Anomaly: Warzone Earth Review
Developer: 11 bit Studios
Platforms: Xbox 360, PC, Mac, iOS, and Android
Reviewed on Xbox 360
That comet approaching the Earth? It wasn't a comet. It broke into two parts as it neared, crashing onto Baghdad and Tokyo, enveloping those cities in domes of energy we dubbed "anomalies." Impenetrable to traditional remote sensing, we sent ground forces to investigate, pushing them into combat against an alien threat that was both entrenched and well-armed.
Anomaly: Warzone Earth has a shtick. It's a tower-defense–style game, but instead of mounting a valiant defense against an onslaught of sinister (and disposable) enemies, you attack arrays of enemy towers. Since the aggressors are nearly always on the wrong side of the moral calculus, there's a backstory to make you feel better about yourself. Aliens have invaded Earth and set up networks of defensive emplacements in the ruins of Baghdad and Tokyo. It's up to you to lead a few ground units through the remnants of this urban sprawl and uproot the bastards. Now you can feel good about attacking the towers. The game's strong production values add to that feeling of daring-do. The writing is hokey (but wholly appropriate) and everything adds up to make you feel like Earth's savior, battling a technologically superior and mysterious enemy.
It's an elegant twist that helps Anomaly: Warzone Earth stand out from the vast crowd of games in which you build your own towers and hope to defend your home. Rather than just sending a long line of cannon fodder to meet flaming plasma death, you can purchase and upgrade up to six armored units that cruise the wrecked urban streets at a leisurely pace, blasting everything within range. As Commander, you direct the path of your troops, and deploy a limited assortment of abilities. You can repair your vehicles, drop decoys to distract turrets, lay down covering smoke to make it hard for turrets to hit your forces, and even call in strategic air strikes.
As with most such games, you slowly earn new units and encounter new alien turrets. Your control over your line of armor is limited. You can often loop back to recover before pushing onward, but there are plenty of bottlenecks, and as the game progresses, your ability to take an easier (but more circuitous) route vanishes. Most of your control (especially in the later missions) involves your choice of units and upgrades, their order, and how you deploy abilities. When things get hectic and you are ambushed into set pathways, the game revolves around your twitch reflexes, and how quickly you can deploy the right ability in the right place.
I enjoyed Anomaly: Warzone Earth, but my issue is that rather than straddling two genres, Anomaly: Warzone Earth switches horses midway through. Initially, it's a strategy game. You choose your units, pick your path and things play out. Once the limited number of towers and units are exhausted, later missions trend toward "gotcha" moments and twitchy reflexes, becoming more action game than strategy. The early missions can be twitchy if you choose to pursue high-scoring combo kills or modes that encourage score competition. But they don't have to be twitchy. The late missions do. I enjoyed cruising through the game until I got to (what I assume was) the final moment of the final mission. Battling the alien mothership while powerful turrets constantly respawned leaned so far toward the twitch side of things that I gave up. I didn't want to keep repeating the battle (or restart on a lower difficulty level).
Anomaly: Warzone Earth has made its way to many platforms, so if you're a fan, rest assured that the Xbox 360 implementation works nicely with the console controller. Yes, it's more attractive on a tablet or smartphone (with the accompanying lower price), but it's still competitive on a console. The game can be leisurely and thoughtful for much of the campaign, but quickly moves into seriously reflex-dependent territory. Even the tactical training missions required little tactical thought. They were entertaining, but relied more heavily on speed and reflexes than careful thought. Anomaly: Warzone Earth twists the tower-defense formula in more ways than one, but will well reward those with a taste for action with a touch of tactics. Sadly, unless you fixate on climbing the high-score tables, it's only a few hours of fun, at most.