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Anchorhead

by Michael Gentry profile

Horror
1998

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Number of Reviews: 22
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Probably the best piece of IF - should be recommended to IF newbies, September 16, 2015
by mjhayes (Niagara Falls, NY)
On every new computer platform, it's only a matter of time before somebody writes an IF interpreter for it. After downloading some interpreters for some new devices, the first game I reached for was Anchorhead. It was a new game at the time I was a lurker on the IF scene, and I remember all the rave reviews it got even then.

To this day, I can spend hours at a time replaying the game to look for alternate solutions to puzzles, or to see how somebody will react to something I hadn't tried before. Although Lovecraftian horror seemed to be a too-common theme among IF writers of the day, and I'm certainly not a Lovecraft connoisseur, I enjoy this game for its integration between being an "open world" game with a lot of real estate for an IF title, and its ever-deepening mystery.

What makes this game so enjoyable is that it progresses in difficulty throughout the story, as any game ought to do. Many other IF games simply throw difficult puzzles at the player from start to finish, making them unenjoyable, in spite of how well-written they are. First, this game captivates the player with an excellent description of a generic backwater New England coastal town, and has room descriptions that usually avoid simply telling the player "you can't go that way." By the time the player has settled into the town as much as the main character has, then it's time to ease into uncovering the mystery. That's the other thing that makes this so enjoyable. Instead of being presented with a collection of puzzles to solve, progress at first is made through extensive research, both into the family history as well as the town's folklore. The vast amount of reading material keeps me interested in the game even when I'm not playing. Finally, there are often "second chances" at solving various puzzles. This also leads to the replay value, as it creates interest to find out what the other solution is, and also to find out what would have happened if you had left something undone.

Only recently, I stumbled across a bug, which made me interested to find out whether there would be another revision. As it turns out, the author has a "director's cut" in the works. I hope I don't have to wait until November 2017 to try it out in its entirety.

Comments on this review

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chairbender, November 30, 2015 - Reply
I am an IF newbie and I had a really bad time with this game. Also, if you really, truly, can spend hours of your free time searching for alternate solutions and replaying, I suspect you're more easily amused than me (and there's nothing wrong with that), so perhaps that's why I didn't have quite the same experience. You'd be sitting there typing the same things over and over again, seeing the same descriptions over and over again, all just so you can find a few small new pieces of content. If you're looking for a puzzle to spend hours solving, there's games designed around that idea, they're called puzzle games. Because they focus on that aspect of fun, they tend to be more enjoyable than a game where puzzles are only a side element. You'll probably get much more fun per minute out of a good puzzle game than trying to figure out the occasionally frustrating puzzles in this game.
mjhayes, November 30, 2015 - Reply
I responded to your separate review of the game, so I won't repeat myself here. I'll just reiterate, I can agree with you on many of these points. Game design in general within IF, and the technological improvements afforded by newer IF story formats, have caused this game to slip beneath the level of broad acceptability with regard to "puzzle forgiveness." Maybe that's why the author is working on a Director's Cut. I personally wouldn't have the patience for it if I was playing it today for the first time.
Danielle, September 16, 2015 - Reply
Whoo, a director's cut?! Before your review, I had no idea--sign me up! :D
mjhayes, November 18, 2015 - Reply
While we're both waiting for the Director's Cut, you might be interested in checking out the Guided Tour I had recently posted. There might be some things you had never tried before. I'd like to enhance it over time as well. One thing I really want to do is evolve the maps to have sketches in the background, illustrating the town of Anchorhead in all its coastal glory.
mjhayes, September 16, 2015 - Reply
I didn't know either, until earlier today. There's a demo version of it which stops when you and Michael reach the mists in the woods toward the house. It's written in .gblorb format, so you might need a newer interpreter to play it. The original was a .z8 file which was dangerously close to the 512K size limit. That's probably why it caught my eye in the first place, to be honest.
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