The Anacrusis - Game Preview

by Adam Dileva

The Anacrusis

New developers, Stray Bombay Company, have been working hard on their first game for the last two years, and the time has come to not only unveil it, but have players experience its early development stage as well. The Anacrusis is not only available to check out very early in its development via Game Preview, Xbox’s version of Early Access, but if you’re a Game Pass member, you’re also able to download and play it right away with no extra cost.

If you were a fan of Left 4 Dead or Warhammer: Vermintide 2’s four player co-op action, then you might want to keep on reading, as The Anacrusis aims to bring that same gameplay and cooperativeness against a horde of... aliens. That’s right, instead of the tired post-apocalyptic zombie setting, instead, your backdrop is upon a space ship with a groovy 70’s aesthetic. Not quite what I would expect from the genre, but it’s a breath of fresh air.

Team up with your friends, or strangers, and blast away some aliens as you try and find your way through the massive space ship. With infinite replayability due to randomized alien placements, perks and weapons, The Anacrusis is not only now available on Xbox One and Series X|S, but also PC as well, completely with full cross-play, so finding people to play with shouldn’t be a problem.

Now, keep in mind, The Anacrusis is in Game Preview, meaning it’s still very early in development, so it’s nowhere near done or its final product. Keep that in mind when trying this out, as there’s a LOT of improvement that’s going to need to happen between now and its final release to earn your time and money. Advertised as Season 0, this can only make me assume that there might be a Battle Pass system or something similar in place, but we’re not here to assume, simply talk about the interesting, yet frustrating experience I had with The Anacrusis thus far.

There are four survivors on the ship; Nessa, Liu, Lance and Guion. Are there any differences between them currently other than their appearance? Not currently. Can you actually choose the character you prefer and want to play as? Nope. Again, I know The Anacrusis is currently very early in development, but there’s a lot of ‘missing’ features or reasons for some design decisions that you’re going to question as you read along, probably as many as I had.

Is there an overarching narrative and interesting plotline that keeps you interested in playing? Well, kind of. You’re somehow the last survivors on an unknown ship, somehow infested with aliens. These aren’t the aliens you probably think of in terms of famous movies, but instead, it seems something might have happened to the inhabitants, as they all seem to be wearing regular human clothes. We didn’t find aliens, they found us.

The Anacrusis

Given the 70’s vibe and aesthetic, the clothing, music and even rounded architecture of the ship are a distinct contrast to what we’re normally used to when we think of an alien ship setting. Instead of being dark and grim in tone, The Anacrusis has a more upbeat and vibrant vibe. Even parts where you need to fend off a horde-like alien attack, instead of badass metal or rock music that sets the mood and soundtrack, you instead get a funky 70’s disco vibe instead, totally fitting given the backdrop.

As of time of writing, there are currently three acts available out of a total of five. The remaining two are said to be coming soon, but didn’t notice any dates of when to expect them. There are going to be quests and weekly challenges, but again, as of time of writing, these weren’t available yet. Developers have said that they wanted to release now to gain player feedback, which is great if they want to listen and make a better game overall.

One of The Anacrusis’ features is its ‘AI Driver’. This is like a director that chooses what enemies to spawn, how many, where, the weapon placements and more. In reality, it seems this is left to random chance, but every run I’ve had is somewhat different in terms of enemies. This can work for or against you, as being pitted against numerous Brute’s is simply unfair, but other runs will be simpler. The bonus is that two runs are never the same, but some can be brutally unfair due to its randomness.

At its core, you’re going to be shooting a near endless amount of aliens. Most of which are mindless single shot cannon fodder, but there are a few special enemies that will throw a wrinkle into your plans. The worst offender though is not the map design itself, but the lack of any indicators of where you’re supposed to go. There’s generally one main linear path to follow with some branching doorways and dead ends, but if you get turned around there’s nothing to show you the way to your destination. In general you’re looking for a large doorway or elevator to reach the next ‘act’, but it’s going to take a lot of trial and error if you get lost or split up from your group.

Teamplay is encouraged and neccessary, which is why there’s no PvP mode, yet oddly enough there’s friendly fire that’s enabled by default without any option to turn it off. This might not seem like a big deal, but because of the randomness and chaos that can ensue in big battles, I lost count with how many times my teammates were the ones to kill me instead of aliens. I hope there’s an option to turn off the forced friendly fire in a future update because it seems out of place and frustrating in its current state.

Given the 70’s backdrop the weapons follow suit, with guns that feel very sci-fi, not to the point of stereotypical ray-guns, but not too far off either. While there’s a handful of different typical weapon types, like SMG, rifle, shotgun, etc, good luck finding out which one is best. There’s nowhere that mentions what the range, damage, recoil, ammo or anything is in relation to the weapons. Like the look or sound of a gun? Might as well choose based on that. I didn’t really notice a huge difference between the weapons either, so I'm hoping that’s something that gets looked at in the future. Also, aiming down the sight feels ‘off’ in some way. I can’t really put my finger on it, but it feels inaccurate, so I found hip fire was vastly better and more reliable, even at far distances.

The Anacrusis

You also are given a pushback ability that recharges over time. You have three uses of this pushback that is used to, well, push back any aliens when they get up in your grill and surround you. Every character has this ability and it refreshed quite quickly, though I wish it did some damage as the knockback isn’t drastic enough to do much other than get you out of a corner if you get boxed in.

Alongside weapons you’ll also randomly find grenades that vary in type as well. There are typical exploding grenades and fire types, but two unique ones were a shield grenade, allowing a few moments of safety and a stasis one that slows enemies basically to a stop for a short period if they run through. This grenade, along with a goo version, seemed to be the most useful for when you get overrun by special enemies like the Brutes which are almost carbon copies of Hunters from Halo.

Speaking of unique enemies aside from the hoard of cannon fodder, there aren’t many, but some are quite interesting. Brutes just become bullet sponges and do a ton of damage, but The Flasher is probably the coolest. Basically like Left 4 Dead’s Witch, The Flasher calls in alien reinforcements but is like a massive lighthouse beacon, illuminating the area nearby to the point where it blinds you. It makes it incredibly difficult to see where it is in the crowd of regular aliens but has a really cool lighting effect. There’s also the Spawner, which you can guess what it does. There are even these weird spiked balls that come towards you very annoyingly when they are fired upon. Not exactly groundbreaking enemies, but adds some unique challenge every game.

The Anacrusis

Randomly throughout the stages you’ll find these UFO shaped dome tables. Activate these and you’ll be given a choice of one of three random perks which can stack if you end up finding more. While most of the level design is fairly linear, because of the random AI Driver, some levels will have a handful of these perk stations where others will have very few. That and the perks are randomized, even for players in the same match. These vary from having certain weapons deal more damage, or specific grenades gaining longer activation time, something like that. They are actually quite underwhelming, none of which made me felt much more powerful. I was hoping for a class-like perk system that was much more unique, but all the choices I saw were pretty bland in general.

I’m not normally one to hark on the negatives, especially when a game is in Game Preview and far from its final release, but as I was writing my Pro and Con list, the Cons kept filling up, so I felt they needed a mention. Please keep in mind that yes, The Anacrusis in its current state is nowhere near complete, and I’d be surprised if the full launch is anytime soon, but there were simply too many issues to ignore that actually dragged the overall experience down for me as a whole.

Where to start... It will probably be quicker in simply laying out my frustrations in point form. There’s no class system, so your character (non) choice doesn’t even matter. There’s no drop-in/drop-out gameplay from what I could gather. It will try and match you with other people before the match starts, but once someone dropped from one of my games, the AI takes over and we never had a player rejoin or take over. There’s really not all that much penalty for dying, as the game ends (restarts the act you’re on) if all four players happen to be down at the same time. You can revive players that are downed, and even if they completely die or fall into a pit, you can have them respawn after a short period of time, though this will cause another alien horde to be alerted.

Bot AI as your teammates are ‘meh’ at best. Sometimes they follow and cover you, other times you’ll be missing a sliver of health and they’ll waste their health pack on you instead of a player that actually needs it. The forced friendly fire is a terrible design choice in my opinion when the game tries to encourage cooperation. Guns have no ‘weight’ to them and all feel bland with none standing out amongst the rest.

If you have someone AFK or trolling, you’ll be unable to complete the level, as certain sections need the whole group nearby to progress. Want to know who’s doing the best on the team for damage, kills and heals? Better start taking notes, as there’s absolutely no breakdown of performance from players during a match. Even worse, there’s zero character and progression system currently in place. I’d be surprised if that doesn’t change in future updates, but with ZERO progression or rewards, why would you continue to play?

It’s early access, I get it, but even still, it’s not all too impressive when it comes to character models, textures and animations. Even the audio is pretty bland, as it wasn’t very clear what directions aliens were coming at me with just audio cues. Pockets of lag and hitching here and there caused some unfair deaths along the way as well.

The Anacrusis

There’s a reason we don’t score Game Preview / Early Access games here at XboxAddict, for this exact reason. I’m fully aware that there will be numerous updates during the year and that developers are aiming for a Q4 2022 full launch. There’s usually a good reason devleopers don’t like showing off games much too early, as people that don’t understand this concept and will unfairly judge it when the full release does roll around, so kudos to Stray Bombay Company for letting gamers check it out way before it’s fully ready in its current state.

Thankfully if you’re a Game Pass member, you can easily download and give The Anacrusis a try today, but keep your expectations in check. In its CURRENT state as of time of this writing, it’s a very barebones experience without much reason to continue playing long term, but I can see its potential and will be keeping my eye on any major additions and updates during the next year onto its road to release to make for a better and meaningful co-op game with some friends.

**The Anacrusis (Game Preview) was provided by the publisher and previewed on an Xbox Series X**

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