Anomaly: Warzone Earth Review
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360
Ahhhh what a refreshing change, don’t worry I’m not going to start plugging a certain apple based alcoholic beverage as I would rather talk to you about the fresh experience I have had reviewing Anomaly: Warzone Earth. This little gem has been experienced by the masses of PC, Mac and smart phone users for some time, but has now been released on Xbox Live arcade for its first foray into console territory. So why is it fresh? You could describe Anomaly: Warzone Earth as a reverse tower defence game but that doesn’t quite fit as that would suggest you deconstruct turrets which are resurrecting bad guys back from the dead to moonwalk their merry way back home to live happily ever after. The official trailer below has a much better way of summing up the game however and that is tower offence. The name of the game is a mixture of classic strategy with a splash of resource management and refined route planning. You control the commander of 14th platoon and through him you guide a team of APCs, armoured walkers and tanks through the streets of Baghdad and Tokyo to investigate the cause of the mysterious anomaly. It soon kicks off with an alien invasion being the cause of said anomaly and these ETs don’t like to walk much, having chosen to take the form of offensive towers to hinder your every advance towards your goal to discover the source.
As mentioned before you take control of the commander who is an actual character on the ground with his units. The commander can go pretty much anywhere on the map while your units have to follow a set path, defined by you of course. Your platoon forms a wagon train of sorts following a straight path set by the commander. You can supply your units with command deployments to repair them, shield them from fire with smoke bombs and decoys or even drop the bomb on your enemies with an airstrike or two. The commander can sell old units and deploy new ones dynamically during the fight allowing you to tailor your squad on the go to approach a situation with the right units mid level. As with most games the enemies also have different flavours hence the need to mix up your team to help combat their strengths and expose their weaknesses. This fluid approach allows the game to stay fresh as you find yourself trying new platoon combinations and even the sequence of your wagon train to take down the alien invaders more effectively. You also have the opportunity to give your platoon a little extra punch with upgrades paid for with your hard earned cash gained by defeating your foes or finding currency stashes dotted around the level.
The controls are always a major concern when the terms console and strategy collide, but a very large pat on the back should be given to 11 bit studios as it is evident they have spent a lot of time balancing the feel of the controls because they are superb. One minor observation is the fact you are controlling the commander character in the field and this sidesteps the usual nightmare of on screen cursors on a console. All the command deployments are very simple to execute and don’t interrupt gameplay allowing the game and ultimately the action to flow nicely.
The gameplay itself is very well laid out with level design giving a lot of choice in how to tackle an objective within the boundaries of the game; of course, you won’t have the freedom of a full fat strategy game. The route planning and platoon layout being a very important part in your strategy to rid the world of the alien menace you have plenty of opportunity to venture off the beaten track in the nonlinear levels. You can take a detour or two to hit a pocket of enemies to liberate them of their stash of cash allowing you that valuable upgrade to give you the edge during the final run of the gauntlet to your goal. As the game continues you do learn to use your squad more effectively, but one major irritation kept rearing its ugly head. The way in which the command deployment power ups were distributed within the main game is a little restrictive. You are drip fed these deployments one at a time after taking down enemies with the size of the enemy dictating the size of the prize, which is fine for the initial levels of the game as the challenge is modest but this changes as you progress (difficulty setting is also a factor here).
As the game continues and the challenge ramps up I found the game to be rather unforgiving, resulting in many checkpoint and level restarts. This was due to a conflict between the game mechanics and the gameplay which became more apparent as the game continued. Earlier in the game you are rewarded for going off the beaten track to gain extra cash and command deployments to help you later in the level, but as the game continues these rewards are a lot more diminished as the resources it takes to go on these excursions is greatly increased. So you don’t really seem to be getting any real rewards as every fight seems to become a skin of your teeth survival experience which is a lot more apparent at high difficulties. This is compounded in some levels by the fact that the final few fights do seem to be a rather frustrating trial and error exercise until you luck out and finish the level by the seat of your pants.
The presentation of the game is very pleasing as you would expect, with very clear visuals showing a somewhat generic art style, backed up with nice touches such as the route planning screen which has a virtual reality vibe to it with lots of vibrant colour. The art style had a very similar look to Crysis believe it or not, especially the enemies which seem to have been plucked straight out of Crytek’s art book. The music in the game does seem quite limited with specific tracks for both Baghdad and Tokyo and that is about it really, although I did find myself whistling them for a few hours after every play session. The voiceovers are nicely done and do present the story in a very clear and simple way but the story itself is very passable and I doubt you will care for it at all.
The game does come with some extras, after you finish the main campaign, you can have a go at a handful of separate missions which you unlock as the main campaign progresses which are very nicely done and based in the virtual reality style seen in the route planning screen of the main game. They are usually spiced up with specific objectives and constraints i.e. clear the map of certain units or the level will have one way roads forcing you to choose your route wisely. There are also Baghdad Mayhem and Tokyo Raid which are Anomaly: Warzone Earth’s version of hoard / fire-fight mode, allowing you to take on wave after wave of enemies or clear multiple islands worth of enemies. These all act as a nice distraction from the main campaign or perhaps a fitting follow up if you are still hankering for some tower offence action but they are quite shallow and probably will not keep your attention for long.
11 bit studios should be commended for the fresh approach to a very overcrowded genre, and for doing it so well. Anomaly: Warzone Earth is worth anyone’s time and I would challenge you to not have fun with it. It should keep you entertained for at least six hours which is the usual you expect from a small Xbox live arcade game such as this. By turning the tower defence concept on its head they have cracked the game wide open giving you ample opportunity to flex your strategic muscles. Anomaly: Warzone Earth shines when you leverage all the tools at your disposal to decimate your enemies or survive the harshest of battles, but you come out the other side with a warm fuzzy satisfied feeling. Even though it has some minor gripes with the difficulty sometimes leading you down a strategic dead end, rather lacklustre sound design and story I find Anomaly: Warzone Earth very hard not to recommend.