The Anacrusis early access preview Stray Bombay survival horror 11 story sci-fi space mall aliens Left 4 Dead Back 4 Blood gameplay

George Romero may have spawned the “mall of the dead” trope, but Stray Bombay‘s The Anacrusis takes things to a whole new level. This Left 4 Dead-alike’s space-based shopping promenade had me on edge the moment I set eyes on it, creeping its way into my nightmares.

It’s early (access) days for The Anacrusis, but unlike in Back 4 Blood, the game’s virtual director understands the value of tension. While other similar games will fling monster after monster at you, The Anacrusis gives you enough breathing room to get nervous — at which point it pours on the monsters.

So by the time I reached the mall, I was already a little shaken. I’d dispatched over a hundred possessed humans, been covered in a snot cocoon, and brought back from the brink by my fellow AI-controlled survivors. I knew we were there to take a lift to safety; I figured I’d have to slap a button, which would be conveniently wired to an industrial siren, then hold my ground while the lift arrived.

What I didn’t expect was that I’d have to fight my way up through the whole mall, nor did I anticipate how anxiety-inducing the experience would be. Admittedly, I suffer from vertigo, so The Anacrusis already had me at a disadvantage. Gazing up to the mall’s top floor, with my virtual feet on the ground, immediately had me on edge.

The Anacrusis early access preview Stray Bombay survival horror 11 story sci-fi space mall aliens Left 4 Dead Back 4 Blood gameplay

Yes, I got vertigo inside a video game, just from looking up, which was far from a good sign for my nerves. Sure, I’d blasted my way through Left 4 Dead 2’s Dead Center and been punched off the roof of Left 4 Dead’s Mercy Hospital, but The Anacrusis dials it up to 11. Literally, in fact — The Anacrusis’ mall is 11 stories tall, and you have to set foot on every single one.

Still, I reasoned, maybe I could speedrun it, making it to the top before anything slimy got its hands on me. How wrong I was. Even without an alien presence, every other step is absolutely stomach-wrenching. Instead of comfortingly large Dawn of the Dead-style floors, these are smaller levels arranged around a central pillar, surrounded by an outer ring.

So, aside from a couple of times when I had to head through an abandoned shop, I was never more than a few feet away from the balcony edge. Those moments when I wasn’t under siege by aliens, I was gawping at the drop — which went from survivable to skull-crunchingly fatal the further I went.

Making each floor circular might seem like a very sci-fi design move, but it’s far more calculating and more than a little sadistic. Left 4 Dead 2’s mall, with its reassuringly rectangular levels, at least gave me the option of backing into a corner, but The Anacrusis robbed me of this comfort. When the equivalent of Left 4 Dead’s Tank bounded cheerfully into view, I ended up running in circles. I could almost hear “Yakety Sax” kicking in.

The Anacrusis early access preview Stray Bombay survival horror 11 story sci-fi space mall aliens Left 4 Dead Back 4 Blood gameplay

The Anacrusis’ hordes never approached me en masse from a lower floor, and as far as I know, that’s not something that happens in the game, at least in its current early-access incarnation. However, that didn’t stop my imagination working overtime — those monsters milling about two floors below might just be stragglers, but in my head, they were getting ready to run up the ramp. And there was absolutely nowhere I could go.

I was constantly aware of how exposed I was ascending the mall. In Left 4 Dead, the only way a monster could punch you into the abyss was if you were standing near the edge. The Anacrusis’ mall is all edge — as I was reminded when a Grabber latched on to me and started dragging me over the railing — and the waist-high barriers did not offer any protection from goo-vomiting beasties.

The only way the level could be more harrowing is if the final release did, in fact, spawn monsters and hordes far below you. You’d hear a roar four floors down, then be faced with the choice of fleeing upwards in the desperate hope you could reach the exit first or make a stand where you were.

Ultimately, it’s the combination of verticality and vulnerability that makes The Anacrusis’ mall level such an unsettling, standout level. Even if heights are a non-issue for you, there’s every chance it’ll stick with you well after you’ve annihilated your last bootleg Starro.

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