Not So Massively: The Anacrusis is nowhere near ready for launch


The Anacrusis is a four-player co-op shooter intended to be a spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead. I was never a particularly big L4D fan, having only dabbled with it briefly several years ago, but the unique retro-futuristic aesthetic of Anacrusis caught my eye enough for me to give the early access version a whirl on Game Pass.

Rather than ask you to fight hordes of zombies, The Anacrusis has you fighting hordes of aliens that have infested human bodies to create suspiciously zombie-like monsters. Rather than feature an urban setting, The Anacrusis takes place on a space ship with an aesthetic reminiscent of the future as imagined by the 1960s. It’s colorful and appealing.

Aside from the environmental design, there’s not a lot of originality here, but there’s nothing wrong with providing a fresh take on a tried and true formula if you do it well. The problem lies with the fact the current version of The Anacrusis isn’t so much polishing an old formula as it is providing a cautionary tale on launching into early access too soon.

Firstly, the current version of the game has no tutorial whatsoever. It’s a pretty simple by-the-numbers FPS, and you can look up controls in the options before playing, so this isn’t as bad as it could be, but it’s definitely not good.

There’s also no introduction to the story or really any explanation of what’s going beyond a short cutscene explaining the objective of your current mission. I wasn’t expecting this to be a particularly story-driven game by any stretch of the imagination, but it would be nice to have at least some context on what’s happening beyond, “Zombies! In space! Space zombies.”

I had been hoping to queue up for a solo mission to start so I could at least get a feel for the game before inflicting my newbishness on other players, but that also proved to be a non-starter, as there is currently no option for solo play. There was a bot in my team at one point, so clearly there does seem to be the infrastructure that could support playing solo, but there’s no way to force it at the moment.

Thus, I zoned into my first game, with a team of strangers and no idea who I am or what I’m doing. I grabbed one of the guns off the wall of the starting room and fired off a few rounds to get a feel for the gun… and proceeded to take a large chunk off my ally’s health bar.

That’s right. There’s friendly fire. In 2022. In a game with random queues. Yikes.

I understand this is a holdover from Left 4 Dead, but it was a bad idea then, and it’s a bad idea now. Have these developers never met humans before?

Mercifully, no one on my team decided to go full troll mode, but there was plenty of accidental friendly fire. We were able to press on with the mission of… going somewhere to do… a thing… albeit having taken almost as much damage from each other as from the monsters.

The next problem came when I found my first weapon recharging station — the main way of regaining ammo. Running low, I decided to charge up… and promptly crashed to desktop.

The good news is it is possible to rejoin your old match after crashing. The bad news is I went on to learn that my game would crash any time I attempted to use a weapon charging station. Again, this is the main source of ammo. So that was fun.

The game doesn’t feel particularly hard at the moment, but there’s currently no choice of difficulty settings, and with no tutorial or training mode, it can still make for a pretty rough ride when starting out. Individual failure isn’t overly punishing — you’re downed, but can be brought back up by an ally — but if every member of your team is downed, you get a fail state, and there are no checkpoints, so you get sent back to the very start of the mission. Missions are long, so that can easily be half an hour or more of progress lost.

Ostensibly there’s supposed to be an AI director that dynamically manages enemy spawns, but to be honest I didn’t find it any different from a scripted experience.

The game’s pretty light on content right now, too. There are presently only three missions, plus a weekly challenge mode, and the options for guns are similarly limiting. There’s only three standard guns at the moment: a shotgun, an assault rifle, and a submachine gun. Occasionally you might find some special guns while playing, but they’re quite rare.

The guns feel good, but I don’t know how you can justify having so few in a shooter, and it feels like a waste of the sci-fi setting. Why can I use only the most generic guns imaginable? Let me shoot miniature blackholes at people or use a shrink ray and stomp on enemies.

Going in, I had assumed that the game’s four different playable characters would have different powers or stats, but that is also not the case. They’re purely cosmetic, and you don’t even get a choice of which you play as is — it’s just randomized when you zone in.

Oh, yes, and one other thing worth mentioning: Every time I’ve tried to visit the game’s official website to learn more about its future plans, the site’s either failed to load or my anti-virus software has blocked it and told me it’s a phishing website. It’s probably not, but this really doesn’t inspire confidence.

All that being said, when the game actually works and you fall into the flow, it can be pretty fun. Mowing down hordes of zombies is hardly new and innovative, but there’s a reason it’s one of gaming’s most popular tropes. It just feels so damn good, and it doesn’t ever get old.

A particularly highlight of the game is the grenades, which can be scavenged frequently as you explore the maps. There’s the standard explosives, but several have more exotic powers that capitalize on the sci-fi setting in a way the guns don’t. I particularly enjoyed the shield grenade, which creates a bubble that is impenetrable to enemies but permeable to your bullets. Nothing like watching a horde of zombies pound on your bubble while you shred them with impunity.

The retro-futuristic aesthetic is also pretty cool, and the bright and colorful environments are a welcome breath of fresh air compared to the bleak settings of other zombie games.

The Anacrusis definitely has the potential to be a fun game, but it is so incredibly far from achieving that potential right now. It feels like an early alpha build, but it’s already charging a box price and selling battlepasses in its current early access. In another context, it could be seen as a scrappy underdog worth rooting for, but when you’re charging people money for a product that’s little more than a proof of concept, it’s a lot harder to be sympathetic.

The world of online gaming is changing. As the gray area between single-player and MMO becomes ever wider, Massively OP’s Tyler Edwards delves into this new and expanding frontier biweekly in Not So Massively, our column on battle royales, OARPGs, looter-shooters, and other multiplayer online titles that aren’t quite MMORPGs.
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