Tower defence games were a huge highlight of the last decade of gaming. You had wonderful titles such as Defense Grid: The Awakening and PopCap's quirky Plants vs Zombies, not to mention console games like PixelJunk Monsters and Ninjatown. It's the idea of reverse progression that gets our hearts racing - rather than watching our character push forward through a game, we revel in watching the enemy not getting very far at all.
Anomaly: Warzone Earth, then, is like the double negative of tower defence games. Rather than place down towers to stop an incoming convoy, you are the convoy. Roles are reversed, and with it strategies flip to suit the role. It's a daunting challenge, but one that proves an absolute breath of fresh air, with a gorgeous amount of polish and innovation drummed through the game's very core. It's hard to believe that this is an indie title, such is the flair emanating constantly from every twist and turn.
You'll need to take specific routes to dodge around some of the more nasty enemies
The story goes that alien ships have crashlanded in various world cities, and unleashed hordes of alien towers to block the path into each core. Your mission is to lead a squad of units into the heart of the alien swarm, bypassing or destroying the towers and killing off the key components of the alien invasion.
You take control of a single commander, darting around the battlefield and keeping your convoy alive and well. You don't have any control over your individual units, besides being able to choose their path through the winding roads of Baghdad and Tokyo, hence they will simply shoot at whichever enemy is closest. Instead, you run ahead collecting resources and power-ups, which can be used to bump up the health and power of your guys.
It's incredibly simple, yet works so well. As you've got a limited number of power-ups to use, keeping a balance between letting your troops fight it out for themselves and throwing a spanner into the works, such as whipping up a sandstorm or throwing down a decoy, is a marvellous thing. You're required to stay near your convoy to make sure it doesn't come a cropper, but regularly you'll need to move away from them to grab supplies - this can be nerve-racking, as you hope that they're still alive by the time you get back.
Being able to select the convoy's route is also great fun, and gives the experience a real tactical feel. Scrolling the mouse wheel zooms out of the action, allowing you to easily divert your troops away from danger. There will be obvious routes that go through the least number of bad guys, yet some of the tougher routes will provide more resources and ultimately a better score. Weighing up which matters more to you is a whole game in itself.
It really helps that the controls are such a breeze. Moving your commander around is a simple click and hold, while using powers falls to the right mouse button. Space bar is for upgrading troops, while the aforementioned mouse wheel oversees the action from above. It can feel a little jarring that your view is always locked to your commander, but since you're around your convoy 90% of the time, it doesn't matter all that much.
The tactical overmap looks fantastic
Anomaly is a seriously polished game. From the environments to the cutscenes to the interface, it's a wonderful sight to behold and gives the experience a really gritty feel. Destruction is everywhere, and the creepy alien roots sprouting from the streets and buildings in certain areas are very eerie indeed.
There's loads to play through as well. Online ranks for each level and mode will definitely keep us playing, but that's not even the half of it. Steam achievements are for the taking, unlockable game modes spell disaster for our workload, medals track how quickly and efficiently you complete each level... it's a meaty release, no doubt about it.
Certain elements do take away from the immersion, however, the main culprit being the cutscenes - or more precisely, speeding up the cutscenes. You can hold Shift to speed up the game, which is incredibly useful. Unfortunately, 11 Bit Studios forgot to remove the functionality during cutscenes - hence, you'll be holding Shift when a cutscene starts, and all the dialogue will go out of place and overlap each other.
It's not even just during cutscenes either - numerous times we were speeding up the game, and the main commander would give us some advice about how to handle a new enemy type. Unfortunately, since the action was sped up, he'd stop talking halfway through his explanation, and we'd be left with no idea about how to proceed. It's incredibly frustrating, and hopefully will be solved in a future update.
The game also needs a few more unit types. Although you can upgrade your existing units, making them more powerful and far more useful, there just isn't enough variety available. The commander, too, doesn't have many special abilities to play with. If it weren't for the variety in enemy types, the action may have grown stale before the end.
Troops getting obliterated? Throw down some smokes and decoys!
Our final gripe isn't a biggie - we're just wondering where the multiplayer is! Since Anomaly flips the tower defence genre on its head, it surely makes sense that we should be able to play head-to-head, with one player taking control of the tower placement. Again, it's something we'd love to see addressed in a future update.
ANOMALY: WARZONE EARTH VERDICT
Anomaly: Warzone Earth is exciting, clever and ultimately addictive. There’s a level of innovation here that we rarely see in AAA gaming, and we’d like to see more of it please. If you have any interest in tower defence whatsoever, this is an essential purchase.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Taking down some of the bigger enemy types for the first time.