Publisher: 11 bit Studios
Genre: Tower Offense / Strategy
Reviewer: Philip Smith
Overall: 7.5 = Good
There is no such thing as a good alien invasion, but I would say one that involves a species who can immediately set up massive, laser-blasting defense towers is certainly on the ‘Ah, hell’ end of the spectrum. In 11 bit Studios’ debut title, Anomaly: Warzone Earth, players face off against just such a foe. In what’s become a bit of a trend as of late, the traditional roles are reversed, with the player going on the offense against preset defenses in what related press releases have dubbed “tower offense.” Given Anomaly‘s iOS origins, 11 bit was definitely at the fore of this shift, presenting players with limited resources as they purchase, upgrade, and shift their units around in order to ensure that as many vehicles as possible survive the urban gauntlets. With a mixture of clever ideas, and a handful of new 360-exclusive modes, the Xbox Live version proves to be a pleasant diversion during this post-holiday lull.
For unknown reasons, the aliens first invade Baghdad, Iraq and eventually make their way to Tokyo, Japan, encompassing both in energy fields known as anomalies. It’s the back-and-forth battles between the 14th Platoon and the alien structures within those shells that comprise the game’s main campaign. As progress is made, new score-based modes are unlocked (Baghdad Mayhem, Baghdad Mayhem Rearmed, and Tokyo Raid), as well as six console-only Time Trials. But the real cause for celebration—at least initially—is the vehicle unlocks that become accessible as progress is made through the game’s 14 missions. The enemy is a wily one, though, always constructing new tower types in retaliation: some focus high-intensity beams, others lightning, and some unleash explosive energy bursts that deal heavy splash damage. As players attempt to navigate the ravaged labyrinthine cities, they will need to plan their course by any number of factors: what towers the aliens have constructed, with some being more susceptible at certain angles; the location of valuable mineral deposits; and any surprise objectives that are sprung on their beleaguered troops—escort a transport ship, make it over a bridge before it’s destroyed, etc. It won’t be easy, nor will it always be immediately obvious what has to be done, but medium-sized maps and checkpoints help to ensure that the game keeps pace with the troops.
Unlike other tower defense titles, traditional or not, Anomaly puts players in the role of a ground-pounding battlefield commander. The commander not only has a birds-eye view of the action, which is the player’s view, to direct the convoy’s route, but he is also able to directly influence the action by using a variety of power-ups to call down support drops. His super-special suit can utilize several fields to assist the convoy, including a repair field and a smoke screen, as well as call in a decoy and an air strike. Some of the towers act as sentries, which will require a bit of stealth and trust as those require the convoy be left behind in order to scurry about the debris in order to stay hidden while getting close enough to call in a bombing run without being detected. Power-ups are acquired by grabbing air-dropped combat packages, which come in random intervals and also when some of the towers are destroyed. It’s the judicious use of these powers in tandem with the abilities of the vehicles and the route chosen that will see the alien menace sulking off.
Destroyed towers only net so much money, though, and the vehicles and their upgrades are expensive. In order to afford a formidable force, the smattering of rich alien mineral deposits must also be taken into account when plowing through a city. As the aliens’ technology is researched and their methods better understood, the world’s scientists come up with new vehicles as well as weapon and armor upgrades. The aliens aren’t ones to rest about and steadily reveal new and exotic towers, such as the Hacker, with its volleys of condensed energy fields that turn any encased vehicle’s guns on the commander, and the energy-siphoning Energizer, which saps stored energy from the command suit to rebuild nearby destroyed structures; in response, man builds Supply vessels that create power-ups from absorbed alien energy, massive dual-plasma-throwing tanks called Dragons, arachnid-like Crawler missile launchers, and Shield forcefield generators. Only six vehicles can be used at any time, but fortunately, units that aren’t a good fit for the current scenario can be sold back and the order can be adjusted on the fly. The ease with which the units can be reordered is a big plus, since the situation can change drastically from one downtown block to the next—a heavy tank might be the ticket to break through an area, but then something a little weaker and faster on the attack might be best to clean things up.
It’s equally easy to control the direction of the convoy. Each intersection has an arrow icon indicating the direction that vehicles will go once they reach that point, and a line leads from the arrow point to the connecting icon for additional clarification. Path direction is adjusted through a handy tactical view, which pauses the action while also allowing for the entire map to be scrolled; it also displays icons on the map for any power-ups that are lying about. If the tactical view indicates a stretch of road without any enemy towers, or if a certain vehicle is in trouble, the game can be sped up during combat, which comes in handy but must also be used with care.
Each story mission can be replayed in one of three difficulty levels, and each score can be uploaded to an online leaderboard. The maps aren’t random, though, so once a solid convoy formation is discovered, it’s really about adapting to the increased use of the less conventional towers, such as the Stormray and its chain lightning attack. I found that the best outcome is determined by the proper use of the Supply craft, with a solid Dragon, Shield, and Crawler upgraded combo serving as a strong spearhead. But the true test of a convoy’s setup, and the commander’s nerve, is the set of unlocked challenge modes.
By the end of the story, most of the challenge modes will be available for play. The first mode that is unlocked is Baghdad Mayhem, which leads to Baghdad Mayhem Rearmed. Each offers timed waves of spontaneously generated structures to destroy, with the first comprised of 10 and Rearmed 18. Next up is Tokyo Raid, which is an18-island obstacle course of sorts as the objectives alternate, with some islands requiring the commander to protect a dropship, others needing to be navigated within a set time, and so on. New to the game are a series of Time Trials, which offer a range of virtual-reality-style simulated challenges that amp up the difficulty by placing restrictions on convoy makeup and purchasing options. The lack of direct control can make these modes a little frustrating, since they don’t offer the same leeway as the story missions, and the AI’s tendency to attack less optimal targets can lead to some unforeseen rough encounters. Although these don’t extend the game greatly, they do make for a good few hours of entertainment.
I actually ended up spending much longer with the game than I had anticipated due to experiencing an anomaly (rimshot? Guys?) of my own. After I completed the story and was trying out the additional modes, the game become increasingly unstable, with numerous freezes that led to the image being frozen on the screen or dropping out entirely to a black or gray screen. No other games, either Live Arcade or retail, crashed before, during, or after this period. Some initial investigation proved fruitless, as no one else seemed to have the problem, so the site was put in touch with developer 11 bit and was told they hadn’t heard of the issue before but to try playing on a second profile. Long story short, I played the game through on our primary account, our secondary account, and then went back and played some more on the primary account. The problem did not occur at all on the secondary account, which was well tested with some reinforcements I called in for a few marathon sessions, nor did it occur again when I spent several additional hours back on the primary account. 11 bit informed us that they were unable to duplicate the bug and had not been contacted about it before. It seems as though I was just unlucky.
Anomaly: Warzone Earth offers an interesting twist on the tower offense genre by giving players an on-the-ground presence. As the commander, players will be able to walk alongside their convoy as it makes its way through a gauntlet of alien towers, calling down smoke, decoys, repair fields, and air strikes to ensure their safety. It’s this extra hands-on touch that really sets Anomaly apart as it adds a dimension of action that other tower offense titles lack. A serviceable, if not terribly interesting, story and extra modes help to round out a solid title that offers a nice break from the norm.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)