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Anchorhead (DOS)

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MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
4.5
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Mirrorshades2k (273)
Written on  :  Jan 19, 2007
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars
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Summary

Captivating; very well-developed story and excellent attention to detail

The Good

Two things impress me about Anchorhead -- the elaborate story surrounding the events of the game, and the author's amazingly detailed world. In fact, calling it a "game" almost trivializes it; rather, it is a work of *interactive* *fiction* in a much more literal sense. The game's back story, gameplay, and conclusion could easily be turned into a novel with very little re-writing. The story is complete and detailed enough that you are drawn in almost immediately, and the exceedingly realistic responses to your interaction with the game will keep you playing.

Those who may be familiar with interactive fiction will notice very few of the standard library responses to actions -- one example that stands out in my mind is if you attempt to HIT or KILL one of the game's NPCs. Normally, if that is not a significant action in the game, you are told, "Violence isn't the answer to this one." In Anchorhead, however, this stock message is replaced with, "[The person] may be creepy, but you have nothing against [them] personally." This message doesn't affect your progress in the game at all; it is simply not the correct action to perform. That the author went through and deliberately customized many default responses is impressive, and keeps the immersion going.

Another thing I like is that most of the puzzles in the game aren't mind-numbingly difficult. For the most part, they make logical sense, and continued interaction with the objects in the game will often provide hints that point towards a solution. Object interaction is very comprehensive, and again, many of the default "action failure" messages are replaced with custom ones. This helps keep the frustration level down as you try different ways of solving puzzles (seeing the standard "You can't do that." messages when trying to solve puzzles in some games gets old quickly).

A lot of good things can be said about this game; indeed, it has been very well-reviewed in many places. The author has done a very good job of putting the player into a believable, immersive story.

The Bad

For me, there were enough red herrings that caused me to miss solutions to some puzzles; either because I was convinced there should be more information about the solution elsewhere, or because I made an assumption based on something the game told me that would keep me from arriving at the correct solution. An example of this (hopefully minimally spoiler-y) is a puzzle that involves using a musical instrument in a certain way. Based on a physical description of one of the characters, I made the (incorrect) assumption that I had to manipulate the instrument in a manner consistent with how I thought that character would have done it; when several different attempts failed, I then assumed I needed to find additional information somewhere in the game. As it turns out, this puzzle could be solved by simple trial and error; I was just not trying the right things. My own fault; however, in this particular case, an exhausive trial and error would have 255 different possible outcomes... which would turn into a lot of typing.

Another common criticism of this game is that there are too many "timed" puzzles in the final stages. While I don't tend to mind timed puzzles usually, Anchorhead throws enough of them at you in such rapid succession that I found myself getting weary by about the 5th one (and by my count, there are around 10 that will end the game if you don't solve within the alloted time). A few of these seem frivolous and have somewhat non-sequitur solutions; many, however, do fit into the storyline and flow properly. The result is that the player feels "carried along" by the game, not as in charge as they have been up until that point -- which is the same way that the character in the game should feel.

The Bottom Line

A worthwhile game; very immersive, and sets the bar for interactive fiction high. I would probably recommend this game to someone new to playing IF, though the subject matter is, at times, somewhat disturbing (Lovecraftian horror). For an IF buff, this should be on either your "must play" list or "have already played" list.