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With so many co-op monster shooters arriving in recent times, The Anacrusis already has a job in standing out, but it’s already laying some impressive groundwork for the future as it begins life in Early Access. Will it end up being a Big Bang or a Black Hole?

Unlike many of its genre pals, The Anacrusis shuns the Left 4 Dead infected Earth apocalypse route in favor of a funky retro sci-fi vibe where crazed aliens are the new horde and a space station (the titular Anacrusis) is the place to not be. A team of four beams aboard a starship stranded on the edge of space and finds all manner of nastiness has occurred. They must work together to fight their way through the Anacrusis and find out exactly why the local population is so vicious and in some cases, horribly mutated.

Developer Stray Bombay is another that features talent from that golden Left 4 Dead team (Back 4 Blood’s Turtle Rock being the other notable example), and as such is out to try and evolve the formula in its own way. It certainly gets off on a good foot with its setting amongst the stars and 60s-inspired decor. On the surface, it’s like Shatner-era Star Trek as a co-op horde shooter, and that alone baited my curiosity. Perhaps that is a little sterile for some, but it’s not like there aren’t multiple other options out there.

What matters most, of course, is how The Anacrusis plays. So far, every game that’s tried to emulate the Left 4 Dead formula has got something wrong in trying to get something right. Sometimes it’s the open storytelling, others it’s a poor (or lack of) implementation of the in-game ‘director’ to give players the appropriate shifts and changes in action with every playthrough, and the worst offenders tend to just be unsatisfying in action.

At present, I don’t think The Anacrusis necessarily ‘fails’ in any category on the old Left 4 Dead co-op shooter checklist, but it doesn’t exactly have many standout strengths. The A.I. Driver is certainly more present here than in other attempts though. The game is eager to understand how you and your squad are getting on and provide you with the requisite challenge. It promises a constantly adapting framework that takes more into consideration than just how good someone is at shooting a gun into account. While it needs a little fine-tuning, it delivers on that promise pretty well. After retrying the opening section multiple times, enemy encounters cropped up at very different times and situations, always keeping me on my toes.

Combat encounters are what you’d expect. A rushing, individually weak horde that occasionally bursts forth in large numbers alongside various ‘special’ beasts, and all that can stop them is your modest arsenal of space-age guns. While clearly still a work in progress, this combat is lacking a bit of weight and impact, which makes the over-the-top ragdolling of the enemies upon death feel quite jarring. It’s a fixable problem, but at present, it serves to undermine the intensity of some encounters.

The enemy design and movement also contribute to that. Not so much in the bigger enemies, which bring something a little spicier to the table. The Flasher, for instance, stands out not so much for its look, but for the blinding illumination it gives off when it arrives, as not only does it prevent the player from getting a good idea of what’s going on, it seems to send the grunts into a frenzy.

The grunts are the main offender in terms of poor look and movement. They come at the player in somewhat stiff and under animated fashion, and whether it’s intentional or not, they have all the menace of extras in rubber masks. I don’t think this is a huge problem, nor is it one I think will remain as it is now. It is something that adds to the very obvious feeling of a game still in development.

The foundations are there for The Anacrusis to grow into a really good co-op shooter. Even in its current fledgling state, there are several multi-stage missions to tackle, and an A.I. director that makes them at least a little bit fresh each playthrough. Unfortunately, while the setting is visually striking, there’s currently not much in the way of storytelling depth to the game world, which means beyond that director’s shenanigans, there’s little reason to revisit each stage too often.

Set expectations accordingly, and there’s plenty to appreciate in The Anacrusis, but you may want to wait for later in development to see the full vision.

The Anacrusis Early Access code for PC provided by the publisher.

The Anacrusis is out now in Early Access on Steam, and on Xbox Game Pass in Game Preview.

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