Anthelion landed on my laps with lots of promise and hype; at least according to the press releases. But the cynic in me has seen most of this before. Space fighter, 3D graphics, breakthrough audio and visual elements – this isn’t the first title promising that type of game. Loading Anthelion up, though, convinced me that it isn’t just hype. Anthelion is a cleverly constructed space fighter game reminiscent of titles like Wing Commander.
That said, Anthelion is not venturing to the lengths of recent hits like Freelancer. Its gameplay rests on a mission by mission design. No persistent universes to navigate here. There are no branching missions either, which means if primary objectives are failed, you have to restart the mission again. That doesn’t crimp the style for Anthelion though. There are multiple difficult levels, which can easily tailor the gameplay towards different skill sets.
Flying spacecraft in Anthelion is kept simple. After all, some of the most advanced space flight titles require a whole keyboard full of controls. But it is not so simple that you think the spacecraft is flying itself. There is an auto-fire function, which sounds dumb if you think about it but it will save more than a few handheld buttons or screens from constant tapping. Targeting, always an issue with poorly conceived designs, is not so much an issue here.
The textures in Anthelion are low resolution 3D objects. They remind me of the first 3D forays in the middle of the last decade before 3D acceleration really took off. Anthelion still gives a visual jolt, though, with its lighting effects and explosion effects. The most important thing is Anthelion is wickedly fast compared to other 3D titles like Tomb Raider. This keeps the pace of the action going.
Anthelion follows the classic Wing Commander style mission design. You travel around with a home base that operates much like the Tiger’s Claw. There’s a motley assortment of pilots on there that accompany you on various missions. And each waypoint of the mission is separated by a “jump”. Taking the side of the pirates makes Anthelion a lot less derivative. Most space fighter games take the side of the good guys or the cops, so I applaud the designers for traveling off the beaten path to give us missions that involve convoy raids and smuggling deals.
Breaking the law is unfortunately just as violent as enforcing it. Anthelion throws you against a cadre of fighter and bomber crafts. Up to five spacecrafts are also available to you and their armaments can be configured at the onset of each mission.
So far, Anthelion sounds like a good game with solid fundamentals. What takes it to the next level isn’t necessarily the graphics nor is it the action. The integration of e-mail is one of the smartest things the designers did. Most space fighter games, let’s face it, are just repetitions of jump here, destroy all crafts, jump to next sector. Wing Commander was like that. And in part, its successors all the way up to Freelancer, the legendary Freespace 2 and X-Wing versus Tie Fighter are all like that. The magic lies in the writing: the in-game scripts and the briefing/debriefing texts. Anthelion does this fairly well, throwing in a lot of in-mission dialogue to keep the game from becoming monotonous.
The other thing Anthelion capitalizes is the e-mail system. Like Wing Commander’s bar and R&R area, your character can interface with other characters through e-mail. You even get things like overtures from other pirates, advice from fellow wingmen and a love-interest. I had more than a few chuckles with the futuristic spam that you’ll get between missions in the inbox. It’s this type of immersion that takes the Anthelion game outside of the proverbial box. The synthesized soundtrack may not be on the level of Origin’s first titles, but it certainly brings back some memories of them.
With little to no expectations from Anthelion, I found myself thoroughly enthused with the game. It’s a slick production that quite literally, I wasn’t able to put down until I completed half a dozen missions. Few titles can do that these days, much less a handheld title. Here’s hoping there will be full expansion pack to continue the story from the side of the Anthelion Federation or the Locusts.