Anomaly Warzone Earth
If any single genre could be considered synonymous with the rise of the downloadable game market, it’d have to be tower-defense. Rather than dive headfirst into the already crowded market and hope to find their niche, 11 Bit Studios’ title, Anomaly Warzone Earth, turns the genre on its ear.
It’s the year 2018 and a comet has entered the Earth’s atmosphere, splitting into two and striking the cities of Baghdad and Tokyo. During the aftermath, the points of impact are mysteriously encased by a pair of otherworldly domes, the Anomalies. Moments later the cities are overrun by an extraterrestrial mechanized threat. As the field Commander of the 14th Platoon you’ll need to uncover the secrets of the Anomalies, which means leading your convoy directly into the alien gauntlet. Survival will require quick thinking and choosing the path that yields the best odds; you’ve only got one wave in this tower-assault title.
Planning your advance in Anomaly Warzone Earth is the easy part, the tactical view provides a comprehensive map of the current stage, clearly illustrating what routes are available and allowing you to set and adjust waypoints on the fly. Pulling up the tactical view pauses the action and provides a brief reprieve during firefights, allowing you to regroup and reassess your current trajectory. Like a tower-defense title, you’ll need to navigate your wave through the enemy’s grid, eventually arriving at their base, a crucial target or an extraction point, though you may be required to complete a few ancillary objectives along the way.
Across the game’s dozen plus missions, 11 Bit Studios have done an admirable job of introducing clever new gameplay wrinkles throughout the entire campaign. Whether the shakeup consists of a new unit, enemy tower, tactical deployment or mission objective, Anomaly Warzone Earth regularly challenges the player to adapt and rework their existing strategies.
In addition to setting the platoon’s waypoints, the Commander’s other primary duty is protecting his units. Outfitted in the Combat Suit, four tactical deployments are available to assist the convoy with their mission, consisting of repairs, smoke screens, decoys and airstrikes. Deployments are limited, so learning how to maximize each and every drop is essential to the survival of your outfit. However, equally important is the makeup of your detail. Each individual unit has their own strengths and weaknesses: some sacrifice attack power for armor, while others simply provide support. Mixing and matching units is necessary to find out what combinations suit you as a commander, and it’s important to remember, their order in the convoy plays into the decision as well. Do you want a heavily armored tank up front to take the brunt of the damage, or, do you want the long range missiles of a crawler paving the way?
As towers are destroyed and roadside resources are gathered mid-mission, the credits will begin to pour in. Money can be turned around to buy or upgrade units at the drop of a hat. Gotten all you need out of that supply truck? Sell it, and use the credits you already had to buy a Dragon. Units retain the majority of their initial value, affording players the flexibility to sell and experiment, rather than penalize them. Anomaly Warzone Earth is all about finding the right tool for the right time and its simple economy system encourages that.
There is one place, though, where Anomaly needlessly penalizes its player and that is with its checkpoints; the problem isn’t the lack of checkpoints, but instead, the crippling use of them. Levels are designed in regions and in between tough stretches you’ll usually get a supply drop, receive a mission update and trigger a checkpoint. That’s all fine and good, but, in some stages the checkpoint placing isn’t nearly obvious enough and if you pass a checkpoint with a significantly weakened platoon, or no cash, you better hope you beat the level on that run. A quick save would have surely killed the finely tuned challenge found in Anomaly, but the strict checkpointing discourages the player to attempt to salvage a botched run; pulling up the menu and reverting to the last checkpoint is always the safest play after a screw up.
Fortunately, given the reasonable length of most missions and the compelling presentation, a bad checkpoint isn’t likely to sour the experience too much. Anomaly Warzone Earth is one of the prettiest, most polished downloadable titles I’ve ever experienced. The HUD is clean, clear, and above all, seamlessly fits into the near-future aesthetic. The campaign is also fully voiced, and what’s more surprising is that it’s actually voiced quite well – though some of the writing itself can be hokey. The story isn’t likely to pull you in, but the elegant delivery provides a welcome bit of context.
Anomaly Warzone Earth is one of the more challenging and satisfying titles I’ve played all year. It cleverly side-steps the tower-defense bottle neck by throwing things into reverse, creating a wholly unique tactical-strategy experience. Though the misguided checkpoint system may occasionally frustrate, an intricate, rewarding campaign should keep players hooked – assuming they actually care what the Anomaly is.