taking their gold, it's kind of a different approach. It just makes the fighting and the adventuring and stuff so much deeper when there's actually a reason for doing it."
Anachronox will feature an extremely advanced camera system, giving the game a consistently dramatic feel; something that Tom - who has acted in theatres - is particularly keen on.
"I just like a constant sense of reality, because if you're in a game and you see this great rendered cinematic and then all of a sudden you're in a tile game, there's this jarring point. Even if you watch kids' cartoons they're choppy and awful, but it's a constant level of reality, so you can sort of forget it and just believe in it and watch what's going on. And that's what we're trying to accomplish here. We're trying to make the engine good enough so that all the action can take place in it, and then just tell the story in the same level of reality, so there's not that jarring spin into a battle room or sudden change in resolution.''
The game will feature umpteen elaborate battles though, and like Hk. most things at Ion Storm they will apparently be cool. "What's going to be cool about the batdes is that you actually use the environment. Say some dudes are standing on a bridge - you could take aim at the bridge switch and drop them into the water. If there's a stack of crates and if a character's strong enough, they can push them over on to the enemy."
Shiny Unhappy People
Anachronox features seven main characters, of which up to three can be controlled at any one rime. They're not exactly a barrel of laughs though, as Tom explains: "Each of the characters has something they're trying to resolve - something in their past or something that they just want to do in life. And throughout the story they either resolve it or they don't, and a lot of that depends on decisions you make. It's not a happy 'let's all save the galaxy' kind of party that you're gonna be accruing, it's gonna be people that have their own agendas and know what they want to do. At one point the party can decide to do something that so offends one of its members that they just leave the game altogether.
"I want this to be fairly emotional. At the start it's gonna be light-hearted and you sort of get used to the people, but at a certain point it's just gonna turn dark and get darker and darker. People will betray you and people will die, and you care because you've hung out with these people for 30 hours and you want to see what happens to them. There will be a way to have the cool ending, where everything gets resolved and everyone's happy - the Hollywood ending."
Burn Hollywood Burn
If Tom has his way, Anachronox should be on a par with Hollywood in terms of drama and emotion - an aspect sorely lacking from games, barring a few notable exceptions. "Final Fantasy was really awesome and dramatic, but it didn't have that intimate drama. I mean, occasionally there were certain emotional points, like Red 13's story, but I want real drama to come out of this. We're using vertex deformation so you can actually have expression in people's characters, rather than just having the person's head bobbing while the speech is going on. We're gonna have their lips moving to the speech, and expressions in their face, so they'll look from side to side if they're worried, and they'll look downhearted when they're downhearted, and so on. With that ability it's going to make that much more emotion come out of the cinematics, and with the natural movement it's gonna be a very interesting experiment in seeing if we can make people really get emotionally upset at a video game.
I think Electronic Arts said in the '80s: 'Can they make you cry?' We're gonna try our best." It's a commendable endeavour, and from what we've seen it's one they could feasibly achieve. However, it's Eidos who'll be crying if Ion Storm don't finish a game soon.