Anomaly Warzone Earth shows a lot of promise as a budget-priced strategy package that turns the tower defense genre on its head.
Posted by Andy Chalk (April 15, 2011)
The "tower defense" genre is a crowded one, in large part because at its core it's also a very simple one: enemies of one sort or another come charging headlong while you lay out static defenses in strategic locations to cut them down. It's a tried-and-true formula that's been around for ages, polished to a gleaming shine by games like Plants vs. Zombies but never really changing in any fundamental way. Until now.
Anomaly Warzone Earth turns that premise on its head by putting you in charge of the invading force muscling its way past enemy defenses. The setup is inconsequential to the point of irrelevance but the upshot is that the cities of Baghdad and Tokyo are trapped inside giant, anomalous alien domes and it's up to you to lead an elite military unit inside to find out what's going on. What's going on, as you might surmise, is nothing good, as alien defenses quickly sprout up to make your life miserable.
At the opening of each of the game's 14 levels, you'll select up to six units to take into battle and plan your initial route through blasted, burning streets, picking a path which will maximize both the survivability of your forces and the damage they can inflict upon the enemy. The chosen route can be changed at any time via the tactical map, which gives a top-down view of the city streets and all known defenses, but what can't be changed is the inexorable forward motion of your armored column. There's no stopping and no turning around, and once your men have moved past an intersection, there's no going back. This is "no retreat" taken to its absolute extreme.
Your enemy will line up a punishing array of defenses against you, starting with simple beam towers and moving up to hulking behemoths with devastating long-range attacks. They tend to have specific strengths and weaknesses; one type of tower, for instance, lays down an incredibly destructive shockwave attack but cannot swivel, leaving it helpless to attacks from the sides and rear. Exploiting those weaknesses is imperative to success, and while it may be tempting to simply barrel directly toward your objective, that sort of "damn the torpedoes" approach is usually a recipe for disaster.
Your own forces are similarly varied, from cheap APCs to hard-hitting but thin-skinned walkers and even some specialty units, like tanks that can extend shields to protect your entire column. Units can be arranged in any order you like and although an effective marching order is a big part of a winning strategy you'll have to do a lot more than just line them up and send them on their way. As a front-line commander you won't be able to directly engage the enemy but you will provide invaluable support to your troops, making repairs, laying down smokescreens, deploying decoys and more. Vital supplies are airdropped in as the battle rages on and can also be salvaged from destroyed enemy units, but resources are limited and must be spent wisely, and sometimes you'll have to make some tough choices about who to repair, who to upgrade and who to sacrifice to the vagaries of the battlefield.
For an inexpensive game, Anomaly Warzone Earth is surprisingly well-appointed, with an impressive and engaging cinematic intro and plentiful voice acting that clanks once in awhile but nonetheless adds real intensity to the action. It's almost as if the development team at 11 Bit Studios had its heart set on making a triple-A action title and couldn't quite let the dream die when it was told it'd be making a budget-priced downloadable game instead. And yes, it is very inexpensive, selling for just ten bucks on Steam, GamersGate and the Mac App Store.
I've only played the demo so I can't judge how it will hold up in the long run, but I can say that what I've seen up to this point has left a very positive impression. It's intense without being uncomfortably fast-paced, and strategic without forcing you to spend hours considering your next move. And it's ten bucks! It's not as though you can go too wrong at that price but if you're not convinced, grab the demo and give it a try. Tower defense fans are sure to like it and the rest of you might be pleasantly surprised too.
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