Turning Tower Defense on its Head
If you've played on tower defense game, you've played them all. There is a defined path, or a large area on which you build a maze. You then build various towers and traps that defend some objective. If enough creeps get through the maze and to whatever you're defending, you lose. Simple, right?
But what if you were the creeps, struggling through a maze of towers built only to murrder you and your allies? How would you survive?
Story (2 out of 5)
It's Baghdad. Coalition forces are, well, hanging out or something. Suddenly, a mysterious spacecraft falls from the sky. It lands in the heart of the city, and as if that weren't bad enough, a massive "anomaly" forms around it, a gigantic shield that hides everything inside and cuts off all communication. Your mission? Navigate the city streets and find out what's hiding in there!
Sound a little hokey? It is, but the story of the game – which eventually leads you to Tokyo for a change of scenery – serves little purpose besides setting up the gameplay. Anomaly: Warzone Earth is a reverse tower defense game, which means you are the creeps navigating narrow passages. That gameplay would only work in city streets. And thus, the story.
Gameplay (4 out of 5)
Fortuantely, the gameplay is well worth the lame setup. At first glance, the idea of reverse tower defense seems like the only thing that could be more boring than normal tower defense. Moving down a corridor, being shot at – not exactly fun, right?
Developer 11 Bit Studios has it all figured out. Since the game takes place in city streets, you are not nessicarily confined to one particular route. A large part of the game is picking the proper route out of the possibilities available. Would you rather run a gauntlet of normal towers, or do you want to pass by the lone mega-tower that can shoot three of your guys at once?
Even that would still become a bit dull, however, so another new idea is added – the commander, a guy on foot in a super-suit. The commander unit is not confined to roadways like all of your other units, but has no offensive powers. Instead, the role of the commander is to pick up and deploy various support powers. The Repair ability will heal your units as they pass through it, while the Decoy deploys a fake unit that draws fire away from the real target.
Finally, the deal is sealed by limiting the resources you have to work with. You can only deploy up to six units at a time, and while you can purchase unit upgrades or additional units (as you start most levels with one or two of the potential six), funding is hard to find. When the puzzle-solving element of navigating city streets is combined with the fast-paced resource management of the commander and the macro-management of your funds, the result is a complex and unique title that rarely disappoints.
User Interface and Controls (5 out of 5)
Anomaly: Warzone Earth has one of the best user interfaces I've ever encountered in an indie game – and that's important, because you'll spending a lot of time with it.
Remember, this is a game about choosing the right path through enemy territory, and to choose that path you have to use a strategic view that presents an abstract view of the battlefield. This interface provides excellent information but also looks amazing and blends seamlessly into the style of the game's tactical view.
There are also a lot of little touches in the interface that aren't necessary, but improve the quality of the experience. For example, as you scroll back and forth through the list of possible units and unit upgrades there is a 3D tilt effect that moves along with your selection. It's hard to explain with words, but all you need to know is this: it's awesome.
Controls are also generally tight, though to be fair, there isn't much to directly control. Your commander is the only unit that responses to your commands in real time, and he can't do much except move and deploy abilities. I will say, however, that the wheel for deploying abilities is clear and each ability has a unique icon that is easy to identify. That's just another example of the developer's attention to detail.
Graphics (4 out of 5)
Most indie titles have mundane graphics, but Anomaly: Warzone Earth is able to slug it out with the big boys. The individual units deployed by the player look great, although you are never allowed to zoom in for close inspection. The real star of the show, however, is the particle effects. Smoke is common in the game, and it's lovingly rendered, as is the weapons fire between your units and the towers. There are games released with budgets in the tens of millions that do not look as good as Anomoly: Warzone Earth.
Sound (2 out of 5)
Sound is a mixed bag. The weapons effects are fine, as is the music. What's more problematic is the voice acting. The actors for some reason depict most of the characters as British, but the writing is purely American. It makes for some awkward sequences, but the game's lack of focus on story limits the damage.
Anomaly: Warzone Earth Verdict (4 out of 5)
Anomaly: Warzone Earth is a great game that offers a unique and fun experience. It's a shame that the experience is a bit short; most players will beat the game in around six hours or less.
The game is priced at $10, however, so it's not as if you're being ripped off. This is a must-buy if you'd like a short, sweet, and interesting strategy title.