Thursday, April 21, 2011

Anomaly: Warzone Earth Review

Anomaly: Warzone Earth, developed and published by 11 Bit Studios.
The Good: Strategically place abilities and upgrade units, varied enemy towers require mixed strategies, several path choices in each level, multiplatform, nice graphics
The Not So Good: Very scripted levels with fixed enemy turret positions and obvious “best” path choices, limited roster of abilities, no multiplayer, lacks randomized maps and enemy layouts, lacks mid-mission saves, boring initial levels
What say you? This flip on the tower defense genre puts you in charge of the invaders with OK results: 5/8

This review also appears at The Wargamer

Based on the sheer volume, the tower defense genre is quite popular. Traditional entries such as Defense Grid and Sol Survivor and Immortal Defense and Creeper World (plus a bunch of less interesting games) has you defending a path traversed by enemy units using stationary towers. There’s only so much innovation that can come using this formula, so developers have started to experiment with alternative approaches to the genre. One of these ideas is to take control of the invading force, previously seen in Reckless Squad. In Anomaly: Warzone Earth, you are leading a team of military men in the near future, investigating a weird phenomenon in Baghdad and then (spoiler alert!) Tokyo. Will this title inject some originality into the increasingly stale genre?

Anomaly: Warzone Earth features some very nice visuals. Although there are only two settings in the game (dusty Iraq and urban Japan), each of the game’s levels exhibits a variety of buildings with impressive detail. Your units and the enemy turrets are nicely animated, while weapons and explosions are both very satisfying. There are also a number of special effects incorporated into the game associated with the anomaly (which creates a warzone on Earth). The planning map mode is a stylish fluorescent blue, rounding out an excellent graphical presentation. The sound effects are well done, too: weapons are powerful, audio cues are distinctive, music is acceptable, and the very British and slightly stereotypical Japanese voice acting is rarely repetitive (though a bit too exaggerated for my tastes). Anomaly: Warzone Earth certainly does not look and sound like a typical budget game.

In Anomaly: Warzone Earth, you must lead a convoy through dangerous alien territory, populated by turrets determined to destroy your soul. The campaign is a bit on the short side, and the missions are unlocked in a set, linear order. You are given some layout freedom in navigating through each urban landscape, as there are typically two or three different paths to choose from. There are also scripted events that take place at key points in each mission, so you will always end up at the same spots no matter which path you choose. After you are done with the campaign, there are two squad assault modes (one for each city) that tasks you with destroying an ever-increasing number of enemy turrets within a time limit. Unfortunately, Anomaly: Warzone Earth lacks randomized map and a map editor, so the amount of content the developers have designed is all you get. You also cannot save your progress in the middle of a mission, an issue when you are involved in a lengthy battle and you’d like to come back later. Increased difficulty, which amplifies the amount of damage the members of your convoy suffers, will grant a score multiplier bonus, helpful to move you up the online scoreboards and earn better achievements and mission rewards. The game slowly builds in complexity, as the first three or so tutorial levels are quite boring for veterans of tower defense games. Anomaly: Warzone Earth is also single-player only: it would be really cool to have one person play as the alien towers and another as the human convoy, but this option remains a fantasy. Finally, Anomaly: Warzone Earth is available for both Windows and Macintosh, plus whatever an “iPad” is (I think it’s some kind of menstruation device, an odd platform for a computer game).

You are given several tools to assist your team. The first is the ability to choose your path through the city: you can change your course at certain (but not all, for scripting reasons) intersections, and the game will give a time estimate of when you’ll arrive at each waypoint. The goal is to avoid powerful turrets while collecting resources to purchase new troops. However, since you usually only have a couple of real choices to make on each map (as there are always intermediate checkpoints you must pass), your options are limited. In addition, it’s pretty obvious from the predetermined alien turret placement which way is the “best” way. Since your convoy will slowly move and fire automatically along the pathway, you will use your commander to place abilities and attract fire from the turrets (since the commander’s health regenerates rather quickly). You are given four abilities that are placed in a circular area: heal, cover smoke, a decoy unit, and a bomb. Only four choices is a bit a limited, but these abilities are usually enough to deal with most threats. These abilities are dropped by aircraft and must be collected, giving you something to do as your convoy winds through the city streets. The typically relaxed pace can be accelerated using the “shift” key to traverse those inactive sections more quickly.

Resources collected along the way (plus small cash bonuses for destroying turrets) can be spent to purchase new units and upgrade existing ones, increasing their armor and firepower. Anomaly: Warzone Earth features several unit types, differentiated by range, rate of fire, and damage capabilities. There are also some special units like shields that can protect nearby units. An important consideration is the convoy arrangement, which can be adjusted: placing the fragile, long-range units in the back and positioning the “cannon fodder” in the front to absorb most of the incoming fire is a sound strategy. There are a number of enemy turrets you shall encounter along the way, each with different capabilities, like targeting multiple units or powerful linear beams, and limitations, like the inability to turn. These variations allow for some special strategies to deal with each foe, although, as noted earlier, the path options are a bit too limited for my tastes. Also, since the alien turret positions are always in the same spot, each individual level plays out the same, so Anomaly: Warzone Earth becomes a bit repetitive after a while. I found the difficulty to be balanced nicely, as the medium setting offers a good amount of challenge. There isn’t an AI to speak of, as the arrangement of the alien turrets is fixed by the level designer: they do no respond to your choice in routes (and any additional turrets that appear during a level are all scripted), so the challenge results simply from having more of them than you can deal with.

Anomaly: Warzone Earth injects a small bit of novelty into the tower defense genre thanks to its stylish approach. Like most tower defense games, Anomaly: Warzone Earth features somewhat limited interaction as the convoy moves and shoots on its own, using the path you have drawn out. What you, as the commander, are left to do is occasionally change the path to avoid the more powerful turrets, while ensuring to pass by resources and place abilities to keep your squad alive. There are only four abilities to choose from which limit your strategic options a bit. You can also purchase or upgrade units using resources you have collected, and then position each unit in your convoy in the most efficient manner. Anomaly: Warzone Earth offers a decent (but not outstandingly varied) selection of friendly units and enemy turrets that support a range of possible strategies. While there are a couple of available paths through each level, the action is somewhat scripted and the enemy emplacements are always in the same location: it’s pretty obvious which way the developers want you to go. The difficulty is adjusted well and the typically slow pace (at least when you are not being assaulted) can be accelerated, but the campaign is a bit on the short side. Anomaly: Warzone Earth lacks multiplayer (it would be cool to put one player in charge of the turrets) and you can't save your progress during the sometimes lengthy missions, but it is available for both Windows and Macintosh and automatically compares your scores against others online. In the end, Anomaly: Warzone Earth is an occasionally entertaining, if limited, take on the tower defense genre.