Anomaly: Warzone Earth ReviewPublisher: 11 Bit Studios
UK Price (as reviewed): £6.99 (inc VAT)
US Price (as reviewed): $9.99 (ex tax)
The world is being invaded by dangerous towers. They're appearing at strategic locations along the roads and it's up to you to guide a convoy past them, to the area they're defending. If that premise sounds oddly familiar, it's because you've played this game before, albeit in a different form. Anomaly: Warzone Earth from 11 Bit Studios is best described as a tower offence game - or tower defence in reverse. Instead of placing towers to stop a stream of enemies bursting through your defences, you're instead in charge of guiding and protecting the stream.
What starts in the first mission as an asinine navigation exercise slowly gives way to a hectic and thoughtful game where your decisions over unit selection and order really matter. Your convoy can't stop, turn around, reverse, or even veer slightly from the road and, while this is a reasonable mechanic for the title, it's endlessly frustrating when you miss a turning. The upside? A military equivalent of a conga-line going around in a circle is actually pretty funny.
As well as controlling the path of your convoy, your commander is a unit itself and, naturally, has to be maintained. You can't contribute to destroying the towers for the most part; instead it's your task to provide support with smoke screens, decoys and repairs. Being able to wade into the action and influence the outcome of your decisions feels fantastic, and adds a level of tension that just wouldn't be there if you were a passive observer watching it play out. Do you dash for the supplies and risk your group not being able to survive the upcoming gauntlet, or do you stick with the convoy and risk depleting your supplies to the point that it becomes a significant problem further on down the road?
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You can very quickly find yourself tied up in knots and panicking, especially when you realise that the route you've plotted is a little more risky than it looked on the map. This is enough to draw you into individual firefights, when you should instead just try to plod through to the end of each level. Having direct control of a character in the action also makes you more invested in your decisions, and can lead to you feeling genuinely guilty when you fail to keep one of your vehicles alive.
Our favourite support utility in the game is the option to call in airstrikes. This can bring in another mode of play where you leave your convoy going one way while you pick through the hostile environment, taking out key targets by yourself and giving you a much appreciated commando-complex in the process. Unfortunately, airstrikes are a finite resource, and getting any mileage out of them will depend on whether you're the sort of person that hoards ammo or just lets loose at the first opportunity.
While there's a lot to like about Anomaly: Warzone Earth, though, it takes a long time to get going. A large part of the game is a thinly veiled tutorial, and while the gradual introduction of units and mechanics was great in the first few stages, this stretches on far longer necessary, especially since there's so much hand-holding. Everything that's going on around you is laboriously explained in the game's chirpy and overly-sincere British military tone. The constant chatter emitted by mission command and your units becomes grating, fast.
The bottom line, though, is that Anomaly: Warzone Earth is trying to do something different to the usual, boring fare. The developers have taken something instantly recognisable and presented it with a twist - reason enough to try it, especially for the price. There's a lot that feels irritating, but at the same time there's a certain amount of charm and the gameplay is fantastic once it gets going. At no point did we feel ourselves trying to push through everything just to get to the end.
Despite several irritations, there's a lot of innovation in this title, and a lot of fun to be had with enough varied mission designs to prevent it from getting stale. The design is simple and effective and the gameplay intuitive and uncluttered. What's more, the moments where the plodding convoy movement is mixed up with airstrikes and the brief player-controlled-commando moments work incredibly well. This would be a definite recommendation if it was quicker to deliver and made more of its core mechanics, but as it stands it's still worth a look as a welcome twist on the tower defence genre.