The action-packed Anomaly: Warzone Earth puts you in charge of the 14th Platoon, a British military detachment sent into central Baghdad to….. Wait! Come back! It’s not what you think! Several hours ago, strange “anomalies” formed around meteorites that struck Baghdad, and as you can probably guess (‘cos yo, VIDEO GAMES BRO) this is all part of a very unsubtle alien incursion. Your division, apparently being the only military unit available in one of the most active war zones on the planet, has been sent to investigate the matter. By “investigate” I mean blow to pieces alien invader’s neatly arranged death laser towers that’re doted all around the urban landscape.
Hey! Stay with me here! It’s still not quite what you think! Unlike just about every other video game set in the Middle East, you won’t actually be doing any of the shooting yourself. I guess the best way to categorise Anomaly’s gameplay would be to call it a “Reverse Tower Defence” i.e. The aliens are the ones who’ve spent an entire afternoon meticulously crafting a maze of towerey doom, and YOU are the one controlling the incredibly annoying monster wave that’s going to trash the whole thing and ruin their fun.
Well I say “control”, but you’re more of a “guide” than anything else. You can tell your small squad of marines which route to take around the maze, as well as decide the formation and composition of the squad, but the actual attacking part they just do automatically. It’s a really unique take on the genre, one that’s a real breath of fresh air considering how formulaic (and profitable!) tower defence games have gotten in recent years.
Planning the safest and most efficient route through the towers is very satisfying.
Considering the game’s price point (£8.99 on Steam), it’s got some fairly dashing visuals too, most noticeably when it comes to the user interface. Yeah I know, the UI is a weird thing to hone in on when talkin’ about graphics, but Anomaly’s is just so exceptionally clean and functional that it puts fully-fledged console games to shame, never mind other small-scale independent titles! The environments and character models are fairly impressive as well, however the fixed camera zoom/rotation means you never get to put it under any close scrutiny. It’s actually a little annoying at first, but other than my insatiable desire to be nit-picky about graphics, I never felt the need to move the camera from its default position anyway. It’s a minor thing, though I believe it speaks volumes about the level of design that went into Anomaly more than anything else.
While it certainly looks a lot nicer than a traditional tower defender, it unfortunately lacks the same variety you’d normally expect from that kind of game. There are only 6 different types of alien tower you’ll encounter in the whole thing, 2 of which you’ll only ever see once or twice at most. The other 4 can easily be summed up as: Tower that shoots, Tower that shoots really far, Tower that shoots really hard and Tower that shoots REALLY hard (but only in one direction!).
The 6 different units at your disposal only offer marginally more variation that the towers, something that’s not helped by the fact 2 of them are gained very late on. Even deciding the ideal formation of your troops is a pretty simple process that can easily be perfected after the first few stages. However, the strategy meat of Anomaly really comes into its own once you have full access to the 4 power-ups: Smoke Screen, Repair Field, Decoy and Air Strike. It might not sound like much on paper, but the correct deployment of each power-up in the appropriate situations is absolutely essential for your survival, far more so than the actual composition of your squad.
For example: If your team is about to be destroyed by the splash damage from a Behemoth tower and its smaller buddies, you could distract it with a cleverly positioned Decoy, and then throw down a Smoke Screen to prevent the smaller surrounding towers from finishing you off, giving you plenty of time to make your escape! Putting together little spur-of-the-moment combos like that is what makes Anomaly so appealing in spite of its limitations. It forces you to constantly make on-the-spot decisions about the most efficient ways to spend your limited stock of power-ups, and a single misstep means your entire formation will crumble in seconds. Thankfully, the game’s well-paced checkpoint system ensures that this never gets too frustrating, allowing you to focus on the difficult sections of each stage rather than coastally restarting the whole thing after every hiccup.
That’s not to say it’s an “easy” game by any stretch. I think the best way to describe the overall difficulty would be “Challenging but satisfying”. On most of the occasions where my team ended up getting wiped out, I felt like it was because I’d allowed my power-up-fu to lapse, and not because the game was in any way cheating me. I’ll admit there were a few times where I just throw up my arms and shouted “This [expletive] is impossible!” but after a few retries and a change in strategy, I was leaving the trampled ruins of the alien invaders in my wake, all the more satisfied at my accomplishment.
The game might start off a little slow, but all that changes after the first few missions.
The only lasting frustration in Anomaly: Warzone Earth is that it’s all over so quickly. The story mode offers a scant 14 missions, all of which can be completed in around 4 hours total. It’s probably for the best, though, as you’ll have almost certainly stretched the game’s limited tactical possibilities as far as they can go by the time you reach its conclusion. If you’re absolutely DESPERATE to destroy more towers after the campaign is over, then there are a handful of survival missions as well as the ever desirable in-game achievements to acquire.
Unfortunately, neither activity brings anything new to the table that you won’t have already experienced in the story mode, so it’d have been nice if there was at least some kind of Marines VS Aliens multiplayer option to keep thing’s interesting. The absence of such a mode seems like a major missed opportunity! That said, Anomaly only costs £8, so it’s really hard to argue that it doesn’t already present very good value for money even without a bunch of bells and whistles thrown on.
On a less important note, I don’t think I could properly finish this review, or indeed any conversation about this game, without talking about the sound. I don’t the music or sound effects though. No, I’m talking about the (hilariously awkward) British voice acting. It’s not something the game especially afraid to highlight, as every other sentence seems to contain references to Big Ben, the Queen or how someone needs to “not get their knickers in a twist”. As a representation of the British people, It’s about as authentic as an episode of Eastenders (i.e. not very), but I mean that in the best possible way. It actually adds a huge amount of charm to what would have otherwise been a rather bland if not original narrative, making it mostly amusing rather than offensive.
Don’t get me wrong though, it’s not exactly Shakespeare. There’s only 4 proper characters in the entire game (2 of whom speak maybe twice) and at least 90% of the dialogue is just your commanding officer, who rather amusingly appears to be a bootleg Ross Kemp, barking variations of “Dude, you should totally go destroy those turrets over there!”. There’s also a rather silly plot twist that happens towards the end, one that I can only assume exists purely to help set up some kind of sequel. And you know what? Great! Because I really want there to be a sequel! Anomaly: Warzone Earth is a shockingly original entry into an exceptionally derivative genre, and its only real crime is making me want more of it than there is to have.
- Difficult but fair
- Fantastic UI
- Quirky voice acting
- Limited units/enemies
- Short story mode
- No human vs. alien multiplayer