The tower defense genre may be nearing the point of market saturation, but according to Anomaly: Warzone Earth, there’s still plenty of room for a new spin on the idea. This strategy title comes by way of Polish developer 11 bit studios, and proves that creativity, innovation, and fun are alive and well in the downloadable market. A:WE is technically a tower defense, but only because there’s no real term yet to describe what it does. Rather than building a series of structures to repel an enemy invasion, this game puts you in the shoes of the aggressor. As it turns out, knocking down towers can be just as much fun as building them up.
A:WE casts you as the commander of the 14th Platoon, a near-future British military outfit charged with keeping the Earth safe from extraterrestrial threats. When a mysterious ship crashes in Baghdad, you lead a team of Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs), missile-launching mechs, and energy shield carriers to investigate and destroy a variety of alien defensive structures. Like any good sci-fi story, the initial setup carries it through the first act, but a decent plot twist about halfway through the campaign will keep most players hooked until the end. The script is nothing special, although some emphatic voice acting propels the interesting narrative and provides a few chuckle-worthy one-liners.
While the game’s difficulty ramps up very quickly, the basic structure of each mission remains the same from start to finish. You control the 14th Platoon’s commander, and can run freely around the map, drawing fire and collecting power-ups. Your avatar can soak up an impressive amount of damage, but is unable to dish it out in turn; this is where a collection of varied, upgradeable vehicles comes in. Rather than an unending stream of minions, the commander can summon only a handful of units to tackle the alien towers. The versatile APC, for example, can soak up a lot of damage but chips away at enemy health slowly, while the Carrier mech tears through enemy defenses but can only withstand a few hits. More advanced units become available later in the game, including short-range, fire-spewing tanks and supportive Supply Trucks, but each one feels well-balanced in terms of cost and utility.
At the beginning of each mission, you’ll map a route for your units to follow through the twists and turns of Baghdad (and later, Tokyo). Mapping routes is easily one of the most unwieldy parts of the game, as the levels are often huge, and the default route will invariably lead you down a circuitous path of enemy kill corridors, often ending in unhelpful cul-de-sacs. Once you’re en route, though, everything fits together nicely. A number of different enemy towers hamper your progress, from stationary turrets, to forward-facing particle beams, to enormous cannons that attack multiple units.
Like your units, each enemy tower has distinct strengths and weaknesses. Ubiquitous Blaster towers sit still and fire moderately damaging projectiles, while hulking Behemoths can tear through multiple units, but take a long time to aim. As the commander, you can use a variety of supportive techniques to help bring them down. A simple repair radius will keep your machines alive long enough to take down a Blaster, while a smoke cluster or decoy target can divert more powerful adversaries. Since the towers appear in a variety of different positions, configurations, and combinations, finding the right mix of routes, power-ups, and squad compositions for each encounter can be tense, but ultimately feels rewarding.
You can upgrade your units as each stage progresses, although this comes with its own set of caveats. Upgrading units is quite expensive, and acquiring even small amounts of money often requires detours through dangerous territory. Even more frustrating, upgrades only apply to individual units, so if you have two APCs in your squad, you’ll need to pay for each one separately.
The campaign can take six to eight hours depending on difficulty settings, but two extra arcade modes and a local cooperative mode extend the playtime. These scenarios, which assault the player with wave after wave of increasingly tough enemies, both play well. The arcade missions tend to last much longer than their campaign counterparts, which means a higher difficulty, but also more resources and more time to plan ingenious routes and sound strategies. While they lack the narrative weight and urgency that the campaign provides, they also provide more leeway in creating, maintaining, and upgrading an army, making them an attractive time-sink for anyone in the mood for a longer-form version of A:WE. Online cooperative or competitive play would have been welcome additions as well, making their absence all the more palpable.
A:WE is a superlative downloadable title. A cheap price tag belies a deep, difficult game that offers some frustration, but much more fun. Even if you’ve had more than your fill of tower defenses lately, give this one a shot. You might be surprised just how much a shift in perspective can change the feel of a whole genre.
Bottom Line: Anomaly: Warzone Earth delivers satisfying gameplay and a strong story, even if the non-campaign content is thin.
Recommendation: Strategy fans should pick this one up posthaste, but neophytes might want to cut their teeth on something easier.[rating=4]
This review is based on the PS3 version of the game.
Game: Anomaly: Warzone Earth
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Developer: 11 bit studios
Publisher: 11 bit studios
Platform(s): PC, Mac, Xbox 360, PS3, iOS, Android
Available from: Steam, App Store, XBLA, PSN, Play Store