Anomaly: Warzone Earth Review: It’s Good To Be a Creep

Tower defense games are incredibly fun and addicting; heck, I don’t even want to think about the obscene amount of time I’ve spent trying to improve my scores in Defense Grid. Blasting creeps as they snake past your towers never gets old, but have you ever wondered what it would be like to play as the creeps?

Platforms: Xbox 360
Publisher: 11 Bit Studios
Developer: 11 Bit Studios
Genre: Tower Defense On Opposite Day
Release Date: April 6, 2012
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+

Well, wonder no more because Polish developer 11 Bit Studios has flipped tower defense on its head with Anomaly: Warzone Earth, a tower offense game. Apple iOS, Android and PC gamers have been enjoying this title for several months, but it’s now available on Xbox Live Arcade and is a must buy for tower defense fans. It’s the same setup as your standard tower defense game, only this time you’re the creeps fighting their way through a gauntlet of turrets. It’s a great concept and is just as fun and addicting as it sounds.

Anomaly: Warzone Earth might be a mouthful, but the gameplay is familiar for tower defense vets (albeit a little bass ackwards). Instead of setting up defensive towers along a pathway, you instead map out a route for your squad through the narrow streets of Baghdad and Tokyo. An alien ship has crash landed in both cities and has plunked down some nasty robotic turrets, and it’s your job to take them down.

You can change your route at any time – in fact, it’s often necessary to do so as the game will literally throw deadly obstacles in your way. You will need to assemble your squad with units ranging from the well-armored but poorly armed APC, to the powerful but fragile missile launcher. Destroying towers or gathering valuable alien minerals rewards cash to either buy more squad units or upgrade them to three levels. As you progress through the 14-level campaign, you can unlock more powerful – but more expensive – units like a heavy tank, a shield generator, and a flame thrower that can attack two enemies at once.

Interestingly, you don’t directly control your squad units. They move in a conga line at a set pace and attack towers automatically. You can only juggle their composition and line placement, and of course, their route. You actually control the Commander, a guy who likes running around outside the armored confines of a tank. As ill-advised as that normally may be, he is solely responsible for protecting the squad. Your Commander can repair units, deploy decoys that enemies will automatically target, and drop a smoke screen to confuse enemy targeting. These abilities are limited by the number of appropriate powerups you have, but blasting towers will drop more powerups.

The Commander can’t directly attack towers unless he gains the preciously rare ability to call in an airstrike – and even then, you need to save the airstrike for specific objectives or to quickly take down some of the nastier towers (like one that rebuilds destroyed turrets). Your AI squad is your offense; the Commander’s job is to keep them alive.

It may sound a bit boring to be primarily on the defensive, but it’s actually quite fun, and can get very frantic when your squad is channeled into a heavily armed chokepoint and their health bars are dwindling at an alarming rate. The action is easily on par with the best tower defense games, especially on the later levels.

The difficulty ramps up slowly – maybe a bit too slowly, but you can always increase the difficulty level if you don’t feel challenged. You can finish the campaign in well under eight hours, but as with most tower defense games, it’s not about finishing – it’s about going back again and again to refine your strategies and improve your score. Anomaly has the same addictive qualities as Defense Grid and other top titles, and I can see myself wasting many hours trying to claw my way up the leaderboard.

Completing the campaign unlocks two survival modes, and six new Tactical Trials that are exclusive to XBLA. Tactical Trials occur in a Tron-like VR world where you are tasked with completing a mission with certain limitations and challenges, like only being able to obtain powerups by destroying towers, or only using specific units. These modes are fun extensions of the main game but are really just more of the same.

Graphically, the game isn’t spectacular. But it looks good and the top-down perspective feels perfect for the gameplay. The music is fine, if a little derivative. The exception is for the Baghdad levels, where the music is obviously heavily influenced by Bear McCreary of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica. I’m a big fan of McCreary and BSG, so needless to say, that music happily caught my attention.

Complaints are few but worth noting. The voice acting is a little corny, though the actor spouting an absolutely horrible Japanese accent needs to be kicked in the gonads. The game lets you revert back to the previous check point if you screw up, but it won’t save your progress if you quit mid-game – not a good thing since many levels can take 20-30 minutes. You can earn medals but the game doesn’t explain what they’re for and how you earn them, and there are also no stats either (like for number of kills, route length, and so on). The forgettable story is just an excuse to connect the levels together, but to be fair, tower defense games aren’t exactly known for their gripping narratives.

Overall, Anomaly: Warzone Earth is a fun, addicting tower defense – er, offense – title that the strategy gamer will definitely want to pick up. While it’s much more expensive than the mobile versions at $10, it’s still a good value with the ability to play on your HDTV and exclusive bonus content. If you love tower defense, and always wanted to play as the creeps, then plunk down your cash and start blasting those pesky towers.

Review Disclosure: A review copy of Anomaly: Warzone Earth was provided by 11 Bit Studios for the purposes of this review.

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