reviews\ Apr 11, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Anomaly: Warzone Earth Review


Two energy domes of alien origin--the titular anomalies--have taken Baghdad and Tokyo, cutting off all communication to the areas, and your job is to find out what is going on inside these bubbles. In typical video game fashion, you lead an army straight into the center of the otherworldly regions and blow stuff to pieces. It’s an investigative approach that seems about as effective as paying off college loans by stealing fistfuls of pennies from wishing fountains, but it’s hard to ridicule Anomaly: Warzone Earth when it’s such a well-designed game.

Anomaly is a tower defense game with a twist. Rather than setting up towers and defending against swarms of enemies, you play as the swarm looking to penetrate the enemy’s defenses. It’s an innovative concept and surprisingly well-realized in 11bit Studio’s debut game.

Throughout the course of each mission, you control a lone commander who can run around the battlefield at will. You need to make sure that your six-unit convoy reaches the end of the map alive. While you can't actually control the individual units, you can set routes for them to follow, and these can be established any time by opening a tactical map. Is your convoy badly damaged? Choose a path with less enemy resistance. Conversely, if you’re looking to upgrade your army, you may want to set a route with more enemies, as killing the alien towers nets you money.

Effectively managing your convoy is critical to beating each mission. Throughout the game, you’ll gain access to everything from armored personnel carriers and tanks, which soak up damage but are a bit lacking in the offense, to walking rocket launchers and flame-throwing units, which pack a mean punch but are easily destroyed. Utility vehicles can shield other troops or give your commander power-ups vital to the mission. Creating a convoy that leverages the strengths and weaknesses of each unit type can mean the difference between overcoming the alien opposition and succumbing to it.

Your convoy isn’t the only threat to the extraterrestrial invaders. Your commander can also deploy area of effect power-ups that raise him above bystander status. For example, if your team is about to enter an intense fire zone, your soldier could pop a smokescreen to give your troops cover. Or if your convoy is in need of repairs, you could deploy a regeneration field that heals your units as they pass through. While these power-ups can turn the tide of battle, they are also limited and can only be regained by destroying enemies, so using them appropriately is key.

The various commando abilities ensure that you are a part of the action and not merely a witness to it. As skirmishes get hectic, you’ll be dashing around the battlefield laying down power ups and picking up new ones, all while trying to plot out the best routes for your convoy. Successfully navigating through an intense firefight and having your troops come out on top with only a sliver of life left awards a sense of accomplishment that few games ever manage to achieve. Anomaly does it multiple times per mission.

While the 14-mission campaign mode is shorter than Gary Coleman is tall, Anomaly does a great job of slowly introducing new units or challenges so it stays fresh and exciting throughout the duration. If the game isn’t giving you access to a new weapon or power-up to use against the alien invaders, it's powering up the difficulty by throwing in a new enemy type or a unique mission element. To top it off, Anomaly actually has a fairly engaging story with a few mid-game plot twists, which provide even more incentive to plow through to the end.

The lack of content is Anomaly’s only pressing issue. As previously mentioned, the single-player campaign won't take you too long. What’s there is triple-A quality, but it only takes four or five hours to stave off the alien invasion. After that, a few challenge modes are there to pit the player against waves of regenerating towers, but that's about it.

Despite the innovative approach to the tired tower defense genre, Anomaly proves to be a one-trick pony halfway through the game. There tends to be one ideal way to handle each enemy type, so rather than trying new formations and strategies, players may end up using the same convoy build for the entire game--except for the one or two missions that they're forced to use a new vehicle.

Still, for less than the price of a movie ticket, Anomaly is an easy game to recommend. The new approach to the stale genre ensures a fun single-player experience, even if it is a bit short-lived.


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