“Reverse tower-defence”. “Tower offence”. Ever heard of these terms? No? Don’t worry, nor have I. Despite my absolute shitness at RTS, I’ve always been an avid fan of the horribly overlooked genre of tower defence, having spent far too many hours on Defence Grid: The Awakening. So when I heard of this unique take on the genre – where, as I’m sure you can tell, you play as the attackers being shot at by the towers – it immediately caught my eye. So how this unique concept work, and why has no one latched onto this magnificent idea yet?
As I brushed upon in the introduction, Anomaly: Warzone Earth is a tower attack (yep, there’s another name for the genre) game by Warsaw-based developer 11bit studios. While the plot may be a tad generic, tower defence/offence/whatever games have never been renowned for their fantastic storylines – in Anomaly, you play as the commander of the “14th Platoon”, walking along on foot beside your troops, collecting and deploying power-ups and setting directions as your men fight their way past hundreds of enemy towers. Your platoon is sent to investigate what scientists have been calling “anomalies” – large domes in the middle of Baghdad and Tokyo caused by an crashed alien spacecraft to stop anything from getting in or out – in order to gather information, rescue comrades, and destroy the crap out of aliens. And to be honest, that’s exactly the kind of story that Anomaly needs. It’s the perfect excuse for blowing shit up with no good reason other than for the sake of blowing shit up. The voice acting is absolutely fantastic; each and every character is just that – a character – and you get to know and connect with every one of them. Also, the chipper British accents are a good relief from the all-too-common macho alpha-male American accents you find in, well, most everything. British accents are simply better in video games and we see far too few of them.
I’ve spent a lot of hours on tower defence games. More than I’d like to admit. Orcs Must Die, iBomber, Defence Grid, Sanctum, the list goes on – but one problem that they all share is that they’re far too similar. Yes, I can hear you screaming “but Matt, that’s because they’re all tower defence games! That’s what they are!” And for that reason alone, 11bit studios deserves a handshake and a pat on the back for attempting to forge a daring and totally unprecedented genre of video games with just their first project, because boy, have they done a good job. While at first the layout and general idea of the game is a bit overwhelming, a bit of practise (and a few levels on Casual setting) will have you ready to dive right into the thick of it. The key strategy in Anomaly is the correct choice and order of units (you have your standard choices – tank, missiles, shield, etc) as well as plotting an ideal path through the maze of fallen buildings and alien turrets. For example, despite its huge firepower, the Crawler unit has very low armor – you’d likely want to put the heavier tank at the front and rear of the pack. Maybe put two Crawlers between the tanks, and a Shield between them, in order to boost the Crawler’s armor? Additionally, choosing your path isn’t always easy, as riskier paths contain more money, which you can then use to purchase and upgrade units. Air support regularly drops care packages which you then walk over with the Commander; this is a nice concept, but I found the spread of the power-ups a little too uneven. It was probably my poor strategic planning, but I found myself using up every Repair power-up I could lay my hands on, but the Decoy and Smokescreen power-ups piled up in my inventory.
Anomaly is fucking hard. Let’s get that out of the way right now. By any means, this results in no points against it – in fact, it’s more of a positive statement – but wow is it hard. While the first few stages will guide you through the level with no real danger of being destroyed, a few levels in and all of a sudden you find yourself weaving in and out of masses of merciless, horrible towers, some of them 4 times bigger than your units themselves. I always relish a good challenge, however, and after whinging about the horribly forgiving difficulty settings in Sniper Elite V2, it was nice to have a game kick me in the balls and yell “FUCK YOU” while I’m rolling on the ground.
With fantastic audio, fantastic graphics, a fantastic (for a game of its stature) plot, and a fantastically fantastic concept, Anomaly: Warzone Earth is the one and only member of the family of tower offence games. Sure, the genre was bound to be created eventually, but I’m glad that it was 11bit studios that latched onto the idea – someone else could have fucked it up, but the small Polish team definitely did not. Anomaly is a fantastic creation, especially for a tower defence nut like myself. To be honest, my only major gripe about this game is (and once again, this might be due to me not looking in the setting menu properly) WHY THE FUCK DOES IT NOT HAVE A WINDOWED MODE. All games should have windowed mode. ALL games. Despite this, Anomaly is a perfect example of how a small studio can perform wonderful feats of game development – I’m happy I had the chance to play Anomaly, and am looking forward to the next outing by 11bit studios.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Anomaly: Warzone Earth by 11bit studios.