After completing only the first of three available episodes in The Anacrusis, available now on PC and Xbox in early access, I was bored.
Sure, shooting stuff in video games is fun and all, but where’s the unique hook? Where’s the gameplay twist or truly satisfying mechanic that makes The Anacrusis stand out? Currently, it’s lacking anything really special.
I was initially drawn in by its retro-futuristic aesthetic. Set aboard a huge starship somewhere deep in space, The Anacrusis sports a 60s vibe that’s a bit Deathloop-y at times. Characters’ outfits remind me a bit of We Happy Few, and circular hallways, painted in deep oranges and psychedelic tones, leave you feeling a bit trippy. But the novelty soon wears off when each environment feels rather like the last.
My initial impressions of The Anacrusis weren’t helped by ho-hum performance. Playing on Xbox Series X with Rich in tow as my online co-op partner, we were put into a game with two random players. Instantly, both our framerates tanked. Thankfully things quickly stabilised to at least a playable level, but we both experienced frequent stutters and framerate hiccups unrelated to our internet connection.
There are a number of characters in The Anacrusis but we were randomly assigned one at the start of our session. Rich embodied Nessa, with her cute bun and minidress, and I was the sharply-dressed Lance. The character models are well designed at least, but since this is a first-person shooter you’ll barely know who you’re playing as. It doesn’t matter; all four characters play the same, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to improve a character or level up in any way. That’s both a blessing and a curse; it’s nice to have a sense of progression when you’re playing, other than moving through levels, but it’s also refreshing to know that all players will be on an equal footing, no matter how many hours they’ve poured into the game.
So, as Nessa and Lance, we were joined by Liu and Guion, initially controlled by two random players. From our starting point inside a lift, we made our way out into the open area of the starship. The Anacrusis goes easy on you at first. The aliens, your adversaries, are lightly dotted around, many of them crouching ominously close to the ground or standing in a corner, Blair Witch style. Sometimes they’ll run at you. Other times you can sneak right up to them, taking them out unaware. These small-fry don’t pose much of a threat anyway; one single bullet from a Blaster and they’re downed.
It doesn’t take long for things to ramp up, however. Keep on making your way through The Anacrusis’ hallways and you’ll soon come up against special enemies. There’s the Gooper who, unsurprisingly, shoots you with goop, locking you in place until a teammate shoots you free. There’s also the Grabber, the Flasher, Spawner and the giant Brute – one run-in with him when you’re unprepared will quickly see you losing all your health. The enemy designs are decent, but outside of those special types there isn’t much variety. That’s par for the course in a game like this, though.
The weapons are fairly interesting at least. You’ll start out with a simple pistol. It has unlimited ammo, so you’ve always got a gun to fall back on – you know how it goes. In your starting room you’ll be able to grab a primary weapon, and you’ll find more as you go along. There are blasters, plasma guns, laser guns and more. You’ll undoubtedly find your favourite – a simple blaster, which I improved at a random upgrade point (temporarily of course) served me well.
Grenades and throwable weapons are one area where a glimpse of The Anacrusis‘ originality finally comes through. Rather than being simple explosions, grenades can offer you a shield, cover enemies with goo, or – in the case of my favourite, the vortex grenade – suck enemies from a sizable radius into its grasp before launching them, dealing heavy damage in the process. It’s a thrill to watch, and knowing you’ve single-handedly destroyed dozens of enemies in one go (providing you time your throw well, of course) will undoubtedly put a grin on your face.
It’s a shame, though, that there isn’t much feeling to shooting a gun. It’s missing some much-needed feedback. Sometimes, I only knew I’d even killed an enemy because “Kim killed Grabber” popped up in the right-hand corner of my HUD. It feels a bit lifeless, and hopefully this is a key area that developer Stray Bombay will work on whilst The Anacrusis remains in early access.
But I’m not sure if it will. According to the early access information on Steam, the three available episodes of the game are “complete representations” of the finished game. In other words, they’re pretty much done. The Anacrusis‘ early access time (estimated to be 9-12 months) will be spent adding more episodes, game types and weekly challenges, while polishing up a few elements like the UI.
Of course, player feedback does often feature heavily in a developer’s early access time. So it’s hard to say exactly what tweaks will be made to The Anacrusis over the next 12 months. I’m just concerned that by the time the final game rolls around, players will have already had their fill and moved along. That’s the danger with an online-only game like this. It lives and it dies with its player base. We’ve already seen Back 4 Blood’s player count critically decline in the few months since its launch, and I’m just not sure that The Anacrusis does enough to set itself apart from other online co-op shooters already dominating the space. Sure, aliens make a change from zombies. But ultimately, the gameplay, and the tropes it employs, feel all too familiar for me to wholly recommend it.
The Anacrusis is available now in early access on PC and Xbox. It’s also available as part of Xbox Game Pass.