It’s an interesting week for fans of slightly unusual tower defence games because we’ve got two slightly unusual tower defence sequels. There’s Anomaly 2, a game which reverses the usual mechanics, as you control a squad making its way through a maze of towers, and Sanctum 2, a game which mixes up the building of towers and mazes with FPS blasting. They even approach sequel development in different ways: while Anomaly goes the “usual” route of taking roughly the same game but trying to improve on what came before, the Sanctum devs went for making a very different beast with the same rough genetic structure.
But it’s Anomaly we’re talking about today. In case you didn’t play Anomaly: Warzone Earth, here’s how it works: you directly control the Commander, a little chap in a suit of spiffy powered armour. Your job is to get a convoy from A to B (or sometimes to destroy particular towers or complete other little objectives, but shut up and stop being pedantic because we’re assuming they’re all at B anyway). Between A and B is a big long maze of roads and roadblocks, lined with towers of different kinds, and at any time you can pause the game to change your convoy’s path. The only real rule is that your troops can’t go backwards. If you want them to head back to an earlier area, you’re going to have to turn them around using a couple of other roads.
In short, it’s typical tower defence, only you’re playing the runners rather than the towers. This is where things get a bit more interesting.
Pretty much all of your units are combat-ready, for starters, and if you have enough of the game’s absurdly-named resource (something like Caraseum or Caesaereum or Cheesecakeum, but probably not that last one even if it does sound delicious) then you can buy new ones or upgrade old ones on the fly. Want tanks? Light, rapid-firing units? Long-range bastards with huge sniper cannons? Decide, then arrange your route so that your particular convoy is at its most effective. There’s one more twist to this which is entirely new to Anomaly 2, but before we get to that, let’s bring everyone who didn’t play the first game up to speed.
Other than this, there’s the Commander himself, and while he can’t directly attack he’s got four nifty powers of his own that he can drop at his feet. The first and most obvious is Healing, which drops a little repair bubble that heals everything within for the few seconds it lasts. The second is the almost-as-obvious Decoy, which drops a low-health decoy that will attract fire from nearby towers.
The third and fourth abilities are new to Anomaly 2. There’s EMP, which disables all towers within its (extremely short) range until they’re fired upon, and there’s AIM, which forces any of your units in range to focus their fire on whichever tower you’ve selected. Obviously, these two combo together fairly well; drop an EMP on a big heavy tower, and then use AIM to ensure that none of your units fire at it until everything else has been cleared out. Destroying towers is in your best interests not only because it stops them from firing at you, but also because they tend to drop more powers and more Carasaerasaereum.
I did mention one more little twist that’s entirely new, though, and that’s the morphing ability. In a surprise plot twist, every single unit under your command turns out to be a Transformer that wasn’t famous enough to be in the cartoons, games, toy lines, comics, movies, or even Michael Bay’s cinematic abominations. Okay, no, not really, but each of your units can shift between two states. Death machines in disguise!
Those aforementioned long-range sniper bastards? Well, they can’t actually shoot anything that isn’t in front of them, so when you’re approaching corners you might want to convert them into their alternate state that can instead fire a salvo of rockets at anything nearby. Need some more armour? The Gripper Guard unit, which considerably slows down towers, can turn into a portable shield generator. A supply unit that keeps you stocked up with powerups can shift over into a truck with a cloaking device. The downside is that shifting between forms takes a couple of seconds, so you generally need to have thought ahead at least a little or you’re going to be defenceless while they morph.
Then there’s the fluff. The actual plot of the game is almost entirely irrelevant, but is nonetheless highly entertaining thanks to some incredibly over-the-top dialogue and voice acting. This is set after the first game on an Earth that’s pretty much overrun by machine/alien invaders, and you, as Lieutenant SIMON LYNX, must find and activate a superweapon the humans were working on before everything went tits up. Expect characters with names like COLONEL BOLT, and completely unironic barks of rubbish like YEAH WE’RE DOING THIS FOR HUMANITY. No Brits this time around, but nonetheless, if you’re a fan of cheese then this is your own personal dairy farm. And in case that sounded insulting: I’m a huge fan of cheese, and thus sat through most of the game with a big silly grin on my face.
The plot itself might not be enough to push you through the single-player campaign, but your bank balance will be unhappy to hear that basically everything else is. Despite usually being Go-From-A-to-B, the game’s 14 missions are surprisingly varied and frequently throw up new and clever surprises and gimmicks that force you to both plan ahead carefully and think on your feet; the introduction of the Predator tower, in particular, will make you cry blood. Four difficulty levels, plus medals for completing each one with a certain amount of “Ruthlessness”, “Efficiency”, and “Swiftness” means that you can always drop the difficulty if you get stuck, but it also means there’s plenty of incentive to redo earlier levels. It’s designed well enough that you never feel like you’re being forced into choosing one particular set of units or one particular route, either; there are multiple ways through pretty much every single level, although you might disagree when you try one of the higher difficulty settings. And all the way through, the game looks rather lovely, with an invitingly bright art style and a number of beautiful environments and explosions belying the fact that one mistake can cost you half of your units. Good thing it checkpoints regularly and you can revert back whenever you like, eh?
But wait, there’s more! As if this wasn’t enough, 11 Bit Studios decided to throw in a multiplayer mode which, contrary to all reasonable expectations, is actually pretty entertaining. This is a competitive 1v1 mode in which one player constructs towers and the other player runs the squad; points are awarded for destroying and damaging enemy units/towers, and whoever hits a certain threshold (or gets a convincing lead) first, wins. It’s surprisingly intense and thought-provoking, and is well worth a go even if you wouldn’t normally touch multiplayer, and there’s a fair amount of strategy and trading-off. The squad can pause to change around their unit composition, for instance… but this only pauses combat, and not other actions. Like, say, the tower playing building more stuff or harvesting more resources. There are all sorts of horrible little victories you can inflict, too; while the squad player is capable of dishing out frightening damage and healing up well, the tower player can – say – sacrifice one tower in order to instantly build everything else that’s currently under construction. So yes, you can set up some really vicious traps if you’re better than me, and I daresay you will be.
There are two slightly silly downsides, though. The first is that all but one of the maps are locked until you’ve played a certain number of matches, which is insane and ridiculous, but is also possibly there to stop complete newbies waltzing into the gargantuan maps that require a huge amount of awareness and forethought. The second is that the point threshold feels altogether too low, and there doesn’t appear to be an option to change it; more than one game has suddenly ended just as it felt it was coming up to a climactic battle because someone eked over the finish line. This is shown off to full effect in our second IncGamers Plays match, in fact, which – if memory serves – ends with a slightly disappointing whimper rather than an orgy of destruction. I am open to the suggestion that I’ve been Playing It Wrong, but I’d still like to play on, say, the smallest map with a much higher points threshold – even if only against friends.
Anomaly: Warzone Earth was a well-designed and entertaining alternative to typical tower defence games, and Anomaly 2 is its bigger, badder sibling. Levels are better designed and more varied, you have more unique units and abilities at your disposal, towers are generally even bigger bastards than they were before, and the dev team’s experience means that the basic mechanics are generally more polished. It’d be easily recommendable as a single-player game alone, but the enjoyable-if-flawed multiplayer adds another layer to this (if you’re into that sort of thing). It’s not quite Defense Grid in terms of sheer when-did-it-become-4am distraction power, but it’s a highly entertaining twist on both its predecessor and on the tower defence genre in general.
Watch Tim and Peter play Anomaly 2 in the two part IncGamers Plays Anomaly 2 videos.