Tower defense games usually put the spotlight on the “defense” subpart of the strategy-based genre, but developer 11 Bit Studios took a different path with Anomaly: Warzone Earth back in 2011, introducing a unique role reversal between the aggressors and the defenders. Much like its predecessor, Anomaly 2 drops you onto a war-torn Earth and puts you in control of a human army that unleashes a concentrated assault on alien fortifications that litter the land. PC gamers got to jump into the fray last year, but now PlayStation 4 owners have a chance to put their tactical wits to the test.
Set in a periled future, humanity has lost its grip on Earth to metallic, serpentine-like extraterrestrials that have colonized most of the planet. You are tasked to find Dr. Zander, the one and only man capable of building a super weapon that can obliterate the alien scum and return Earth to its rightful owners. The tables have turned and tower defense becomes tower offense – move your military convoy forward and eradicate every alien bastion in your path. The story will hardly pique your interest with its tacky dialogue and cliché, straightforward plot, but at least it provides a context for ripping these metallic jerks open like hollow tin cans.
The campaign touts fourteen missions that could take you around four to five hours to complete. It paces itself well too, with the first few levels serving as tutorials by introducing you to the story and mechanics. Gameplay in Anomaly 2 feels a bit more active than most tower defense games because of its focus on offense, but that’s not to say that the game is void of strategy. You start each mission by choosing the units for your convoy and planning the route you want to take. Your choices greatly affect what’s to come, but you are capable of selling units and swapping them out for new ones if your funds suffice, and you can also shift your route on the fly. Which route you take dictates an element of risk and reward – you can take the road with more cash spawns that’s also besieged with enemy towers or the less populated road that yields fewer rewards.
You do not have direct control over the motor units, but rather you control a human commander that swiftly runs along the path. The commander can take damage, but when his health drops to zero he doesn’t die; instead, there is a brief cooldown period before he can move again. His purpose is to drop power-ups and abilities that aid the military convoy, which keep trekking along the road. There is a Repair ability that regenerates the health of all units that move through its radius and an EMP ability that briefly shuts down enemy turrets, among others that you unlock as you progress through the campaign. You’ll come across these power-ups as you defeat enemy towers, but they don’t drop in abundance, especially on higher difficulties. This is why planning your route ahead of time is essential: catch yourself between too much enemy fire with too little power-ups and it will be near impossible to move forward. Being forced to restart a level can be rather frustrating at times, especially when the drop rate is not in your favor, but it enforces the need to strategize the usage of your abilities and not get careless.
Notably, one of the new features in Anomaly 2 is the ability to morph a vehicle into a unit with a different set of stats and weapons. For example, you can morph an assault unit with machine gun firepower into a walking mech with close-quarters flamethrower capability. This allows you to adjust to the battlefield layout on the fly, transforming from one mechanized mode to another depending on your offensive needs. The further you dive into the story, the more motorized units you’ll unlock, which will complement the diversity of new enemy towers that spawn throughout the campaign, challenging you in different ways. These units can also be upgraded with cash that you earn, but you’ll have to choose between an upgrade and expanding your convoy.
Sadly, there is not much variety to the unit selection, but the biggest disappointment is the severe lack of abilities. Once you reach the halfway mark in the campaign, you’ll learn that the commander’s capabilities are extremely limited. With so few abilities, you might eventually develop a tactical system that will feel tired and recycled, and you’ll find yourself committing to the same strategy over and over again. All is not lost though, because Anomaly 2 has a decent amount of replay value. With medals to earn on missions and new difficulties to experiment with, there’s plenty to revisit if you want to challenge yourself.
From a technical perspective, Anomaly 2 is neither a pretty looking game nor a visual delight on par with most PS4 games on the market. Across the few vistas you’ll lead your assault through, nothing in the game graphically stands out, and while there are vivid colors that make the visual landscape pop, it hides low resolution textures and subpar detail qualities on enemy models and motorized units. There is also a hazy filter that coats the screen, somewhat dulling the picture that the developer is trying to paint. Expect instances of frame rate drops as well, especially during cut scenes or moments of intense on-screen action. The soundtrack is nothing special, but it does fit the militaristic tone that the narrative sets in place.
11 Bit Studios also made an effort to include a competitive multiplayer component, which includes elements of both offense and traditional tower defense gameplay. One player leads a military convoy while the other controls alien towers, fending off the human assault from destroying its base. Unfortunately, the multiplayer community for this game is small, and I mean about a hundred players at best. I sat in matchmaking multiple times for about twenty minutes with each try with no luck in finding a match. It’s unfortunate that the online component is so barren, and as such, I had no decent opportunity to try out the multiplayer.
Despite a few blunders, there’s a wealth of strategy and heavy duty thinking to be found in Anomaly 2. The focus on offensive tactics, like its predecessor, still provides an experience that’s unique to the genre. However, if you were expecting something wildly updated from what came before it, then I’m afraid this sequel wouldn’t satisfy that kind of potential. There’s enough content to warrant the $15 price tag, but if you weren’t sold on the game’s forerunner, then this will do little to change your mind. Look beyond that and you have a game that embraces the risk of turning a genre on its head and preserves the ingenuity that brought it there in the first place.