Let’s get something straight right off the bat: Anomaly – Warzone Earth is the best tower defense game to ever not be a tower defense game. The core mechanics are instantly recognizable to anyone with a passing knowledge of the genre; however Anomaly turns the tables, putting you in charge of the offensive rush. While playing as the attackers in a tower defense game isn’t the most unique idea, Anomaly manages to offer a very refreshing spin on it. You play as the commander of 14th platoon investigating the alien forces attacking Earth while leading a small squad of vehicles through the war zones. You’re charged with barreling past enemy defenses while mowing down as many towers as you can. Want more of a story? Too bad. Sadly, the idea starts and stops at, “Aliens are here doing bad things and you need to kill them off to save Earth.”
The first thing players are introduced to is also one of the most original mechanics of the game. While there is a set destination that you need to move your troops to, getting there isn’t as easy as it seems. Some paths will be blocked off, while others may lead you right into heavy resistance and potential decimation. You’ll be tasked with setting a custom route through the map to find its safest and fastest path, which is graded at the end of every level. It’s hard not to feel like a grizzled military tactician when you’re plotting out a precarious path for your vehicles on the fly after a dynamic event turned your previous route into a suicide march.
Regardless of what route you take, you’re eventually going to run head first into the enemy’s defenses. Luckily, you’ve got a fairly robust selection of tools at your disposal. You’ll be able to select from six different vehicles to fill your six slots, each one with its advantages and disadvantages. An APC won’t do much damage, but will be able to withstand more hits than the crawler, which will obliterate towers but seems to explode if the driver shifts in his seat too much. A good portion of the game is the mental challenge of trying to decide which units would be the most effective in what order, based on your situation. A tank followed by a shield unit is going to last much longer than a tank on its own, but you’re giving up valuable real estate for a unit with no offensive capabilities.
Once your troops are in motion, Anomaly really starts to shine. You take over as the Commander walking on foot amidst the chaos. While you have no true offensive capabilities of your own, you have access to four powers thanks to your power suit, and they’re critical to the success of your mission. You’ll be tasked with repairing your units, throwing out smoke screens to reduce enemy accuracy and damage, planting decoys to draw fire from any towers within range or calling in a direct airstrike. As you take out enemy towers, your air force will sweep by dropping off these precious resources in their place. While in the early missions there’s plenty of time to explore and pick up the drops at your convenience, it will get hectic quickly. The limited number of supplies, combined with the constant need of offering some sort of assistance to your vehicles, creates a harrowing challenge in the later levels.
The enemy towers are extremely well-designed. While there are only a few distinct types of towers, they all implore a different attack type and demand strategy on how to handle the situation. Certain tower types, such as the Behemoth, are easily distracted by decoys and are slow to rotate while others, such as the Scorcher, are unable to shift their aim at all but can eviscerate any troops attempting to attack head on.
11 bit studios really deserves recognition for the aesthetics here. Every facet of the game is polished to perfection. The visuals are absolutely flawless, instantly drawing the player into their depicted world. Enemy towers are designed perfectly, meaning that they look impressively foreboding without being overly-exaggerated. The maps themselves are impressively detailed with destroyed buildings littering the landscape, constantly reminding you that you’re fighting in a metropolis. Individual units’ chatter complements your commander’s dialogue, both of which happen to be extremely well done, offering that little bit of militaristic realism as the final touch.
The main concern for any PC gamer playing a game ported to consoles is undoubtedly controls, however 11 bit studios has done an incredible job making sure that everything crossed over properly. This should come as no real shock since playing through the PC version with a controller was already possible. The overall control scheme is extremely comfortable and manages to give the player complete control without being overwhelmed. For example, abilities are placed by walking your commander to the target location and hitting the A button, momentarily pausing the game, and selecting which tactic you need to use.
The only true fault I found with Anomaly – Warzone Earth was its length. Anomaly‘s campaign clocks in at right around five hours. There are some additional options that promote replay value, but their appeal will vary from player to player. They include three bonus Squad Assault levels (in which you have to plan a route to clear “waves” of enemy towers within a time limit), in addition to six Tactical Trials. The latter type plays out as a puzzle version of the game set in a VR training environment.
I encourage everyone to at least look into the Tactical Trials, since they offer something so distinct from the core gameplay. Their missions provide new challenges such as a map with one way streets, certain units that you need to protect from harm and starting the mission without any abilities. Despite only offering six of these missions, their challenge will still take up a considerable amount of time for most players. Having online leaderboards available will also promote retries for those who like to show off their high scores.
Anomaly – Warzone Earth is one of the best XBLA releases to date. I can’t help but think that, if it had a bit more to offer, this would receive a near perfect score across the board. However, with its abbreviated length and questionable replay appeal, it falls just short. The novel take on tower defense and strategy is certain to capture even casual fans of either genre. 11 bit studios has created an incredibly engaging game, which is screaming for more content (and hopefully some DLC down the road.) It is most-definitely worth a buy.
This review is based on a copy of the game that was provided to us for review purposes.