Role-playing adventures began on PC as text-based games with few graphics and graduated to Dungeons & Dragons-type fantasy adventures, before being taken over by the video games console. However, they then went soft with cutesy heroes collecting pixie dust and battling fairytale creatures. That turned away many gamers who would otherwise enjoy the addictive gameplay.
Anachronox brings the genre back to the PC by adding gritty characters and advanced graphics in a game that is a mix of Final Fantasy-style gameplay and Half Life-type characters.
Players start the game as Boots, a private detective who spends most of his time getting in bar fights instead of finding clients. At the urging of his virtual secretary, he sets out to uncover the secrets that lie beneath the mechanical city of Anachronox.
Most of the game is spent exploring the city and talking to the characters that wander around its streets. Some have to be bribed for information and at times Boots has to do a bit of breaking and entering to find the necessary clues.
Along the way, he has to perform mini quests set by other characters, such as exploring sewers or finding valuable items, and knowing which people to trust in the underworld is key to his survival. Eventually, Boots will team up with friendly locals who join him in his pursuit; this opens up the gameplay so players can switch between characters and use their specialised skills such as throwing knives or pounding people with oversized fists.
Combat is turn-based, with each character taking their turn to attack, defend or use a special item designed to increase their health or cause extra damage. It's a time-consuming procedure, but engaging nonetheless. Watching your characters slowly increase in power as the game progresses keeps you coming back for more.
After each battle, surviving characters receive extra experience points and items, making them stronger in a variety of ways.
If Anachronox proves anything, it is that role-playing adventures don't have to be embarrassing to be seen playing.
Developer: Ion Storm; Publisher: Eidos; URL: www.anachronox.comGRAPHICS Highly detailed environments are very attractive and there is a real sense that a lot of work has been put into their design. Special areas like anti-gravity walkways will give you vertigo. The characters themselves aren't the most detailed, but there's no faulting the slick animation.
Fans of hackneyed and clichd voice acting will find Anachronox very much to their liking. Thankfully, you can opt for subtitles. Sound effects give the city a true grimy, downtown New York feel, and combat effects are satisfyingly loud and beefy.
Exploration is a convenient mix of standard mouse and keyboard commands. The mouse pointer changes between moving the camera and using or looking at objects in a smart, context sensitive manner. Combat takes a while to get used to, with multiple icons and menus to click through for each turn.
Anachronox could have overwhelmed the player with pages of stats and a complex battle system, but it's been designed with fun in mind. You can explore the city without fear of getting lost or killed for no good reason, and the dialogue is quite funny in places.