Reviews

Anomaly: Warzone Earth – Review

Xbox Live Arcade Title
Price: 1200MSP
Developer 11 Bit Studios
Publisher: 11 Bit Studios
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: No

Thanks to the publishers for providing a copy of this game for review

Ok, I admit it, when I first heard about Anomaly: Warzone Earth someone made the mistake of mentioning tower defense when describing it and I pretty much turned off at that point, writing it off as yet another game in the endless ocean that is the tower defense genre. It was a mistake, and one that I fully admit to, because while Anomaly could be classified in the tower defense genre, it arguably has more in common with an RTS, albeit it a simplistic one, casting the player as a battlefield commander than must run around the map directing a convoy of units in an attempt to navigate streets and defeat enemy towers. So if you want it said another way, it’s a tower defense game in reverse. Now that’s just caarazy!

The story goes that sometime in the future a large chunk of space debris  smashes into Baghdad, causing some sort of anomaly to appear  in the middle of the city and alien turrets to pop up all over the place. Understandably this causes some considerable concern amongst the Earth’s population and you, as your little virtual commander, are sent to investigate just what the hell is going on. Unlike almost ever other title in the genre, Anomaly does actually make an attempt at telling a decent, if pretty generic, sci-fi tale that could have actually been pretty damn interesting, but sadly some crap narration and failure to utilize its own plot concepts leave the whole thing feeling bland. Still, it’s arguably better than what we usually see from these sorts of games and for that at least the developers should be applauded. Seriously, just because it has towers in it doesn’t mean it has to have a crap story, people.

 The core gameplay mechanics are certainly solid enough, emphasising a more tactical approach than we normally see from the genre, which tends to let players blunder through without too much worry.  A quick tap of the Y button brings up the games tactical map where you can check out enemy positions, the types of turrets you’re facing, your objective and locations where extra cash can be acquired, should you deem it be worth fighting through the heavy defenses that are usually on guard  to collect it. Using this map you pick out the exact route that you want your convoy to take, carefully navigating the destroyed cities  that make up the games levels and choosing the safest route that you can to get to the objective. Arguably it’s the route planning that has the largest impact upon your success in Anomaly, demanding that you stop and think about what you’re doing rather than just charge straight in as picking the wrong route or misjudging the strength of the enemy turrets on just one street can lead to disaster,  especially as Anomaly is a game that likes to challenge players, even on its lowest difficulty. This presents a few problems as the game has a few killer difficulty spikes where the challenge suddenly ramps up and may leave some players feeling a bit pissed off at the sudden increase, but the truth is it’s nice to play a game that wants to challenge the player rather than hold their hand. That’s not to say Anomaly is actually a difficult game, though, because generous checkpoints always ensure that you won’t have to replay massive chunks of levels to get back to where you were, although these checkpoints can present a problem as sometimes I found myself caught in a loop where I didn’t have any other routes to go and not enough power-ups to progress, though it should be said that this was my own fault for not managing aforesaid power-ups with more skill.

But wait! I probably should explain what power-ups I’m referring to: See see, you gain these little beauties by either destroying enemy turrets as you progress through the streets or via air-drop when you pass through certain checkpoints.  Your little commander is decked out with his own special suit which allows him to activate these special abilities, such as smoke screens which lower enemy accuracy, decoys which can distract them and airstrikes so you can level towers, as well as being able to heal your units should your terrible leadership lead them into a hail of fire. The game strikes a good balance between having to manage your usage of these power-ups without ever feeling like you’re having to micro-manage. Checkpoints drop enough of them to keep you well supplied, but you’ll still have to be smart with your usage or find yourself struggling later in a level, unable to progress because you’ve got nothing to distract the enemy towers with or support your own troops with.

And then of course there’s the actual troops that you’ll be taking on the enemy with. A quick tap of the X button brings up the unit menu where you can happily purchase new units, upgrade or sell existing ones and change the position of the units within the convoy. Of course choosing the right composition for your squad is important: APCs are cheap and offer major armor, but have little firepower, walkers are easy to destroy but pack big firepower while something like a tank is damned expensive but offers a balance of both offense and defense. However it’s disappointing that there’s only actually six units to pick from once they’re all unlocked, and that several feel almost useless thanks to some poor balancing: in particular the Dragon, a plasma-spewing tank that can fire in two directions at once, and the APCs feel almost useless while groups of walkers with shield generators are capable of marching through levels with ease, happily blowing the hell out of everything with their missiles. For much of the game I simply used nothing but tanks, walkers and shield generators to trounce my way through the games levels, finding that I never really had to switch up units to defeat certain towers. Still, this is nothing that an update couldn’t fix in the future, but for now it’s a flaw in the game.

But despite the mechanics being solid the first third of Anomaly far from impressed me. For the first few hours of the games 6-7 campaign your limited to just a few units from the already limited selection and the maps are simplistic with the ‘best’ routes being far too obvious. Obviously this is simply the developers trying to ease gamers into the game by introducing new units, enemy towers and more complex maps slowly, but it makes for a rather dull first third to the game, and when we’re talking about an Arcade game, which are short enough as it is, that’s not really a good thing, especially as the gameplay mechanics aren’t that complex. Still, once that initial chunk of the game is past Anomaly becomes a far more fun game with more complex maps providing opportunities for you to flex those tactical muscles and the wider range of enemy turrets and units, balancing issues aside, giving you more options to play with and keep the action feeling more intense. There’s still a few flaws, though: some of the maps are still a bit too simplistic, failing to offer as much room to maneuver as I’d have liked and there’s a couple of brutal difficulty spikes that might leave some gamers swearing at their TV screen.

Completing the games campaign should take you around six or seven hours which is a solid time for an Arcade title and there’s always the high-scores to play for. Should that not be enough for you, though, several other modes will unlock for you while playing through the campaign. The best of these modes is Tactical Trials, a series of missions which ditches the realistic graphics for a virtual reality and, as the name implies, gives you a but more of a challenge. In many ways the Tactical Trials almost feel like what the main campaign could have been, offering up a couple of fantastic missions with interesting twists to them – It’s just a shame that there isn’t that many Trials to actually play through. Aside from that you’ll also unlock the rather brilliantly named Baghdad Mayhem which is Anomaly’s take on the Horde mode, tasking you with fighting waves and waves of enemies intent on turning you and your precious units into so much smoking wreckage. It’s not a hugely entertaining mode, but should keep you busy for an extra hour or two anyway. The final unlock is Tokyo Raid which, not unsurprisingly, takes place in Tokyo, which you also visit in the main campaign, and tasks you with once again fighting through a load of enemy turrets, pretty much making it an exact replica of Baghdad Mayhem but set in Tokyo.

When it comes to presentation Anomaly doesn’t slouch, delivering a technically impressive looking game. From the games top-down view it’s hard not to be impressed by the level of detail used to render the ruined cities that make up almost all of the game: it really does look like the Earth has been attacked. Both enemy and friendly units also offer an impressive level of detail. On the actual art-design front, though, Anomaly is a pretty generic affair that doesn’t really set itself apart: the enemy turret designs are forgettable and the levels blur together in a haze of ruined buildings. The sound also fairs well with some pretty good backing music to match the action and solid sound effects, but the voice acting is pretty crap throughout, although this is hardly surprising given the genre.

Despite the fairly slow first-third of the game I enjoyed my time with Anomaly. Like any game it certainly has its fair share of flaws but this is still a fun strategy game that’s worth your hard-earned cash. It’s not a hugely deep game, but what it does offer is compelling action with enough strategy to keep you playing from start to finish.

The Good:
+ It’s not just a plain tower defense game!
+ Carefully navigating the city streets to victory!
+ It does actually try to tell a good story….

The Bad:
- ….even if it does largely fail to.
- Implementing an ingenious plan that turns out to be a terrible plan.
- A lot of the levels are too simple in their layout.

The Score:

Graphics: 8
The art-style doesn’t do much to set itself apart, but on the technical front this is an impressive title.

Sound: 7.5
The backing music has some good moments and the sound effects are solid. The acting, however, is not.

Story: 5
By tower defense standards it’s actually pretty good, by every other standard it’s merely passable. Therefore a score of 5 feels fair.

Gameplay: 8
The units do need some balancing and the map layouts could have been better, but this is still a fun strategy game.

Lifespan: 8
A lack of multiplayer may put off some, but there’s a good chunk of singleplayer content her.

The Verdict: 8
I was wrong to write off Anomaly: Warzone Earth as just another tower-defense game, because it’s not: it’s a strategy game that offers great action and plenty of fun for your money, and really, what else do you want?

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