It’s brought up constantly but bears repeating: 2023 is absurdly stacked with critical and commercial hits, making releases like Mundfish’s Atomic Heart seem like they came out ages ago. The developer is back, though, delivering one of four paid story DLCs for its action RPG shooter in Annihilation Instinct.
Rather than fixing fundamental flaws with the design, combat or story-telling, it delivers new content. Not a lot of new content, though, and even those who enjoyed Agent P-3’s uneven romp may find it hard to get on board with this oddly tame trip down the rabbit hole.
"It’s hard to decipher what kind of tone Annihilation Instinct is going for with these odd dollops of “humor” interspaced between existential crises for both man and AI."
Annihilation Instinct picks up after the so-called “good ending” of the base game. P-3 wakes up in the Mendeleev Complex, which is cut off from the Kollektiv due to its AI, NORA, malfunctioning. After escaping, players must locate Professor Lebedev and find a way to fix NORA. How did P-3 end up in that complex in the first place? Don’t worry about it. Why is NORA all lovey-dovey for him? It doesn’t matter. Why is the writing still piling on tons of embarrassing dialogue? For all that is good in the world, please don’t ask.
If you disliked P-3’s ramblings in the first game, there isn’t much enjoyment here. At the very least, there are some much-needed answers about his past and some nuance to his interactions with NORA, as he tries to play nice while looking for ways to counteract her. Unfortunately, it falls flat due to the horrible innuendo, which is neither clever nor delivered well. It’s hard to decipher what kind of tone Annihilation Instinct is going for with these odd dollops of “humor” interspaced between existential crises for both man and AI.
It also doesn’t help that the story feels overly contrived en route to the finale. No spoilers, but seeing P-3 waffle back and forth before committing to the mission felt tacked on for perhaps teasing some more alternate endings. Nevertheless, even if this ending is a response to how the base game concluded, it feels more like the set-up to a new storyline while massive plot holes remain.
Oh, and Granny Zina also pops up now and again in her flying hut, but only to remind you that she’s there and that P-3 is a maggot. Riveting stuff.
"It’s a fetch quest, sure, and the only real one in the DLC, but there are some interesting steps, like separating some electro-magnetically charged BEA-Ds by tossing them into different chambers and shutting the doors."
Annihilation Instinct isn’t very long. There are three new areas – Freedom Park, the swamps and Mendeleev Complex. It presents a few new enemies and a new boss fight. The main “quest”, so to speak, is to locate eight special BEA-Ds to fix NORA. These are helpfully marked on the map, even if the waypoints are sometimes iffy.
It’s a fetch quest, sure, and the only real one in the DLC, but there are some interesting steps, like separating some electro-magnetically charged BEA-Ds by tossing them into different chambers and shutting the doors. Otherwise, expect a lot of killing enemies and depositing the special BEA-Ds into chutes.
The BEA-D are distinct enough, possessing different skills when separated and joined together. You’re encouraged to break them apart using new weapons like the Secateur, a gatling gun that builds up charge to unleash wave-based projectiles. It’s good at piercing multiple targets, though the primary fire’s damage can feel weak.
The other new weapon is the Klusha, a double-bladed staff which can slash multiple times with light attacks and pierce with a heavy strike. Nothing too crazy, and it becomes decent enough when upgraded to have faster attack speed. Both weapons have blueprints for different parts to improve their performance and can be upgraded. As you deposit BEA-Ds, you get weapons like the Shotgun, Handgun and more, with their upgrades.
"There’s also a talking goose, which randomly attacks you and then leaves. Yes, a goose."
In terms of abilities, there isn’t too much here. The only new one is Techno-Stasis, which slows everything around you (and you, making it more of a reactionary tool when swarmed by enemies). You still have abilities like Shok and Polymeric Shield, along with their upgrades, and they do the job, even if there’s nothing that feels drastically different.
The same is also sadly true about combat. When you’re facing a boss and reading its patterns, quickly dodging to the side to avoid its heavier attacks, it’s fun. The same applies when dealing with smaller groups of enemies, as you chain lightning, engage with melee attacks and switch to your firearms depending on the situation.
Things quickly fall apart when tons of simultaneously, and combat quickly devolves into spraying with a Secateur or swinging the Klusha, spamming Techno-Stasis and Shok continuously while avoiding being knocked down. The strategic dismemberment isn’t too deeply explored, and the lack of many fresh combat scenarios or stakes doesn’t help the combat either.
However, I did enjoy the boss fight, even when it was reused in the finale since there were enough deviations to help it stand out. There’s also a talking goose, which randomly attacks you and then leaves. Yes, a goose. Its existence is explained in some terminal, probably, but after the first few attacks, it felt more like a throwaway gimmick than anything else.
"Despite Annihilation Instinct’s issues, the art design and music continue to impress. The hanging walkways connecting the starting “hotel rooms” in Mendeleev Complex are incredible to behold…"
The difficulty at the start feels somewhat absurd, even in Normal mode, with a single enemy capable of taking all your health without breaking a sweat. Things improve when you get a new Polymer Glove with some abilities and weapons, but enemies can still feel a bit too tanky at times.
Despite Annihilation Instinct’s issues, the art design and music continue to impress. The hanging walkways connecting the starting “hotel rooms” in Mendeleev Complex are incredible to behold (and it’s a shame they have no gameplay purpose afterwards). Despite how unintuitive the level design can sometimes feel, each area is chock full of detail, whether navigating Lebedev’s tower in Freedom Park or examining the different signs. The animations on enemies, especially the BEA-Ds, are also impressive.
The soundtrack, which features a healthy mix of rock and techno (sometimes the former more so than the latter) with some classical music thrown in, also warrants a mention. It’s not quite as memorable as the base game, but the music is good, if a bit ill-fitting at times. Do I need the background score to go super hard when fighting a whopping two enemies? Not really, and hearing it end just as awkwardly is weird.
"Annihilation Instinct is more Atomic Heart for those who want it, but even that would encompass only the most die-hard fans, and the prospects aren’t amazing."
Unfortunately, as solid as the sound design can be, some bugs cause the audio to cut out. It occurred more than once, including in the ending cutscene, which was also low resolution and had a lower frame rate. Another bug saw P-3 repeating an entire conversation with NORA after leaving the complex, which then cut into an incoming message from Lebedev.
Enemy AI occasionally acts up, getting stuck on corners and containers, and there was a progress blocker, which necessitated restarting from a previous checkpoint. Performance can also suffer when exploring the swamps, with some pop-in also apparent. Nevertheless, there were no crashes or game-breaking bugs, at least on PS5.
Annihilation Instinct is more Atomic Heart for those who want it, but even that would encompass only the most die-hard fans, and the prospects aren’t amazing. Maybe P-3 will finally get some answers. Maybe Granny Zina will stop being angry at him. Maybe we get some spiffy-looking environments and nice new tunes. Either way, if this is the bar for DLC, I’m not exactly excited about what’s to come.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 5.
The art direction and music are still well done, and the environments look gorgeous. The new boss fight is fun, and the weapons are interesting while having upgrades to hunt down. The Mendeleev Complex offers some interesting sequences. Some of the base game's plot strands are resolved.
The story set-up is odd, and the awful dialogue between P-3 and NORA doesn't help. Payoff feels contrived, especially considering how short the DLC is. Not enough new abilities or meaningful side quests. Level design feels non-intuitive, making exploration a chore. Progression blockers and bugs, like audio cut-outs, occurred at times. General combat is a massive cluster where all strategy goes out the window, and the immense difficulty spike at the beginning is annoying.