Some of my fondest memories from high school don’t come from football games, class-clown shenanigans or chemistry experiments gone awry. Rather, it was the study halls wasted playing Bloons Tower Defense with a group of friends. As much as we enjoyed setting up monkeys to take out conga-lines of deadly balloons, no one ever stopped to ask: “Why can’t we play as the balloons for once?” Luckily, 11 Bit Studios answered that question for us with Anomaly: Warzone Earth, crafting an addictive and unique alternative to tower-defense with the tower-offense genre. Now they’ve returned to the series with Anomaly 2, adding new content and refining the old.
While the addictive quality remains intact with a surprisingly engaging campaign and the addition of multiplayer opens up the playing field a bit, it’s hard to call Anomaly 2 better than the original. It’s definitely just as fun, and at only $15 it’s a steal, but the new additions improve just as much as they take away.
If you missed out on the original, the Anomaly series flips the tower-defense genre on its head by tasking the player with leading a platoon of mechs through alien-infested territories. As the commander, you place enhancements on the ground to keep your mechs going strong while also scouting ahead and planning the most efficient route for your troop to take. Figuring out the perfect route is just as important as choosing the right mechs for your column, and keeping everybody alive, including yourself, becomes a rough task when more enemies call for more mechs.
This time around, mechs can now be morphed into a second variation, leading to a ton of variety and a whole new level of strategic thinking when entering a battlefield. Will you send in a tank with a machine gun that takes a while to warm up but deals massive damage once it does? Or should you switch it over to the walking behemoth with short-range flamethrowers for arms? Support units are added later in the game and offer a ton of variety to your approach, even if the gameplay itself rarely strays from the path. When it does, such as a level that finds you defeating wave after wave of aliens until the clock runs out or another that seperates you from your units for a few minutes, the variations shake things up enough to keep you playing through the end.
The story takes place years after the first alien invasion, with the 14th Platoon from the first game sacrificing themselves to transmit important data on Project Shockwave, an offensive plan that could take out the alien invaders for good. Stepping into the shoes of Simon Lynx, you take the fight to the tin cans across locales in New York and Rio de Janeiro.
Although the story is hardly unique or relevant, it does create some surprisingly tense moments later in the campaign when the stakes are raised. The campaign as a whole only takes about five hours to roll through, but even on normal difficulty some stages can be frustrating, tedious and hard. Anomaly 2 has a tendency to introduce a new enemy type by showing you a simple fight that showcases its abilities and weaknesses before simply drowning you in them, ready or not. For example, an enemy type called the Predator introduced late in the game absolutely litters the first level you find them in. The tactical map resembled a blue dot under a sea of red enemies.
Some levels absolutely clobber you with tough enemies, and although you earn currency to buy new units and upgrade existing armor by destroying them, sometimes it’s not enough to push through, leading to a reset of the level and a controller smashed to bits. Being able to add and replace units on the go is definitely helpful, but not being able to buy any power-ups and depending on enemies dropping them leads to frustration. You might be toting around a dozen distraction fields and continue to pick them up without ever seeing a health pick-up or an EMP. The late addition of the AIM power-up is a bit of a letdown, too, especially since it’s saved for a point well past the halfway mark of the game.
However, the difficulty caused by these decisions works in the game’s favor as it truly feels like you’re encountering the enemy for the first time (again) and you’re ill-prepared to do so. Similar to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, you’re expected to adapt to changing circumstances on the go with little to no hand-holding.
Although primarily a PC game, Anomaly 2 handles pretty smoothly on the PS4, with controls for directing units, morphing them into their altered states, choosing routes on the map and supporting units working wonderfully. Console RTS games hardly have a good reputation for handing well, but the simple approach makes it easy to learn in a snap.
The newly added multiplayer mode adds plenty of additional gameplay, but the mechanic isn’t quite as clever as it thinks it is. When playing with others, you can choose to either be on the offense as a convoy, like in the campaign, or to take the defensive position of the aliens, setting up towers and holding off the creeps like a traditional tower-defense game. While being able to fight from both perspectives is a good idea on paper, it tends to lead to a lot of spamming of units until sheer force overtakes the opponent.
Being able to play as a tower and take revenge on those pesky mechs is a great touch, and the abilities and power-ups given to towers are interesting and useful. With that being said, the multiplayer could use a bit of refinement considering either side can be beaten by simply having more fighters on your side. There is a bit of strategy thrown in for good measure, but not enough to fully realize the vision 11 Bit Studios clearly had for this mode when they created it.
For a $15 downloadable title, Anomaly 2 is extremely polished and fun to play, even if the story and dialogue feel copy-pasted straight from your average sci-fi B-movie. The campaign, while short and unvaried, is a blast while it lasts, and despite the multiplayer’s shortcomings there is definitely some fun to be had with others. If you enjoyed the original at all then you can jump into the sequel knowing you’ll find more of what you love.
If you’re new to the series, don’t let the sequel status scare you away, as the story is pretty inconsequential if you’ve watched a sci-fi movie in the past three decades. Anomaly 2 offers up more of what made the first game such a hit, and even if some of the newer touches don’t quite hit home, it does so much right and offers more than enough quality and polish to make it an easy $15 to spend.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 copy of the game given to us for review purposes.