The studio, founded by former Valve writer Chet Faliszek and former Riot designer Kimberly Voll, has released The Anacrusis for Early Access today, a Left 4 Dead-like set in ’70s space. Like its undead predecessor, this is a game where four players team up and sit down through waves of ugly aliens. But it is not as desperate as its zombified brothers. This is optimistic and colorful and at times really silly.
Yes, it’s still pretty much reminiscent of Left 4 Dead, but is home to a few things that help separate it from its zombified brothers. To test these things, we had a full team of four in our hands-on preview session at the end of last year – myself, Imogen (RPS in peace), Katharine and Chet myself, who guided us through meetings with superb patience. All in all, we tried a ‘full run’, so a total of four levels, each with lots of “Oh god, oh no,” moments. And you can safely say that we had a lot of fun with it.
Oath: As someone who has played a solid amount of Left 4 Dead and Back 4 Blood, I was quite impressed with The Anacrusis. Not that wildly blown away or anything, but I was definitely having fun with it. Early similar to the striking Left 4 Dead, only with an aesthetic and sci-fi theme from the 70s. But start digging a little deeper and it will definitely reveal its differences.
Anacrusis structures things more like a rogue. Instead of choosing a difficulty level and choosing a mission like you would do in Left 4 Dead, for example, you embark on random ‘races’ consisting of five levels. Our main goal was to retrieve a data drive that would reveal the location of all the other known ships in this part of the universe so we could go and look for other survivors, but the contents of said ‘race’ were left in the hands of The Instructor , an invisible force that assesses your team’s performance and pill at the game’s difficulty level on the go. There is a feeling of throwing oneself into the unknown here, which makes things even more hectic.
Katharine: Yes, when we all bit into the dust on the penultimate level and had to restart it from the beginning, the gangs of aliens we encountered a second time were, right from the first. The director must have felt more generous in our second attempt as it only threw a giant mega Brute after us while running through one of its space gardens instead of double mega Brutes, one of its clever Grabbers (who can sling their long arms towards you from the other side of the card and tear you away from your teammates) and a dazzling Flasher.
Oath: In fact, I think the director did a great job of judging our skill level. Early on, they kept things fairly manageable, but as we ticked off meetings, it increased the number of evil just enough to keep us in the fight for survival. Perhaps the instructor could reevaluate how damned the light flasher light burst is. I think we all regret that we did not wear sunglasses during the entire preview.
Imogen: They were a little many. I feel like I’ll have to turn down my screen brightness settings a bit if they stay that way. That said, I thought they were a good idea for an enemy type – with the whole level glowing, it certainly increased the challenge. It may be hard to come up with unique ideas for monsters with so many Left 4 Dead-likes around now, but I enjoyed the variation that was thrown at us. I also enjoyed the number of weapons we had to kill them with, especially the Lightning Pole. This special weapon shoots out an eruption of electricity that zaps aliens and does a pile of damage to special monsters.
Oath: As one likes a heavy gun, I have to say they all felt comfortable enough and produced some great snappy sounds. I also liked the variety of grenades offered, my favorite was this Stasis grenade that slowed down all the enemies trapped in its glittering dome. It turned out to be the perfect antidote to the meaty animals, who had a habit of letting us down in the most inconvenient places.
Imogen: Ah, you mean like the one who followed me into the safe room eventually after everyone was dead, leaving me desperate to jump around in circles while I tried to kill it? Man, I wish I had a grenade with me back then. I’ve never felt fear like being trapped in a small room with a giant beast while the game developer who made it sees me slinging around.
Katharine: You were a brave hero, Imogen, and only a hair’s breadth from a mighty victory. We pay tribute to your incredible efforts. However, I also liked how the goal was not just to kill everything in sight (unless they snuck into the airlock with you, of course). Rather, as long as you reached it to the end, that was enough. There was not much to gain by being seated by sitting and sitting in every single alien, and I appreciate being able to just call time on a level instead of watching endless waves down until the game says, “Yes, you can move on now.”
Oath: Ah, you mean like to fateful garden? The time you boldly dived into this colorful surface of flowers before Chet managed to explain that it was a foreign tourist attraction – it really struck me, that. The trick was to hover it through the petals in an insane touch, find the safe space and stack it in one piece. As Katharine says, it was a relief to know we did not have the same goal. Things were mixed up pretty nicely for us, I think.
Imogen: I enjoyed the last level where we played a lot, and averted waves of beasts while we waited for our goal to be activated. It’s nice to have those moments of high stress, between rummaging through the space station, collecting supplies, and shooting the strange horde of aliens here and there.
Katharine: I was fascinated to learn that the director was also responsible for handing out the supplies we found, instead of them being directed there by the developers. It also helped keep us all on our toes as we never became too safe with buckets of health packs, ammunition or special weapons. Chet told us that the game will do its best to push you off the beaten track to find new weapons, ammo, grenades and health packs, if nothing else to help prolong the number of bad things that can happen to you while you are in-game. However, if you struggle, more items will be placed on the main path.
The same goes for the special Perk-atron station. Officially known as Matter Compilers, these appear randomly at each level, and each player has a random trio of abilities to choose from each time. As long as you do not die, you can stack them in interesting ways between the levels. I was especially pleased with the Health Extender (which pushed your HP bar past the standard 100 points) and the Healing Goo combination, which meant you could heal both you and your friends when you dropped a goo grenade. I also picked up Defensive Goo, which prevents you from taking damage while standing in the enemy’s goo (there is a lot of goo in this game) and Penetrating Plasma, which lets your plasma rifle shoot through multiple enemies. There is a really fun mix to choose from and I will be eager to see what other lies it throws at the players as the early access progresses.
Oath: It took me a little too long to realize that it was important to choose your perks carefully. When I had clocked it towards the end of the preview, I polished my Pulse (an explosion that actually resembles melee bash from Left 4 Dead) to be stronger, recharge faster, and give me a temporary shield that protected me from a single hit every time. It may not sound like much, but boy, did that save me from being very overwhelmed. The pulse can also be used to repel incoming special attacks, though none of us have ever become skilled enough to call it a success. I also pursued Chet, who had chosen perks that transformed the gunk from all the Goo grenades he threw into healing oases. And like a leech, I postponed the extra cures.
Imogen: Look, now my favorite fringe good was the fire resistance. A particularly good one if you have teammates with an affinity for creating fire (which Chet himself exclaimed he was immediately after I took advantage). On that note, I thought it was good how much team play the fringes allowed. Although each character is basically the same, I feel like you could build yourself into more of a tank or healer depending on what your team needed while walking. In the end, that’s what I love about games like this. They’re a fabulous riot with a good team, and our session made me think about who I would like to jump in with in the future (which of course includes both of you – as long as Katharine is not an alien horde again).
Katharine: The horror of the voracious horde swarming through that flower field is one I will never forget …
Oath: For a moment I thought you’d betray us there Imogen, but no, that’s great * lowers laser gun *. And I’m of the same mindset, honestly. After a bit of polishing while going through early access, I can see that the game is an easy way to spend a few hours shooting aliens with some mates. So much the more so because the director should make sure you get a different experience every time.
Katharine: May the director’s odds be in our favor forever …
If all that sounds like your sticky jam, then The Anacrusis will launch for early access later today on Steam, Epic Games Store and Game Pass.