Anacrusis Early Access Review

Anacrusis is right in believing that co-op shooters desperately need a new flavor. Nearly every game that follows in the footsteps of Left 4 Dead puts four players in a desperate zombie apocalypse and asks them to blow up an escape route before succumbing to the horde. The gloom can become overbearing; should teamwork really be that dark? Anacrusis counteracts that performance with bright pastels and a pulp-like Jetsons-inspired verve that delights from the ruined cities of Back 4 Blood or the depths of hell in the GTFO or Call of Duty’s Zombies modes. Unfortunately, The Anacrusis is unable to generate the crucial white-knuckle excitement that makes a co-op experience memorable. In fact, after playing the three episodes available in The Early Access version of The Anacrusis, I think the only new idea it brings to the genre is a fresh coat of paint.

You and your friends head out on a smooth, mandarin-colored spaceship on drift in the psychedelic outer space. Weapons and ammunition are scattered throughout the safe space – all lined with porcelain, 60s sci-fi aesthetics – and together you will try to ward off a massive intrusion of occupied, Cthulhu-headed crew members chasing the halls between you and next checkpoint. It’s not hard to understand exactly where The Anacrusis gets its main inspiration from: Chet Faliszek, co-founder of developer Stray Bombay, logged time on both Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 while on Valve, and despite the huge differences in tone and setting, The Anacrusis still has you having to cut down on thousands of chilling zombie facsimiles before shutting the swarm off behind a magically impenetrable door.

The goal, I think, is to make you survive by the skin of your teeth; to wipe the sweat off your eyebrows after your party has triggered another unlikely outbreak. Instead, I felt a sense of dull malaise before I even finished the first level. For some reason, Stray Bombay flips all its cards face up right from the start, saving no surprises for later. The aliens I averted in the initial minutes had the same form and strategy as those in their late Arctic stages. Meanwhile, there are only three basic weapons, and each of them feels almost identical and lacks the same kinetic, meaty feedback that you e.g. finds in Back 4 Blood. I’m pretty sure the only difference between the Plasma Rifle and the SMG is a slightly slower firing cadence on the former. By the second episode, I completely stopped worrying about which gun I had equipped because they all felt equally effective in dealing with any threat, big or small.

I stopped worrying about which gun I had equipped because they all felt equally effective.

The mob appears, absorbs a host of bullets and disappears. The mix is ​​a pair of named special infected villains to increase the constant churn: the gooper can envelop you in a paralyzing green slime, the Flasher fills the screen with a corneal-destroying flashbang effect, and Brute hits hard and takes a lot of bullets. They require a rudimentary dose of coordination from your friends, but my party rarely felt threatened. For the most part, everyone held the shutter button down until victory was achieved. In fact, despite The Anacrusis’ adaptive difficulty levels that scale dynamically with the party’s performance, it only served me two sessions where I really feared a wipe, and not surprisingly, those were also the only instances where it really gripped my nervous system.

To be clear, some of the greatest co-op games of all time revel in sublime brainlessness (the early Serious Sams come to mind). Faliszek has said in interviews that he wants The Anacrusis to be a game that we can hang out inside – treat it like passive entertainment, similar to talking through a movie. But I think that philosophy has dampened the drama of Anacrusis. There is never a harsh punishment for death; if a party member goes down, they can be quickly revived, and other than that, they can always be called back from the void, in full health, after a brief cooling down. It robs it of some of the suspense that made Left 4 Dead so successful – the way it forced its parties into a constant state of desperation, created magical moments where you pile into the rescue helicopter, knowing that you could not have kept out a second longer. In its current form, The Anacrusis cannot quite muster that key element, and it leaves it strangely lifeless.

The frame is a good idea, and yet this spaceship is chronically barren.

I blame a large part of the loss on The Anacrusis’ environmental design, which is frustratingly sad across the board. This is such an incredible backdrop: The summer of love in the dark recesses of the galaxy? A soundtrack etched with Isaac Hayes-like guitar scratches? It’s a good idea, and yet this spaceship is chronically barren. In the first hour of gameplay, I found myself in a massive serpentine mall, and I was thrilled to catch a glimpse of how the residents of this sad dystopia lived … but as I navigated through the corridors and searched the shops, I found none taste text or artistic flourishes to ground me in this world. The atmosphere is paper thin. Hell, it was not even clear what was being bought and sold in all the identical boilerplate stores.

Screenshots by Anacrusis

Anacrusis is light on traditional storytelling, (each episode starts with a short cutscene, and it’s about that), and it’s a nice approach to take, but it also does not make an effort to allow us to stumble into the lore that transforms this technicolor shooting gallery into an identifiable, contextual universe. I was quickly exhausted by opening doors to find yet another grenade cache, rather than a flourishing of environmental storytelling that conveyed the best sense of what went wrong here. The summary screen at the end of the first episode informed my group that we killed over 4,000 aliens, but I still had no idea who they were, who we was, or why we were here in the first place.

A slightly different composition of aliens did not change the overwhelming dryness of the action.

While its early access launch is definitely light on content, with only three levels that can be played through in one night, Stray Bombay has emphasized The Anacrusis’ replayability as a strength. To that end, it borrows the “director” concept from the Left 4 Dead games – an unseen AI orchestrator working behind the scenes to change the kind of objects the party finds in their campaigns, as well as the size and composition of enemy encounters. . at your skill levels, to keep you on your toes. It’s true that the exact setup of the encounters differs between each replay, but I found that the rifle play was repetitive enough that a slightly different composition of aliens did not change the overwhelming dryness of the action.

There is also a small roguelit progression device in each episode, as you can find upgrade stations scattered around the ship, which offer mild bonuses to your ammo supply, damage output, and resuscitation speed. Still, these straightforward statistical boosts are simply not enough to open up new playing styles, meaningfully differentiate your character much from the rest of the game in how you play, or even change your approach from your previous run. I thought I would wish Stray Bombay embraced a class-based event where everyone I was in dungeons with had a separate set and a role to play. That alone would cut down on Anacrusis’ wear and tear; at least I would be able to experience the struggle from multiple perspectives.

I should mention that there is a shift on the main menu that apparently equips character and weapon skins, (I guess they are acquired in the levels or through some sort of currency in the game), but I was never rewarded with any cosmetics or cash . I imagine the vacancy has something to do with the “SEASON” tab on the top bar, which leads to a blank page containing the words “Coming soon.” Anacrusis’ ambitions are high, but honestly its biggest problem is that after completing my first race, I did not feel an urge to return to any of its challenges.

After completing my first race, I did not feel an urge to return.

I did, anyway, for the sake of this review, but repeated replays did not do much to redeem it. There are obvious Polish problems all over this spaceship, to the point where certain parts of the cards look as if they were picked out of a game running on Unreal Engine 2, around 2005. Happily, your party characters repeat the same small handful of voice lines over and over again to the point that it borders on high comedy. (They constantly scream the word “Goo.” You’ll hear it in your dreams.) By playing on PC with Windows 10 and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super, I encountered a chronic, nervous strain that infects frame rate and animation fidelity, and when you shoot an alien in the head from behind, they run towards the ceiling – either a mistake or a funny joke, I could not say. Signage within levels is ridiculously insane; there are no superficial waypoints to be found and I would often have to rely on the semi-audible voice lines announced by the party to know what to do with e.g. the nuclear can I just picked up. This was even worse when I tried to play with a batch of bots (which Stray Bombay only recommends as a last resort), which were often hung up on geometry. And at one point, I came across a bizarre bug that made my entire interface unreadable, with an attacking red “X” crossed out on my character’s portrait. (For a second, I thought it was a fourth wall-breaking mockery, rather than just another bit of early access.)

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Many of these omissions and mistakes can be expected in any game that is still in active development, and there is definitely a world where The Anacrusis straightens its knuckles within a reasonable amount of time. But what are we going to be left with afterwards? A more functional but still uninspiring co-op shooter? That’s my fear. If The Anacrusis is to be successful as it works towards a 1.0 release date, it simply needs to find a more compelling spark.

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