As you make your first steps through the alien-infested hallways of The Anacrusis, it’s obvious that developer Stray Bombay didn’t want to just chuck in a few futuristic guns to slap a sci-fi label on it. In these hallways, piles of alien bodies – casually cast aside with your constant trigger-pulling – lie in stark contrast to the vivid pinks and oranges that the walls are painted brightly with. The Anacrusis is set on a spaceship dreamed up in the ’70s, where we dared to imagine a groovy space age brimming with possibility – just before Ridley Scott turned that on its head with the claustrophobic, industrial atmosphere of Alien.
And my god, does Stray Bombay know how to pull it off. The first moments of The Anacrusis are tame, as the few scattered few aliens politely wait to receive a shot in the head. It’s a deceptive calm before the storm, but it gave me a chance to take in its futuristic corridors, which look like someone has gleefully ran through with a multipack of sherbet sticks.
But of course, that sense of quiet doesn’t last, and soon you’re redecorating the spaceship with a thick carpet of alien bodies. There’s something a little bit unsettling about these aliens, as they’re all decked out in normal clothing and look to be have once been human. The Anacrusis drops you into things a little lightly plot-wise, so trying to work out what had happened on the doomed cruise ship was one of my driving motivations for the game.
That motivation delivered me to a moment that became one of my favourite moments of gaming in 2022 (so far). I approached a big, clunked-up door that needed time to get open – and in that time, I was warned that it was likely to attract the attention of an alien horde. If you’ve played Left 4 Dead, you know the deal – The Anacrusis is being worked on by some of the same wonderful developers – and you’ll know what to expect.
Wrong. I was ready for the horde that followed, and the desperate fight to survive, but you know what I wasn’t ready for? Starting the process kicked the fluorescent lights back on, and it became clear that I was on some sort of dance floor. Sickly-bright pink smoke started streaming from the walls, a jazzy drum snare rolled in, and an enormously catchy funk-rock soundtrack kicked off. Then came the horde. Those next few minutes were spent firing round upon round of plasma into an unending pack of bloodthirsty aliens and as brutal as it was, I didn’t want it to stop. The soundtrack reminded me of Cowboy Bebop‘s famous dogfighting scene, which brings its frantic sci-fi action to life with ‘What Planet Is This’. If a game manages to capture the same feeling – and if any song sounds even remotely similar to that – it’s absolutely doing something right for me.
I survived the pitched battle, but it wasn’t just down to being fuelled by adrenaline and a catchy song. The weapons in The Anacrusis are as adventurous and futuristic as the rest of the game, and are very effective at bringing down aliens. I made it through this particular encounter with the Blaster, a plasma shotgun that’s more than capable of carving through several aliens at a time. My pals had also picked favourites – a rapid-fire SMG and a slow-but-steady plasma rifle – and I could see them cutting through their own fair share of baddies effectively.
The Anacrusis also sprinkles some incredibly powerful weapons across the cruise ship, which you can carry separately to your primary weapon and pistol. These weapons will sheer through just about any challenge The Anacrusis throws at you, but they’re balanced with very limited ammo. Fighting through the overrun ship, I got my hands on several of these and – simply put – had stupid amounts of fun. One of these is a tesla rifle that arcs lethal bursts of electricity through crowds, while another (my personal favourite) fires out an unfaltering laser beam that cooks anything unlucky enough to catch a glance from it.
These rarer weapons come in handy for the special enemies that The Anacrusis throws at you. Again, Left 4 Dead or Back 4 Blood players will recognise some of the archetypes: there are ones that hit you with tentacles to pull you in, while another shoots goo from afar. However, The Anacrusis revels in coming up with adventurous new enemies to get in your way. One of them – the giggling Spawner – will run rings around you, spitting out autonomously firing turrets as it giddily evades your attempts to shoot it. Another is called the Flasher, and makes seeing anything incredibly difficult – as far as we could find, your best bet on this one is to just fire blindly at the brightest part of your screen and hope for the best. There’s more that I won’t ruin (there’s always a pang of fear in fighting something new for the first time), but I was vastly impressed with the creativity on display with these monsters, and they all do more than enough to impose significant challenge whenever they turn up.
My only issue with The Anacrusis is that things felt a little floaty, and not just because it’s set in space. Shooting things doesn’t elicit much of a response, and sometimes – it’s most notable when fighting the hulking Brutes – it just feels like you’re whittling down an invisible health bar, rather than fighting a living breathing beast. It’s worth mentioning that The Anacrusis is in early access however, so this is something that may be changed in the future – personally, I think it would be good for shooting aliens at point-blank to feel a bit more responsive.
Apart from that, I’ve got nothing but praise to sing for The Anacrusis. Carving through an endless alien threat is as much fun as you’d expect, and with only season one released so far, I’m beyond excited to see how Stray Bombay’s design team knocks it out of this world next.
The Anacrusis launches in Early Access on January 13 for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. We previewed the game on PC.