The Anacrusis Early Access Impressions – Turn on, Tune in, Turn off

The Anacrusis is a functional squad shooter that uses its groovy aesthetic as a smokescreen rather than a guide to make it memorable.

Posted By | On 18th, Jan. 2022

Another day, another squad-based cooperative shooter modeled after Left for Dead competing for our attention. Just within the last year we’ve gotten many of these sorts of games. Aliens Fireteam Elite, Back 4 Blood, GTFO and others have all recently launched with varying degrees of success and continue to battle each other for our time. But unlike those games, despite its few neat ideas, The Anacrusis misses a lot of opportunities to put enough of a spin on the format or introduce enough suspense to really stand toe-to-toe with the other behemoths of this increasingly crowded genre.

This is of course not to say that The Anacrusis doesn’t have a few things going for it, nor is it to say that it can’t be fun at times. There’s a reason that so many games are still emulating the Left 4 Dead formula; it works. Even the worst iterations of it from the past few years can still deliver some enjoyable sessions – especially if you’re teaming up with your buddies. Anacrusis, thankfully, steers clear from that lower end of the spectrum though. With a fun late-’60’s to mid-70’s sci-fi aesthetic, a simple, instantly understandable UI, and gameplay that mostly functions as intended, Anacrusis checks a lot of the basic boxes that a game like this needs to ensure a successful trip across the universe.

As groovy as the aesthetic may be, and as often as I found myself reveling in the litany of design cues that were so expertly borrowed from Buck Rogers, Logan’s Run, and early Star Trek, I couldn’t help wishing that they had leaned into to it a bit more. The character’s designs fit the bill, but basically none of their personalities reflect anything proprietary to the setting. You could plop them into any other game like this and it would work about the same. Same goes for the lifeless mission structures and generic enemy types. There’s really nothing that stands out with any of the objectives throughout the game’s handful of missions – as if the developers gave up on being original before they even began crafting them. This isn’t helped by the levels not being particularly good at illustrating where you’re supposed to go next, and the fact that the AI for your teammates isn’t very good. Good luck trying to get past some of the game’s moments that require multiple players to press a button at the same time with a team of NPCs. Sometimes they cooperate, and sometimes they don’t.

While the enemies are slightly better than that, you’ll still see familiar types that you’ve already seen in countless other cooperative squad shooters for the last decade plus; a few variants of basic grunts, a small selection of heavies that temporarily incapacitate you and of course the brutes that bludgeon everyone in their path while absorbing gunfire like a D7 class Klingon starship. The only enemy that seemed like it was designed with any real originality is the flasher that calls in more aliens to your location while radiating a blinding light – making it hard to tell what’s what and potentially causing a lot of confusion with your team.

Moments with flashers can be pretty tense, as they mix up the battle nicely, but of course once you find and kill them, it’s back to blasting away at the comparatively less-imaginative alien assailants. I will give praise to the game’s weapons, though. It’s a relatively small arsenal for a $30 game, but the weapons do feel like they belong here. The pastel accents on the guns themselves, understated-but-fun sound effects, and playful color palettes of their gunfire all keep them serviceably fun to use in most situations. I never felt pigeon-holed into exclusively using any one weapon or like I had to avoid any one of them either.

The Anacrusis

Functionally, there isn’t anything particularly crazy here, with a basic pistol, the SMB submachine gun, shotgun-esque blaster, and the higher-range plasma rifle all filling the roles that those sorts of guns usually do in shooters. But the special weapons – that can only be found in the levels and cannot be replenished – are a different story. The auto-turret, laser rifle and arc rifle are where the most fun lies. The arc rifle in particular had me grinning with demented glee more often that it should have as I electrocuted entire rooms of enemies in just a few seconds. The different grenade types and occasional perks afforded to you from the game’s many “matter compilers” also add a bit of depth, but not much. Had the game leaned into its chosen aesthetic a bit more on the mission structure, character design, and enemy type fronts, it perhaps might have led them to more unique ideas that would’ve felt more proprietary to its setting like it did for the weapons, but as it is, despite the cool weapons, The Anacrusis too often abandons its own potential for most of what lies beneath its candy coating.

Functionally, my experience with the game has been mostly acceptable. While I have rarely managed to get a full team of actual human players, the games I did play in were reliable enough. I rarely experienced any major network issues or crashing. The frame-rate does dip a bit more than I would like though, and rarely holds on to full 60 for very long regardless of where I set the graphics settings, I suppose that’s about on-par with most of these sorts of games – especially at launch, but it’s still disappointing to see. I wouldn’t be surprised if that got smoothed over soon considering the somewhat simplistic art-style and lack of super-demanding effects, but I can’t give credit for improvements that haven’t happened yet.

Still, major dips in performance were generally rare for me. Outside of the aforementioned low-IQ AI, The Anacrusis does seem to have the fundamentals in place for a functional experience if nothing else. The main thing I would like to see added outside of better optimization is a lobby selection screen so I wouldn’t have to rely on the game’s match making. I do appreciate the AFK mode you can use to temporarily let an NPC fill in for you so nobody has to hold the rest of their team up, but things like that only count for so much if people aren’t playing the game.

The Anacrusis

Therein lies the biggest crime The Anacrusis commits. It’s a serviceably reliable, occasionally interesting, aesthetically funky trip down a woefully generic road of gameplay ideas. It’s true that any one of these types of games is always theoretically one revolutionary update away from being a massively improved experience, but with a game that mostly gives up on its own originality so quickly on everything beyond its surface, it’s hard to see a world in which The Anacrusis manages to cut through its contemporaries in any meaningful way.

I can absolutely see the art style and general simplicity being the main reasons for some players to choose it over other games, and I wouldn’t blame them for doing so as you could certainly do worse in the genre. But most players who have been around the cooperative squad shooter block a few times will likely be left wanting in too many areas for this to be particularly recommendable. It does a good enough job imitating the genre’s forefathers and sprinkles in just enough originality to be a decent game, but with too much of that originality living on the superficial side of the experience, and underwhelming performance also nipping at the fun, The Anacrusis is unavoidably unremarkable. It’s still in early access so I hope they can build itself in the coming months.

This game was previewed in early access on PC.


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