Anomaly Warzone Earth
‘Accessible’ and ‘RTS’ are two morphemes that rarely find themselves together in a non-negated sentence. The very nature of strategy games requires a tactical mastery, honed from the trials and ego dents of being outplayed by opponents either human or autonomous. Anomaly Warzone Earth takes full advantage of its arcade nature in order to create an incredibly focused strategic experience that never allows itself to overwhelm the player.
Initially released last year on PC/Mac, developer 11 bit Studios elected to bring their critical success to the console audience. As the first line of defence against an invading alien base (the Anomaly) that’s crashed down on Earth, you’ll be pitting a small but versatile selection of human weaponry against extraterrestrial tower defences. The static nature of the ‘enemy’ requires a forward-thinking, conservative game plan, pushing Anomaly surprisingly close to the puzzle genre.
Anomaly dubs itself as a ‘tower offence’ game whereby players create paths to assault the enemy’s base; the primary objective for all fourteen single player missions is simply to travel from A to B. Each mission requires a delicate compromise between a slow yet destructive approach and a fast but fragile one. Points bonuses are awarded for route directness and the proportion of enemy units destroyed.
A considerable focus has been placed on the difficult task of transferring the point-and-click nature of RTS onto a console controller and the result is a highly responsive layout that feels surprisingly natural on the Xbox 360. The player physically controls only the commander of their unit, who serves as a virtual interface to direct your battalion. This is extremely effective for a controller-based RTS game because there is no requirement to quickly switch between sections of the battle zone; the only area of focus at any given time is the location of a sole unit of up to six vehicles (but often fewer for tactical reasons). Smooth, well-calibrated optimisation of the left stick allows any mistakes to be quickly countered.
The commander/player has an array of various tools in their armoury. Holding the ‘A’ button at any time will freeze the game and present up to four resources to use tactically; health regenerators, bombs, smoke grenades and artillery decoys. The former two options provide little scope for tactical use, however both smoke grenades and decoys are crucial for an effective offence. These tools are collected throughout the level, primarily by destroying enemy towers. These towers may only attack when within range, however decoys will attract their fire whilst smoke provides a veil to move into.
The artillery at your disposal includes sturdy-but-slow turreted tanks, quick-but-weak rocket launchers, flamethrowers and mobile shields. Money is accumulated from defeating enemies and progressing through the level, which is used to invest in your unit. Those expecting to find considerable depth in organising their unit will be left disappointed, however there’s enough room for experimentation over the fourteen missions for this to not become too great a handicap. Anomaly’s unique selling point is that it ultimately sacrifices variety for accessibility and fast gameplay.
A short singleplayer is redeemed by additional survival modes and online leaderboards. Balanced strategy games tend to offer a wealth of replayability and Anomaly follows suit. Its simplicity dares to tempt the player into striving for perfection. A lack of PVP online multiplayer feels like a lost opportunity to play defensively. Priced at a respectable 800 Microsoft Points, it’s difficult to feel too aggrieved. If commercially successful, there may yet lie the demand for DLC to rectify this.
Anomaly Warzone Earth is not going to revolutionise the strategy genre for home consoles. It does however provide an ideal place to start for those who are somewhat sceptical or intimidated by the genre. With impeccable controls for a console RTS, it’s clear that 11 bit Studios know exactly how to optimise hardware to play their title seamlessly. This isn’t quite an essential purchase, but the potential within both studio and IP is unquestionable.
Anomaly may be a little lacking in ambition, but this is a refreshing and polished strategy game that deserves your attention.