I am a huge fan of the Dark Souls series of games, and in the past have been lucky enough to spend more than a bit of time with them. When I caught wind of Animus – Stand Alone, a new game coming from 10Birds, it was inevitable I would be found playing it. There is a strong whiff of Dark Souls coming from this game, despite a slightly different way of going about it, and even though this was a new game from a studio that is self described as a very small indie startup studio, the game trailer looked impressively polished. So, come with me to a world of steel and swords, of giant monsters and squishy humans, as I try to survive!
First off and I just have to start by mentioning that the presentation of Animus is first rate. A suitably mysterious cut scene starts things off, as we seem to be a lone wanderer, strolling around some kind of wasteland and trying to stay alive. We manage to get roped into a series of events, fighting the forces of someone called Kerr, and trying to take out his minions and large, boss type creatures. There is a very definite flavour of Dark Souls in the story, and even though there are a lot of things that are implied rather than explicitly explained – and I’m still not sure what is happening even now – this has never bothered me before, and it’s not an issue now.
The big difference between FromSoftware’s masterpieces and Animus – Stand Alone is the way the game is presented. Instead of an open world setting, here we have a series of missions, each taking place is a smallish arena. You are given a scenario, with an introduction from one of the many NPCs that we can receive missions from, and once we have the background in place, it’s time to launch into the mission. We spawn into a canyon, almost every time, and must then run through the level, fighting various beasties, until we reach a showdown at the end of the level, either in the shape of a hulking great boss, or sometimes just a slightly larger version of a run of the mill foe. Well, I say run of the mill, but even the small guys can give you a good kicking if you mistime attacks, or run out of stamina in the middle of a fight. More than once I’ve found myself at the bottom of a pile of enemies, all swinging and slashing away, and the problem with this is that it causes the camera to go absolutely haywire, all as it tries to stay focused on the enemy you have locked onto.
It’s an issue with the bigger bosses as well, and if you are knocked off your feet, and the boss takes to the air to try and land on your head, as they often do, you’re left looking at a view of the sky which doesn’t help you see where you are in relation to the walls or the ground, or well, anything really. During a fight with an enemy called a Rifthound, I quite often found myself either looking at the inside of the beast, or the inside of a rock wall as the camera just couldn’t cope. I had a lot of cheap feeling deaths this way, and I’ve got to say it did leave a bitter taste in my mouth, for the enemy to be on the last sliver of health and to lose due to a glitching camera.
The combat is where a game like Animus lives or dies, if you’ll pardon the pun. Luckily the system here is pretty much up to the task. I say pretty much as it just doesn’t feel meaty or weighty enough; there’s not the sense of swinging a big lump of pointy metal around and it just feels a bit wet. However, the combat is still a lot of fun, and dodging around enemies and getting a few sneaky pokes in with a lance (by far and away the best type of weapon that I’ve used) is a tremendous amount of fun. Trying to learn the various enemy attack patterns is a real challenge – as my 300 attempts to kill a giant Samurai will attest to – but it’s a testament to the combat system that I keep trying. And trying, and trying, and… you get the picture.
Luckily, you can grind the earlier bosses and levels for shards to upgrade your weapons and armour, or if you are really lucky, you’ll find a higher level of gear. It’ll take some time though and the majority of the gear I’ve stumbled upon is a lowly grade D, with the exception of some armoured pants, which are a C grade. With the promise of weaponry going all the way up to S+ – something which is obviously rarer than hens’ teeth – there is a lot of room to maneuver.
You are also able to summon NPCs which is a nice touch as well, modelled after that Dark Souls’ system. As you progress, you’ll come across shields stuck in the ground with an “LT” icon floating above them. One quick press of the aforementioned button will summon a ghostly companion to assist in the upcoming fight. These NPCs are ones that you have previously defeated and freed from the curse, so seeing them lend a hand ensures a warm glow is present. However, an intermittent issue raises its head here too. Sometimes, for no reason that I can think of, Animus refuses to allow the summoning NPCs, or even interact with the statues that act like a checkpoint in the levels. The first time it happened I thought it was a problem with my controller, so I swapped to a different one and the issue persisted. Just as an aside, if the controller does disconnect, the game doesn’t pause – as you can imagine, this causes a lot of hilarity as a battering takes place. Many, many bad words have been uttered in those instances…
Graphically, Animus – Stand Alone is not going to set the world on fire, with a dull, muddy palette that while unedifying to look at, is at least in keeping with the vision of the world. The creatures are a well designed bunch though, and they move very well indeed. One highlight has been the Witchdoll enemies, that work like a puppet, seemingly being lifted up before they attack; they are spectacularly creepy to see in motion. The obligatory screen filling bosses are cool too, ranging from massive suits of armour that climb out of the ground to a huge demon thing with an eye in its belly and a gun in its hand! The various weapons and armour pieces all look splendid, and with the different types of weapons having multiple timings to get used to, there’s certainly a deep challenge waiting.
All in all and I’ve got to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with Animus – Stand Alone. It is by no means perfect, and the camera is a serious issue that can cause problems, but other than that it’s been a pleasure. It’s brutally hard, but the sections it is split into are just the right length for a quick blast, and seeing a boss go down is just as thrilling here as it is in Dark Souls. With a little work on the issues I’ve highlighted, this Animus – Stand Alone on Xbox One could well be a contender in the action RPG genre.