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Full original version and special edition demo
For all systems. To play, you'll need a Z-Machine Interpreter - visit Brass Lantern for download links.
"Special Edition"
For all systems. To play, you'll need a glulx interpreter - visit Brass Lantern for download links.
map in GUEmap format
GUEmap file. Requires the GUEmap viewer - visit http://www.cjmweb.net/GUEmap for information. (Compressed with ZIP. Free Unzip tools are available for most systems at www.info-zip.org.)

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by Michael Gentry


(based on 208 ratings)
15 member reviews

About the Story

From wikipedia:

"It is loosely based on the Cthulhu mythos. Anchorhead takes place in a New England town by the same name that bears a resemblance to Innsmouth, Arkham, and other fictional towns created by H.P. Lovecraft."

Game Details

Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: May 1, 1998
Current Version: 5
License: Freeware
Development System: Inform
Forgiveness Rating: Tough
Baf's Guide ID: 17
IFIDs:  ZCODE-5-990206-6B48
TUID: op0uw1gn1tjqmjt7


Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Story; Winner, Best Setting; Nominee, Best Puzzles; Nominee, Best Individual NPC - 1998 XYZZY Awards

4th Place - Interactive Fiction Top 50 of all time (2011 edition)

1st Place - The Top Five IF Games (Adventure Gamers, 2002)

Editorial Reviews

Baf's Guide

Lovecraft-inspired gothic horror at its best: a small town full of secrets, a gruesomely deformed monstrosity, a vast uncaring force awaiting its day. Despite the overblown style typical of the genre, this game generally works, and can get quite unnerving at times (especially in some of the NPC interactions). Highly open and explorable environment (aside from an abundance of locked doors), puzzles well-integrated into the storyline (including many optional puzzles and alternate solutions), lots of backstory revealed in an impressive variety of ways. Gets a bit sticky towards the end, with many tight time limits. Has a Sierra-style time system: the day ends when a certain point in the plot is reached. Features a female protagonist, two small mazes (one optional), references to incest, and a certain amount of strong language, gore, and really bad things happening to people.

-- Carl Muckenhoupt

Adventure Gamers
[...] in my book this game is the ultimate work of interactive fiction, overflowing with intrigue and compelling story elements, scary and engrossing, exceptionally written and impressively coded with a remarkable eye for detail.
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Brass Lantern
The best authors in the field of interactive fiction are often innovators - stretching the medium in new directions. With Anchorhead, Michael Gentry decided to take the best of what was already there and work on polishing and perfecting it. This attention to detail is refreshing. Examine any noun in room descriptions and you will always get a sensible reply. Attempt to solve a puzzle in a sensible way and you will likely solve it or get a hint about the correct way to do so. Anchorhead is proof that good solid writing and good solid design make for a great interactive journey.
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Gaming Enthusiast
Anchorhead has been widely praised, mainly for its atmosphere as well as for well-written dialogues and gripping narration. The only gripe people had with this game was puzzle-difficulty, but even if youíll have to resort once or twice to the walkthrough, it is still a production definitely worth checking.
See the full review

Aweighing an Anchorhead
As IF goes, though, this is a deeply beautiful piece. (Not what you were expecting me to say, hunh?) There's lots of disgusting, unpleasant imagery, but first -- and en route to that imagery -- is a masterful build-up of setting and mood unparalleled by almost any other game I have ever played. The scenery descriptions take into account very particular and yet very evocative features: the dull light through the pebbled glass in the courthouse building, suggesting offices inhabited by apathetic people doing dull jobs on a rainy day (if there was anyone in there at all); the changing weather, variable yet always gloomy; the disturbing drifts of ash; the wind-blown leaves, the slapping of waves against the shore. Every sense is called into play. There are odors, sounds, textures, variations in temperature and air quality, and the overall effect is an environment that becomes almost oppressively real. (Emily Short)
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Necessary Games
Overall, the experience of playing Anchorhead was incredibly rich and memorableónot for the difficulty navigating, or for the puzzles, but for the immersive experience it provided. It compared very well with any interactive experience I have ever had, and came in well ahead of the graphical adventures I have played (with the possible exception of Myst). My distaste for horror in general may have curbed my appetite slightly, but only slightly: this game manages to rise above horror, and the experience of playing it is beautiful as often as it is frightening. I would highly recommend the game, though if you have no previous IF experience beware: read the help, use the map, use a walkthrough when needed, and stick with it if you feel overwhelmed early on. Itís worth it.
See the full review

Play This Thing!
Anchorhead is a rare achievement in interactive fiction, a well-designed puzzle-rich game that nonetheless leaves you mostly remembering the story.

Michael Gentry's game is based on the locations and ideas of H. P. Lovecraft, but the result has its own unique vision and integrity.
See the full review

The trodden nature of this particular ground means that the seasoned IF veteran needs more than unnameable horrors and unspeakable rituals to stay interested in a game that borrows from Lovecraft. But Anchorhead is up to the job: the story is more than good enough to overcome the familiarity of the horror devices. Part of the reason is that the story revolves around the relationship between the PC and her husband, which comes alive as much as any relationship between two IF characters in memory -- and much of the progress of the story is marked by changes in that relationship.
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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.
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Member Reviews

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Number of Reviews: 15
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Most Helpful Member Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful:
A truly engaging and satisfying experience!, November 10, 2010
by Lipa (Slovenia)
It took me quite some time to pick up this title, despite its high ratings and numerous recommendations. In fact, I think that the reviews sort of scared me away. I read about situations in the game where you can lock yourself out of a winnable position (which I generally donít like at all), and also about some very tight time limits. However, there was also talk about great story and superb atmosphere, and I think this (combined with the sheer popularity and almost cult-like status of Anchorhead) finally convinced me to dive in.

And this was probably one of the best decisions of the year! Anchorhead, indeed, is more than a game. Itís another reality, a second life, just waiting to be explored, with all its secrets and dark history. It is truly easy to get immersed in the experience, and by the end of day two I felt like Iíve been a part of this town forever. The story is fascinating and unfolds at an exactly the right pace, letting you slowly amount more and more knowledge about the past events and whatís going on. I must admit that I had little knowledge of the Cthulu Mythos prior to playing the game (though I vaguely remember the premise of the adventure game ďThe Shadow of the CometĒ which I played ages ago), and maybe this is also the reason why I was even more drawn to the story, hungry for more information. In the end, everything fell into place, the story masterfully unfolded, and all the loose ends were tied.

And what about the difficulty which I feared? It is true that there are some tight time limits and unwinnable situations, however I realized in the end that their importance seems to be a bit exaggerated in the reviews. If playing sensibly, keeping track of the story and trying to hold on to your belongings, unwinnable situations can be avoided almost completely. As to the few time limits, they turned out to be so brief that itís fairly simple to undo and try another approach, and the solutions are usually quite logical too. All in all, I only got stuck once at the end of day two, and I could probably solve even this puzzle without consulting the walkthrough, if only I werenít as impatient to see the rest of the story unfold.

I truly recommend this game to everyone looking for a good story-driven IF with excellent atmosphere, relatively large world to explore, and logical puzzles to solve. I think the memory of this game, the town of Anchorhead and its troubled populace will stick with me for a long time to come, and the overall experience definitely ranks at top three of my gaming history. Thumbs up, way up!

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful:
Anchorhead: Better than All TV., April 9, 2010
by Danielle (The Wild West)
Related reviews: horror game
Note: this review was written while I was in the beginning of the game. I've since finished and have added some more notes to the end.

* * *

I started ANCHORHEAD last night. It's not a new release--it won a slew of awards in back in 1998, and for good reason.

See, I've been craving an eerie game I could really sink my teeth into, and ANCHORHEAD has delivered.

The depth of its gameworld is incredible. When Earthworm Jim came out, everyone said, "It's like playing a Saturday morning cartoon!" Remember that? Well, ANCHORHEAD is like playing an excellently-written novella.

The attention to detail is incredible--you can interact with most objects you see, and the gameworld responds in a believable manner. Because of this, it's really easy to get into character. For example, I always lock the door when I leave the house. Does it do anything related to gameplay? No. But because I feel like I'm such a part of this world, I feel like I MUST act as though it is my real world, and thus--I lock up my (Spoiler - click to show)(electricity-less, sometimes frightening) house when I leave.

Here's another example: (Spoiler - click to show)It was morning in the game. I had just woken up, and my husband was in the shower. I had the feeling I'd need his university ID card later on, and his pants were hanging there right off the end of the bed. So I rifled through the pockets. Sure enough, the ID card was right there in his wallet...But in the end, I felt guilty about going through his things. So I left the card in his wallet.
Did I just lock myself out of some major puzzle or backstory? Maybe. But at least I didn't steal from my husband. That's the sort of feeling ANCHORHEAD evokes for me.

(Also, the game gave me points for soaking in a bath. :3 )

Another great thing about ANCHORHEAD: the puzzles fit. There were a number of times today where I felt like I was at a total dead end, but by taking a closer look at a couple of things, tinkering around with realistic game actions--BOOM! New paths were opened. New mysteries revealed.

And there's the other thing--with some games, you solve a puzzle...bing. That's it. Check the puzzle off your list, you're done. In ANCHORHEAD, with every new revelation you discover about (Spoiler - click to show)your creepy house (and the INSANE PEOPLE who owned it), three more unsettling questions pop up. It makes it nigh impossible to put down.

I could write tons more about how I love this, but I really want to go back and see (Spoiler - click to show)what's in the crypt behind our house. You all, you just...just try it.

* * *

Well! The final half of the game was harder for me. I probably could have figured a few of them out on my own (though for me, (Spoiler - click to show)escaping William at the slaughterhouse turned into an episode of "Guess the Verb"), but you know what it's like with walkthroughs: you can't just look ONCE.

Despite the harder puzzles taking me out of the game's spell, I still highly recommend ANCHORHEAD. Some actions you're forced into to turn the story's feeling away from Grandpa Lovecraft and into Uncle Steve's realm, but it felt appropriate.

Really...the epilogue. You'll be thinking about that for a while.

My favorite death: (Spoiler - click to show)Reading through the Huge Tome in the church. It summed up the horror of Grandpa Lovecraft's work in what--3 paragraphs? If ANCHORHEAD was a book I would have bookmarked this page. FOREVER.

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful:
Brilliant game with one single flaw, December 25, 2008
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
And that flaw is this - that compared to the rest of the game, the entire ending sequence is too easy to botch up, too easy to die in, WAY too easy to leave the game in an unwinnable situation.

There, I've said the one flaw. Now I am free to point out that this game is a shining example of what a story-driven game should be like. By story-driven, I mean it is the plot and characters that drive the game onwards, not the puzzles. The puzzles do exist, and are, without exception, some of the finest I've ever encountered. However, they serve the plot, instead of having the plot be an excuse for their existence.

I know the game has been out for years and pretty much has already been said, but having just replayed it I simply couldn't *not* come here and praise the quality of the writing, short enough and descriptive enough to make your hair stand up and your flesh crawl on the right spots in the game; the quality of the game design, where you are relatively free to wander about and discover things at your own pace without ever having to worry about unwinnable situations (until the end of the game); the meticulous implementation of the keyring, the umbrella, and all the little details that Michael Gentry felt Anchorhead could not do without; the flesh-and-blood characters, with whom an ASK/TELL system manages to feel like a *conversation*.

It is only a pity that the endgame is not as forgiving as the rest of the game - in effect, the player is taught, throughout the game, not to worry, the game will take care of you and not let you do silly things unwarned. But it's so very easy to miss a couple of actions that will make the game unwinnable. Still, within context, it is a decision that makes sense - the ending is fast-paced, and a sequence of terrible scenes, whose effect might be diminished if the game kept holding our hand.

This is one of those game that will have you breathing hard as you uncover the mystery (and such a pacing as regards the mystery! You piece it together, piece by piece, and by the end you are astounded by your own deductions - almost at no point does the game actually *tell* you anything, forcing you to make your own connections, and the result is astoundingly immersive). I am unfamiliar with Lovecraft's works, other than a sketchy knowledge of the Cthulhu mythos - which did not in any way diminish my pleasure with this game.

This game is a *must* for anyone even remotely interested in horror IF. If you like Lovecraft as well, that's merely an added bonus - and if you're unfamiliar with Lovecraft, then the story will seem more original and unpredictable... not that it doesn't already have many memorable elements in its own right, (Spoiler - click to show) in particular the tragic figure of William.

See All 15 Member Reviews

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Recommended Lists

Anchorhead appears in the following Recommended Lists:

Interactive fiction top 50 by Aintelligence
This list is not interactive fiction's top 50, but instead my oersonal entry for the actual list. A message from VictorGijsbers: The aim is not to decide what the best IF ever is by majority vote -- that would be foolish. Rather, the...

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The Best of the Best by bluevelvetwings
Whether because of amazing writing, immersive plot, unique atmosphere, or whatever else, these are the games I personally consider the best IF has to offer. ...

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The following polls include votes for Anchorhead:

Looking for some easy to pick up psychological thriller games. by Xionix
Hello, Im new into IF and Im looking for some psychological thriller, mystery or something that will get you guessing till the end. Again, Im kinda new so I prefer easy one (I still can't get Galatea to talk to me so you get the idea)....

Sublime Moments by Sam Kabo Ashwell
I've been thinking about games that provide really brilliant moments. This is not about the overall quality of the game: there are plenty of excellent games that never deliver a clear, standout moment of unalloyed excellence. And surely...

Best IF Titles by Fredrik
No doubt you have played some great games with great titles, or been disappointed to find games with great titles that did not hold up to expectations. What are the best titles of IF? They can be funny, elegant, evocative, or whatever...

See all polls with votes for this game


This is version 17 of this page, edited by Michael R. Bacon on 8 November 2013 at 4:48pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item