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About the Story
You take a deep breath of salty air as the first raindrops begin to spatter the pavement, and the swollen, slate-colored clouds that blanket the sky mutter ominous portents amongst themselves over the little coastal town of Anchorhead.
Anchorhead: the Illustrated Edition is a commercial game. See the website for purchasing information.
Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: May 1, 1998
Current Version: 6
Development System: Inform 7
Forgiveness Rating: Cruel
Baf's Guide ID: 17
Referenced in Cragne Manor, by Ryan Veeder, Jenni Polodna et al.
Show other authorsAdam Whybray, Adri, Andrew Plotkin, Andy Holloway, Austin Auclair, Baldur Brückner, Ben Collins-Sussman, Bill Maya, Brian Rushton, Buster Hudson, Caleb Wilson, Carl Muckenhoupt, Chandler Groover, Chris Jones, Christopher Conley, Damon L. Wakes, Daniel Ravipinto, Daniel Stelzer, David Jose, David Petrocco, David Sturgis, Drew Mochak, Edward B, Emily Short, Erica Newman, Feneric, Finn Rosenløv, Gary Butterfield, Gavin Inglis, Greg Frost, Hanon Ondricek, Harkness, Harrison Gerard, Ian Holmes, Ivan Roth, Jack Welch, Jacqueline Ashwell, James Eagle, Jason Dyer, Jason Lautzenheiser, Jason Love, Jeremy Freese, Joey Jones, Joshua Porch, Justin de Vesine, Justin Melvin, Katherine Morayati, Kenneth Pedersen, Lane Puetz, Llew Mason, Lucian Smith, Marco Innocenti, Marius Müller, Mark Britton, Mark Sample, Marshal Tenner Winter, Matt Schneider, Matt Weiner, Matthew Korson, Michael Fessler, Michael Gentry, Michael Hilborn, Michael Lin, Mike Spivey, Molly Ying, Monique Padelis, Naomi Hinchen, Nate Edwards, Petter Sjölund, Q Pheevr, Rachel Spitler, Reed Lockwood, Reina Adair, Riff Conner, Roberto Colnaghi, Rowan Lipkovits, Sam Kabo Ashwell, Scott Hammack, Sean M. Shore, Shin, Wade Clarke, Zach Hodgens, Zack Johnson
Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Story; Winner, Best Setting; Nominee, Best Puzzles; Nominee, Best Individual NPC - 1998 XYZZY Awards
1st Place - The Top Five IF Games (Adventure Gamers, 2002)
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
[...] 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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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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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 you’ll have to resort once or twice to the walkthrough, it is still a production definitely worth checking.
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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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Overall, the experience of playing Anchorhead was incredibly rich and memorable—not 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. It’s worth it.
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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.
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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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|Average Rating: |
Number of Reviews: 27
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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 don’t 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. It’s 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 I’ve 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 what’s 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 “The Shadow of the Comet” 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 it’s 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 weren’t 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!
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.
Anchorhead is most certainly a jewel in the crown of the Lovecraftian horror genre, up there with such favorites as The Lurking Horror and Theatre. First and foremost in this game comes the prose; the author has lovingly crafted a deep and memorable world, which is slowly revealed in paragraphs that give you, as a player, all the information you need, while keeping you on the edge of your seat. Additionally, the author knows well the principle behind Lovecraft's works: that nothing he writes on the page can possibly be as horrifying as what you can imagine. Hints, suggestions, and half-glimpses of the evil lurking in the town of Anchorhead are what you're treated to--not outright descriptions that inevitably fail to live up to your expectations.
There is also a depth of information about Anchorhead's world that's rarely found in interactive fiction. Details on every aspect of the town and its inhabitants can be found from a multitude of sources. This serves to immerse the player in the horrors that are unfolding, but it's not just window dressing; much of the background information is integral to the plot.
This is a primarily literary work, and although the puzzles are fun and require some thought, they're not tremendously difficult. My only complaint about the game is that not all of the puzzles are made obvious. The game progresses as you cause various events to take place, and there were a few points where I felt a bit lost because I didn't know what to do next, and therefore could not move forward in the plot. In retrospect, I could probably have figured out most of those situations by looking a bit harder, but there are one or two puzzles that require a bit of an intuitive leap--and you won't be continuing until you make that leap.
Still, this is a minor complaint about a beautifully written work of IF. I highly recommend this game to any serious player of interactive fiction, whether you're a fan of the horror genre or not.
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