Review: Anomaly 2 excels at taking the fight to Earth's invaders
In 2011 the original Anomaly: Warzone Earth became notorious for literally flipping the tower defense genre on its head. 11 bit studios took the tried and tested formula, but the developer made the player the attacker instead of the defender, dubbing the concept “tower offense.” The result was a more action-heavy experience that was well-received and worth playing. The studio is back with Anomaly 2, a sequel that follows in the footsteps of its predecessor and offers up some more of that awesome tower offense action, all the while introducing some welcome new additions.
The story in Anomaly 2 is pretty much what you would expect from a sci-fi themed strategy game. Basically, you have to take down invading aliens, because, well, they’re evil jerks. Also, the game takes place in the future, which shouldn’t be too surprising considering the first Anomaly did too. It’s hard to really care about the story because it’s so thin compared to the highly entertaining gameplay, but the plot is pretty much a backdrop for what is an overall stellar adventure anyway. Simply put, the narrative is there, but it won’t win any “story of the year” awards.
While the plot is lacking in terms of creativity, the same cannot be said about the gameplay. As the attacker, you need to consider several options and plan out your moves. Many times you don’t have much time to do so, and there’s this refreshing sense of chaos and panic as you progress through levels and battle your way through hordes of alien baddies. Suffice it to say, it’s a good thing the game lets you select the difficulty on every level, because less experienced players are likely to get frustrated at the increase in challenge later on.
Your first course of action at the start of a level is usually to plan out your route. There are various paths that you can travel through, some with more enemies than others. Anomaly 2 makes it worth the trouble to pass through heavily guarded areas, because more often than not, you’ll discover spoils such as optional waypoints and currency that can be used to purchase more units and upgrades.
Speaking of units, selecting your troops is the next step in successfully carrying out a mission. You’ve got a limited amount of currency at the start of each stage, and you must use it to purchase offensive units such as Hell Hounds or Sledge Hammers. These offer their own advantages but also have some weaknesses. The Hell Hounds, for example, fire at a ridiculously slow rate at first, but they gradually build up to a much faster speed. Being inactive, however, lowers their rate of fire once more. The Sledge Hammers, on the other hand, can dish out immense amounts of damage with their missiles, but they can only fire within a 30 degree radius.
These war machines aren’t just one-trick ponies, though. Double-clicking on a unit changes it into its second form. A lot of the time, these forms are better suited for close combat due to their rotating fire, so if you’re outnumbered and are taking on bad guys within tight streets, it’s essential that you switch things up. I actually found myself rarely using my units’ original forms. Though Sledge Hammers’ powerful missiles did give me an edge from afar, I usually transformed my units sooner rather than later so that I wouldn’t have to fumble with them during intense firefights all of a sudden.
In addition to your basic units, there are also power-ups you can pick up and use to aid you in battle. You’ve got repair items that can fix up your damaged tanks. There are also decoy items that can direct your enemies’ focus away from you. Then there’s the EMP, which helps disable enemy fighters and gives you some time to breathe. Anomaly 2 gets incredibly hectic in later parts, and it’s pivotal to your success that you learn how to use these and other items and abilities in the most resourceful ways possible.
Admittedly, there’s not too much variety in the way the campaign plays out. While it’s great that you slowly accrue new abilities, the bulk of the time you’re playing you’re doing the same thing. If you fail, you can go back to your previous checkpoint, and it’s all about finding a strategy that works. For me, clearing missions meant I needed to constantly deploy decoys and consistently heal my units so that I could battle my way through to the next destination. Still, even though Anomaly 2 doesn’t evolve much throughout its five or so hours of single-player action, it’s addictive and enjoyable enough to remain fun throughout.
In addition to the campaign, you can now engage in competitive multiplayer. This mode lets you take on the role of either attacker or defender. When you’re on the offensive, you must employ a lot of the same strategies you would during the single-player mode. As the defensive player, however, it’s up to you to deploy units that can protect you in a stationary position, creating a more traditional tower defense experience, albeit in multiplayer form. There aren’t too many options here, and I personally found that I enjoyed the campaign more than the competitive mode, but the multiplayer component is still worth checking out, if only to play a few matches here and there.
11 bit studios has created quite a pretty game to look out. I’m not one for static visuals, so it really impressed me that locales range drastically from one another as the game progresses. One of the earliest areas in the game is a crumbling, frozen urban landscape (complete with a demolished Statue of Liberty). You later enter a lush green jungle that’s a total departure from the earlier stages. It’s great that there's some level variety, as it keeps Anomaly 2 from ever getting boring in terms of its graphical presentation.
The game’s music is also pretty good, delivering Dark Knight-esque themes (Well, they reminded me of The Dark Knight.) that just help you get into a combat state of mind. The voice acting isn’t bad, either, but the script in Anomaly 2 is undeniably cheesy. Hearing things like, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning,” isn’t exactly all that thrilling, especially when you’ve heard it a dozen times over. It makes sense within the context of the game (because macho soldiers are macho), but that doesn’t make it any less cringe-inducing.
Anomaly 2 is, for all intents and purposes, a hell of a game. It won’t take you terribly long to get through, and it’s surely not flawless, but a lot of effort has clearly gone into creating a deliciously pleasant reverse tower defense experience that simply deserves to be played. The multiplayer is a nice idea that you’re likely to get varying degrees of entertainment from depending on your personal taste, but the single-player campaign offers up a satisfying dose of exciting, rewarding, and cathartic strategy action.
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