Tower Defense games have followed the same idea for over twelve years, since their days as custom maps in StarCraft – you put up a bunch of towers with different abilities and hope the little monsters don’t get through. Anomaly is the first major tower defense game in all these years to look at that formula and ask “What if we try it the other way?” It works surprisingly well.
Things are kicked off with an outlandish start as the game informs you that alien debris has crashed around the world and your team of almost satirically accented British soldiers are sent in convoys into the anomalies created by wreckage. Inside are many alien towers which are not particularly friendly but are fortunately color coded red so you know they’re enemies. But, hey, it’s not a bad setup for making the player become those little monsters they’re used to blasting apart.
The gameplay is simple to pick up. The maps are multipathed, labyrinthine affairs in which the players have to plan out which turn they take at every fork in the road on their way to the end of the level. Paths are lined with an assortment of enemy towers, resources for cash and occasionally an exploitable piece of environment.
On your side are a variety of vehicles ranging from damage-soaking APC’s to hard-hitting Strikers to one that shoots plasma bidirectionally to a good old fashioned tank. All of them can be purchased, upgraded and positioned in line by the player. Once you set their path, they take off on their own with no way for the player to impede or speed them along. What the player does get to control is a Commander unit who can distract enemy towers momentarily, pick up drops and use a variety of aids that repair, mimic and hide your own units to help your convoy along. It’s impossible to wander too far away from the convoy most of the time otherwise you’ll quickly find yourself one whole convoy short.
The enemies are no slouch either, introducing a new one to throw a wrench in the works every few levels, going from simple peashooters to firing fields that make your own units hostile against your Commander. In many of the levels, you’ll find yourself with a choice between more turrets in one direction or fewer, but more dangerous, turrets in the other.
What’s impressive about Anomaly: Warzone Earth is the sheer variety of missions the game contains. While each is basically a lovely saunter from A to B, each mission offers new challenges. One mission involves escorting a plane by taking out all the towers in its way. Another has the player navigating around a gigantic map taking out power nodes. On top of that, the tower layouts complicate things further by making some paths ridiculously dangerous if the player is not careful. A bad pathway through a level can result in complete pandemonium.
There are unlockable game modes including some Xbox 360 exclusive ones. The usual unlockable modes are wave-based modes in both main areas in the game, Baghdad and Tokyo. The exclusive one is a VR-training mode that introduces a sort of puzzle element to its levels just to toss a little extra variety into the mix.
The graphics are especially worth noting. Everything is gorgeous, fully detailed and vibrant. The framerate holds steady throughout and even the menus are exceptional aesthetically. Nothing is lost from the PC version in the transition. The audio is good as well, apart from the accents. There are only two in the game but they both sound like they were done by Americans mimicking British and Japanese accents. At the very least, the accents are still leagues more tasteful than Deus Ex’s take on the Chinese accent.
Overall, Anomaly: Warzone Earth is one of the most unique tower defense games out there–so unique that the genre really doesn’t apply to it since the goal is to do the complete opposite. Even a year after release on the PC, the game holds up incredibly well and still does not feel repetitive or stale. For $10 or 800 Microsoft Points, it’s worth the asking price for anyone looking for a tower-based game.
Anomaly: Warzone Earth was released on April 8th, 2011 for PC, August 11th, 2011 for iOS devices, January 26th, 2012 for Android, and April 6th, 2012 for Xbox 360. Review is based on the Xbox 360 version.