Preview: Animallica (Steam Early Access)

Survival/crafting simulators are a hybrid genre in which I had next to no contact or experience, prior to my Steam endeavors. I still managed to hit the ground running and like a classy piece of moldy cheese, it was an acquired taste. I had my doubts about games that really let you carve your own path and not focus on a story. You’ll say that MMOs are doing just that, but I’m mostly a single-player fan. The story in video games, whichever it may be, is still important to me. Crafting and surviving in an open world has proved though that I can even enjoy spending time on building a cabin and exploring my surroundings, instead of constantly running errands or following objectives and set goals. Animallica is the Steam debut of CRIO Studios and part of the aforementioned genre, as complex as it is entertaining. I’ve learned a lot about it, since playing and writing about Conan Exiles and Planet Nomads.

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Speaking of which, both Nomads and Conan are present in Animallica in essence, not through the blatant copying of any elements or gameplay mechanics. With barely an explanation to it, we’re being thrown into the action of Animallica, but not before we’re being given a starting point and appropriate gear. The year is 2030 and for over a decade, a man-made plague has swept across Earth, harming both humans and other animal species. A certain Dr. Mors (“death” in Latin) is the main culprit and we’ll presume that he’s the antagonist that has yet to surface so far. Being in Early Access, I hit all sorts of “Coming Soon” signs in my travels across the vast maps of Animallica. It’s almost ironic that we know the name of the villain, but not of our redheaded heroine. She’s skilled in archery, horseback riding and she loves taking care of animals so I refer to her as “Merida” from 2012’s “Brave”. Feel free to call her, how you wish.

What’s perhaps more important than her identity, is her mission: to rid the world of Mors’ plague and put a stop to the mutated beings she can’t cure. In our case, humans as well. In this epic journey, the female protagonist shall meet a few individuals that she can trade with and who won’t try to kill her on sight. Yet the majority of humans are beyond salvation or even capable of holding a conversation. Those feral creatures resemble snorks and bloodsuckers like the ones found in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series while the deadliest foe I’ve met in Animallica was a hugely twisted rhinoceros species referred to as either gorehounds or hellspawn. A strange purple goo is the most visible effect of the plague and certain animals were attacked by smaller monsters that look like Alien’s facehuggers. Why did I go so much into detail? Because you have to understand that the survival element is just as crucial as being able to craft and become self-sustainable in-game.

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Unity Engine is powering Animallica in a rare case of a game that I couldn’t run maxed out, in 4K@60fps. As far as Unity is concerned, I usually have no issues in regards to the frame rate but I admit that judging by the game’s crisp textures and open world format, I was expecting some performance issues. Planet Nomads treated me in a similar manner. If 40fps is bothering you, just switch to a more manageable 2K or 1080p resolution. I had to stick to 4K since I “harvested” some truly gorgeous screenshots and to my delight, the option to entirely hide the User Interface, only helped me transform my several hours of gameplay into desktop backgrounds I’ll enjoy for a much longer period after I stopped playing the title.

Took over 100 screenshots through the Steam Overlay and 60 of them have been linked to my Steam profile. Overall, glitches were an unpleasant surprise, but one which can hardly be avoided given the game’s stage and scope. Are you going to tell me that Skyrim would have been enjoyable on day one and without the numerous patches it received since then, plus community support? Open worlds are a tough nut to crack, whether you’re an indie dev or an experienced AAA creator.

With no actual voice acting (just several spoken lines, when picking up certain items) and few sound effects, the soundtrack itself can’t sustain the game very well. It’s a small series of repetitive tunes and it’s obvious that the dev team needs to focus a bit on the audio side. Looks alone won’t matter if players get the silent treatment. Animallica deserves far better sounds. And diversity.

At least the gameplay can’t ever be accused of being thin on content. Within an hour of playing it, Animallica shall offer you full access to more than half of the intended 18 maps which comprise its game world. The environment types vary so much from one another, that you’ll almost feel like playing another game at times. Saharan dunes and the nearby pyramids seem like a far cry from the Wild West themed maps or the ruined urban center and the swamp that follows it. The heroine must travel across all those terrains and dangerous situations, in search of animals to save and mutants to put down. One key element of the gameplay is taming, not just curing the diseased wild life. Many of the critters you rescue will show their gratitude and may follow you back to a nearby base of operations (either crafted by the player or the pre-existing structures). So they become companions and trusted allies, not just being exploited or turned into a hearty meal.

I can read between the lines here, an environmental protection message. A dire lesson which comes too late, as far as reality is concerned. I like the way it’s being so subtly conveyed. It isn’t judgmental at all, Animallica wants its players to get creative and busy either through exploration or gathering the many raw materials required for a proper HQ. Most buildings that are already found within the game’s many maps lack any furniture or amenities thus, encouraging the gamers to focus on their own vision for the title’s future. The potential is there, you just need lots of spare time and a healthy dose of patience since the combat can get tricky thanks to the AI’s movement bugs. The game itself warns players to avoid melee encounters when possible and just focus on dispatching foes from afar with a ranged weapon. A curious aspect I’d like to discuss about at the end, is the presence of a Romanian flag inside the land base’s bunker level and the Russian flag imprinted on the hot air balloon used as a fast travel option between maps. This level of customization needs to remain in place and even be expanded to a larger chromatic extent.

I am intrigued by what I’ve seen and played so far and I honestly regret that I can’t spend at least 100 hours to craft and shape Animallica’s game world to my liking. You can rest assured that if you have so much spare time at your disposal, the game shall accommodate its gameplay to your own preferences. There’s much to see and create even in the Early stage, so I’m also wondering what more can be achieved in time and with continued support from both developers and the player base.

All the screenshots you see above, have been taken by me in-game through the Steam Overlay.


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