Anomaly 2 Beta Impressions: Creeps Vs. Towers Multiplayer… Fight!

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The original Anomaly: Warzone Earth was a crazy fun twist on the ubiquitous tower defense genre, placing you as the creeps fighting against the towers. So it is very exciting to learn that Polish developer 11 Bit Studios is putting the final touches on a sequel, aptly named Anomaly 2, highlighted by what should be its killer feature: creeps versus towers multiplayer. Oh, yeah, you read that right.

Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Publisher: 11 Bit Studios
Developer: 11 Bit Studios
Genre: Tower “Offense” vs Tower Defense
Release Date: May 15, 2013
ESRB Rating: Rating Pending

anomaly2-beta-boxI had a chance to take the multiplayer beta for a test drive, and I’m quite impressed. There are certainly some things that are rough around the edges or missing entirely, but that’s to be expected in a beta, so I won’t mention them here. Even so, the game looks absolutely fantastic, with upgraded graphics and artwork, and nastier-looking enemy towers covered in creepy, undulating tentacle thingees.

Although the beta doesn’t include a single-player campaign, rest assured there will be one in the final product. The story will take place 16 years after the original, when the alien invaders return and wipe out the planet. The survivors band together for one final fight to drive them off Earth for good. To do that, you will once again control the Commander and configure your squad of vehicles (the creeps) to blast those damn dirty alien towers to tentacle-y bits.

As in the original, the Commander is the only thing you can directly control, and he has some new abilities as well. The Repair and Decoy abilities return, and are joined by the new EMP, which stuns towers, and A.I.M., which focuses all of your squad’s attack on a specific target. The smoke screen and smart bomb abilities seem to have been dropped.

The number of vehicle types has doubled, with new offensive and support units. A cool new feature is the ability to “morph” vehicles into a different type, allowing you to instantly adjust your tactics on the fly. For example, the basic APC machine gun unit can be morphed into a mech with dual flamethrowers, perfect for attacking towers lining both sides of your route. Other new units can slow enemy towers, boost your Commander’s abilities, and even turn the entire squad invisible. There are units that specialize in either long or short range attacks, so figuring out the right mix for your squad requires a lot more tactical thinking than before.

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But in Anomaly 2, the squad will be only one side of the story. The new multiplayer mode has one player as the squad, and the other as the towers. Tower types have also doubled, including ones that sport shields, and ones that draw squad fire and then morph into powerful weapons when they take enough damage. Similar to the Commander, tower players also have four abilities: Regen repairs your towers, Berserk increases damage (but also damages you), Taunt draws all squad fire but provides a protection bonus, and the self-explanatory Kamikaze blows up a tower, dealing devastating damage to all nearby squad units.

Multiplayer plays similarly to the campaign. As the squad, you can pause the game to configure and upgrade your unit mix, and adjust your route (the tower player has to wait while this is happening, but since it’s an expected part of the gameplay, it doesn’t feel annoying or intrusive). The Commander protects his squad by applying his abilities, and replenishes abilities by collecting loot from destroyed towers. You have a brief heads-up on where your opponent is planting towers, as they appear in a ghost form before they are fully constructed (towers take a few seconds to “build”).

Playing as the towers feels like a traditional tower defense game, with you building units in pre-determined spots, upgrading them, and applying abilities. You can’t see the route laid out by the squad, but can see their location and thus can anticipate where they’re going. There are obvious destinations, like mineral deposits which will boost squad dollars (required to buy and upgrade units), and tower power generators. The goal of the squad is to destroy the generators, while the towers try to rack up kills. Every kill on both sides earns points, and the side that earns the most points wins.

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Even though the squad’s speed is set at a rather leisurely pace, things get frantic fast. Imagine the most intense moments in any tower defense game multiplied by a factor of 10. Yes, the game mechanics are the same as fighting against AI, but everything gets ramped up when you are against another human being. Unexpected tactics, surprise curveballs, clever twists – it’s all there when competing against another person. There is a lot of frenzied mouse clicking as you simultaneously try to keep units repaired while dishing out as much damage as possible.

It’s a lot of fun, but can be a bit overwhelming at first. I’m hoping 11 Bit will improve the tutorials in the final product (currently there are tutorial sessions for the squad, but not the towers, which is desperately needed). Newcomers are pretty much toast from the get-go, but that can be said of any multiplayer game. My main concern is the big increase in complexity, as the doubling of units, morphing, and Tech upgrades (which can increase health, damage, tower build rate, and so on), all add up to require a surprisingly hefty amount of tactical and strategic planning, far more than the original. While this will please the hardcore strategy fan, the more casual player may feel like they are in over their heads. Of course, this is only a beta, so we’ll have to wait for the final product to see how things balance out. As of now, the beta definitely shows the potential for an insanely enjoyable multiplayer experience, but you’ll need to wear your best thinking cap.

The game is due for release on May 15, and things are shaping up nicely. The beta plays smoothly, looks and sounds fantastic, and I haven’t encountered any bugs (yet). It is currently only planned for PC, Mac, and Linux, but hopefully it will release on other platforms as well, since the original appeared on XBLA, PSN, and mobile. So keep Anomaly 2 on your radar – after all, what self-respecting tower defense fan can resist creeps versus tower multiplayer?

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