metzomagic.com Review

Anchorhead

Developer/Publisher:  Written by Michael Gentry
Year Released:  1998

Review by Karen Tyers (1999)

This is another game I downloaded from the internet and is available at ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/inform/anchor.z8. The if-archive site is an absolute must if you have access to it as there are a lot of very good text adventures available there. The introduction to this game is almost a short story in itself but I will reproduce it here because it will give you an idea about the quality and atmosphere of the game...

...Raindrops spatter down onto the pavement. You take a deep breath of salty air. And the swollen, slate coloured clouds that blanket the sky, mutter ominous portents amongst themselves over the little coastal town of Anchorhead. Squinting up into the glowering storm, you wonder how everything managed to happen so fast. The strange phone call over a month ago, from a lawyer claiming to represent the estate of some distant branch of Michael's family, was bewildering enough in itself, but then the sudden whirlwind of planning and decisions, legal details and travel arrangements, the packing up and shipping away of your entire house, your entire life... Now suddenly, here you are, after driving for the past two days straight, over a thousand miles away from the familiar warmth of Texas, getting ready to move into the ancestral mansion of a clan of relatives so far removed, that even Michael has never heard of them. And you've only been married since June, and none of this was any of your idea in the first place, and already it's starting to rain. These days, you often find yourself feeling confused and uprooted.

You shake yourself and force the melancholy thoughts from your head, trying to focus on the errand at hand. You're to pick up the keys to the house while Michael runs across town to take care of some paperwork at the University. He'll be back to collect you in a few minutes, then the two of you can begin the long process of settling in. A sudden belch emanates from the clouds, and the rain starts coming down harder -- fat cold drops, smacking loudly against the cobblestones. Shouldn't it be snowing in New England at this time of year? With a sigh, you open your umbrella. Welcome to Anchorhead.....

Well, with an intro like that I could hardly wait to get into the game. Reading the 'about' section so thoughtfully included by the author, you find out that the game is divided into 'days' with various puzzles needing to be completed during a particular day. Time does not pass as such, but when you have completed all necessary tasks for one section, the day turns into evening and you will need to go back to the house to sleep. Armed with this information I found myself outside the Real Estate office where I was supposed to pick up the keys, but it was locked and obviously empty. Off I went on walkabout to discover an alley leading round the back with a window which was too high to reach. Having solved that one I managed to get hold of the house keys and I then proceeded to explore the town and found several very interesting places, such as a courthouse that was closed on that day, a church I couldn't get into, a vacant lot, complete with mattress, a locked door under a bridge, and several other places, but couldn't seem to do a lot at the time, so found the University and library where Michael was reading, waiting for me as the car had broken down. From there, we walked to the house, and went inside. The info bar at the top told me it was now evening, so I went to bed and had some very strange dreams.....

Waking on the morning of day two, I decided some exploration was in order so after getting dressed I started looking round the house. Immediately accessible was a library with a couple of useful books, a study where Michael was working and didn't want to be disturbed. Venturing a little further I found a child's bedroom and discovered an attic, but since I didn't have a light with me, and we had been told there was no electricity, I decided to leave that and go downstairs. All the luggage was in the foyer of the house, so had a quick look through that and found the dining room, kitchen and pantry, and the cellar. Having by now located a torch, I went down into the cellar, and found a storage room where a poisonous spider was lurking, and a wine cellar absolutely full to the brim with bottles. Nothing doing there, so into the attic I went, only to be confronted with a locked door. Something was blocking the keyhole, but there was a light shining out from under the door... Several puzzles later, and a visit to the town, I then found that Michael was missing, but had left his computer running. However, I had to somehow find a passcode to enable me to look at it. I also found a secret set of passages running between the walls of the house, and a safe for which I hadn't yet found a combination. However, after a lot of headscratching and running around, I managed to solve the problems of Day Two and went to bed, only to find I was having really weird dreams again.....

On waking to Day Three, Michael was asleep beside me, and getting up, I looked at him, only to find that his feet were covered in mud! However, I disturbed him while getting dressed, and he was really irritable and wandered off (to do his own thing presumably). However, I managed to keep an eye on him, and spotted him mucking around in the cellar with the bottles. On entering the cellar I found the bottles he had been playing around with, and found several dates on them. By now I had acquired a whole heap of names, dates and objects, so decided to visit the records office in the courthouse where I was able to look up several names and dates which provided quite a lot of information. I also visited the library to check up on what Michael had been reading that first day, which also proved to be a mine of information. By this time I had managed to open the door in the attic (an old trick this one and I nearly missed it, but was talking to someone else who was playing who had got past this point).

I could go on and on about the things to do and see in this game but it would take up far too many pages. Suffice to say the rest of Day Three and Day Four are jam packed with puzzles, some fairly easy and some very difficult, but I did manage to finish it finally.

The atmosphere of this game is unbelievably good, very Infocomish, and draws you further and further into the plot as the tension grows and you uncover even more of a horrific mystery. The sense of relief when it is all over is overwhelming. This game has to be one of the best I've seen in many a long year and has to be an absolute must for any adventurer. I really don't think anyone should miss this one.

I believe this is the author's first offering, and I found no bugs or spelling mistakes. If this is any indication of the quality of games he is going to write, I can't wait for the next one.

(This review was originally published in Adventure Probe, UK, edited by Barbara Gibb. Reprinted here with the kind permission of the author).

You can download Anchorhead from the following address:
ftp://ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/inform
The game file is anchor.z8

Copyright © Karen Tyers 1999. All rights reserved.