The Anacrusis gets a lot right on paper, but ultimately, it feels like a coin toss on whether or not it’ll be a memorable successor to Left 4 Dead.
The Left 4 Dead series left behind a legacy that many four-player co-op shooters have tried to live up to, with most of them failing to capture the same raw fun factor. Sometimes, these Left 4 Dead clones fail to capture the same essence of character, gameplay, or story that the original series pushed so far. Many come close, falling short of greatness due to odd choices or features like Back 4 Blood.
The latest competitor to step into the arena is The Anacrusis, which enters its Early Access period on January 13 and is developed/published by Stray Bombay. On paper, The Anacrusis checks off all the boxes of a Left 4 Dead game and even comes with its own interesting premise. Players, taking on the role of one of four characters (Nessa, Guion, Liu, and Lance), must battle against a newly-discovered alien horde on a starship stranded on the edge of explored space.
Overall, The Anacrusis’ greatest strength is the aforementioned aliens. Every Left 4 Dead game like this has basic enemies and various special enemies. The Anacrusis has all the common enemies Left 4 Dead fans would expect, like the Brute and the Grabber, but some of its new enemies are truly innovative. One example is The Flasher, an enemy that will blind the players with light as they try to battle the horde. Another is a Spawner, which produces giant balls of death for players to face.
These fun enemies lend themselves to the core gameplay loop well. A horde could descend at any time, and there is a slight anxiety induced every time a player turns a corner. Overall, though, the gameplay loop is rather simple. Players must make their entrance, find their way to the next “safe room,” and the chapter ends. Thus far, there are three feature-complete episodes, each offering multiple chapters and randomized elements, adding to the promised “infinite replay value” of The Anacrusis.
That’s not to say there’s no variety in the gameplay loop, though. Players will, by and large, be moving through the starship to face enemies, but there are moments where players will need to set up and defend an area, assault a massive area, do battle in tight hallways, and more. It’s not necessarily the most varied gameplay loop out there, but it’s certainly workable.
The most concerning aspect of The Anacrusis is perhaps something Stray Bombay will continue to work on after launch: the weapons. There are only a couple of basic weapons, none of which really feel distinct, and while the special weapons are interesting and fun, they are at the mercy of the game’s AI. There are no guarantees players will find these special weapons in a single chapter of The Anacrusis, and usually they are left with the same basic weapon selection.
In a game like this, multiple weapon attachments for the weapon system are not necessary, but more variety in the base weapons would go a long way here. Even if the level plays differently every time, there’s only so much fun one can have with the blaster, or the game’s version of a shotgun, before wanting something new. There is not even an option to go around melee-ing enemies to add some variety to The Anacrusis’ gameplay. In lieu of melee, players have a few limited charges of Pulse to push enemies back, which is great when dealing with massive hordes but not for killing single enemies.
Players are able to unlock The Anacrusis’ perks by finding the Matter Compiler. This will give fans a choice between three perks, which adds some choice to each run. These perks include modifications to health and healing, changes to pulse, weapon function changes, and more, and it adds a little more variability to the gameplay.
The AI companions, when not playing in co-op, will also pick their own, and the AI is genuinely helpful. One character received the faster healing perk and was quite pronounced in managing heals. They are also pretty good at getting kills, to the point players might have to fight for kills. In terms of AI in a Left 4 Dead-like game, The Anacrusis is head and shoulders over many competitors, but they are forgettable in terms of personality, showing no distinct features, elements, or story. They may be good at killing aliens, but they are as bland as they come too.
Right now, The Anacrusis has a lot of promise. It nails a lot of the familiar elements of a co-op shooter, but without some major additions (new weapons), improved character interactions and personalities, general polish and bug-squashing, and some significant gameplay quality-of-life improvements, it seems like something that could burn out real quick.
Luckily, that’s primarily what the Early Access period is for. Stray Bombay has stated that it plans to fully release The Anacrusis in Q4 2022, after 9-12 months of Early Access. It intends to release two updates a month, with early updates focused on bugs, quality-of-life improvements, weekly challenges, difficulty and intensity, and more. Episode 4 and Episode 5 of The Anacrusis will eventually roll out in beta before being fully released, while mod tools are going out during this Early Access period too. Finally, Stray Bombay is dedicated to adding “new weapons, enemies, game modes, and more” during this Early Access period.
If Stray Bombay does deliver on this promise, then The Anacrusis could be something genuinely special. Fans who recognize this potential can assist with its development by airing their desires for the game, but at the end of the day, at least in its current state, it’s a coin toss on whether it’s remembered as a true spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead or just another in a long line of faceless clones.
The Anacrusis will be available in Early Access for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S on January 13, 2022. Game Rant was provided a Steam code for this preview.