[31 May 2013]
Anomaly: Warzone Earth was a good game with a clever hook. It was a “reverse tower defense” game in which you played as the advancing army, or in this case a convoy, and the towers were your enemy. You guided the convoy through city streets, using special abilities like decoys and health drops to protect them from the towers. That first game seemed to wring all the gameplay that it could from this simple concept, so it’s easy to assume that Anomaly 2 might just be more of the same. Thankfully, 11 Bit Games doesn’t rest on their laurels, offering up a sequel that evolves the mechanics in some interesting ways.
Every unit can now morph into a second form with different abilities. The tank turns into a mech, decreasing its armor and range but giving it the ability to hit multiple targets, since it now has two arms. The artillery turret also turns into a mech, decreasing its range and power but giving it the all-important ability to shoot backwards. Each form has very defined advantages and disadvantages, and the tower placement is smart because it exploits those disadvantages.
There are a couple new towers and abilities that play off of each other. Some towers are protected by shields that can be quickly destroyed by using a unit with a high rate of fire, meaning it’s pointless to snipe at these structures with the artillery. By contrast, there’s a decoy tower that attracts your attention, and if you hit it too many times too quickly, it explodes into a destructive electrical turret. Slow artillery is best against these things.
This demand for precision means that you don’t want every unit shooting at the first tower it sees, so you now have the ability to mark specific targets. Any unit in range will focus on that target and ignore all others. This could leave you exposed, but the other new ability is an EMP that shuts down any nearby towers.
With these two new abilities and the morphing, you can constantly prioritize and re-prioritize targets, so you have far more granular control over your units than you did in the first game. This gives you more to think about at any one moment even though you’re not actually doing more. You still only have four abilities, and your squad is still limited to six units, so there’s still only six things on the screen that you need to protect. Anomaly 2 feels more hectic than the first game, but because your actions are still limited, it never becomes overwhelming. Instead, it feels like you’re constantly making compromises, sacrificing range for power, shields for decoys, armor for drones, or more. This makes the game feel very improvisational, like there’s no “best” strategy. There’s just what works in the moment, and that’s exciting.
Anomaly 2 also mixes up its formula in some surprising ways. One level plays like a twisted version of a normal tower defense game, with your convoy traveling around the map to fight off waves of advancing towers. The last level has you fighting a boss that can fly around the map, heal and respawn towers, and block your route. It’s like battling against another player.
If you want to battle another player for real, you can do that in the new multiplayer mode, in which one player controls the squad convoy and the other player controls the alien towers. The squad controls just as it does in the single player, staying on the fun side of chaotic.
Controlling the towers, on the other hand, is just chaotic. You have another four abilities that you can use as the squad passes by, but then there’s an additional tower defense element that demands you manage resources, upgrade paths, and tower construction as well. It’s simply too much to track at once. The tower player essentially has to play two games at the same time, the macro-level tower construction and the micro-level use of abilities, while the squad player only has to focus on the micro-level stuff. This imbalance weighs every game heavily in favor of the squad and makes the entire multiplayer a hollow addition to the game.
With that in mind, the lack of any online community makes sense. It’s nearly impossible to find someone to play with. You can spend hours sitting at the matchmaking screen without success, and even if you do get into a game, it won’t be worth the wait.
Anomaly 2 expands on its mechanics in some clever ways. The imbalanced multiplayer doesn’t add anything to the package, but it doesn’t detract anything from the package either. The single-player is still an impressive, smartly designed game that’s more than worth your time.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/172044-anomaly-2/