Review by Max “Xtal” Boone
Anomaly: Warzone Earth
Developer 11 bit studios
Publisher 11 bit studios
Released April 8, 2011
Available for PC/Mac, iOS (coming soon)
Time Played Completed
“Ultimately what I felt I got from Anomaly was a solid campaign which lasted me somewhere between 3-5 hours, and that’s probably what any seasoned player of tower defense/offense will get as well. If you lack any experience in the genre I’d still recommend this game to you: the learning curve is very gentle, too gentle in my opinion, but here is a fine experience to hone your skills at.”
Lesson No. 1
I’ve always been awful at real-time strategy games. Whether it was the swamps of Warcraft, the Tesla fields of Red Alert, or the grand battlegrounds of Age of Empires, the arena rarely mattered: I failed, a lot. I think my problem was a lack of will to achieve victory and the inherent problems which stem from said unenthusiastic approach I took. The marriage of macro and micromanagement proved too much for my feeble brain. My ideal RTS game would involve a whole slew of people on one side but instead of controlling their own faction each would manage one sector of responsibility. This guy’s job is to drive catapults around, that guy’s job is to supervise lumberjacks chopping wood, my job is to oversee crop rotation, etc. Extreme, isolated micromanagement, in other words.
That sub-genre does not exist to my knowledge. Fortunately for me there were like-minded folks who put those map editors to good use and thought up tower defense. I think there was a conversation sometime, somewhere, that went something like this:
Profound Man: “Gather ’round, mates. You know how we suck a whole lot at [insert some RTS game here]? Well what say we turn the tables. Why not invent a twisted version of [previously inserted game] to cater to our skill set!”
Interested Man #2: “Mm. What d’ya have in mind then?”
Interested Man #1: “Uh huh, I like catering to my few existing skills.”
Profound Man: “Alright, so y’know how the whole premise of real-time strategy is that you click madly on a bunch of things because you need to gather things, and you gather things because you want to earn cash from some omnipotent benefactor, and you want that cash so that you can build things, and you do that so you can run amok and murder a bunch of things?”
Interested Men #s 1 & 2: “Right.”
Profound Man: “Well, we can still have the benefactor because monies are great, but otherwise hear me out: I don’t particularly like clicking on a lot of things, so screw rounding up precious minerals and such; forget tossing sticks and stones at peoples’ houses altogether; let’s not even develop an economy. I think we should just build some towers, fortify those towers, and have our minions live in them. And when people come ’round to have a gander at what we’re doing, well then I s’pose we’ll have to bust out the sticks and stones. But only in self defense. We’re just going to sit there and do nothing, follow? It’s a beautiful inversion of the idea of doing something. See? Just… nothing. Beautiful, right.”
Interested Man #1: “………………”
Interested Man #2: “Pure genius.”
A brilliant thought, indeed. The idea of tower defense seems manufactured to please those who want to like strategy games but are just too rubbish to compete at them, whether it’s against other humans or a computer. Sitting there and watching towers shoot at stuff is pretty easy and we like it that way. But too easy for somebody. Yes, so easy, apparently, that said somebody decided we enthusiasts of the genre were becoming too complacent with our tower placement, and so emerges 11 bit studios, probably out from a bunch of basements. (Sorry.)
They’ve made this game and it’s called Anomaly: Warzone Earth (or Anomaly Warzone Earth, noting the absence of the colon; nobody’s quite sure which is correct but I’m using the former). They said ‘Look here, fools, more tower defense to drink up! Come and get it!’ And you might say ‘alright’, and you might then hear them say ‘Ha, we’ve fooled you just then: no towers for you!’
No towers for us. But towers for someone. Presumably someone evil, possibly “artificially intelligent.” Yes, this is the premise at work here: 11 bit studios have cruelly inverted our fortunes, handing them over to some alien jackasses who thought it’d be a right brilliant plan to crash their jerk ships smack into the middle of Baghdad and Tokyo. Guess what, motherfuckers? It wasn’t very brilliant at all. As a matter of fact I’d say it was awfully daft. See, you may be the ones with all the towery goodness, but you’re still aliens. And have you seen the movie Aliens? Yeah, you might get to spew acid on few of our lesser examples of human awesomeness, but that’s during a brief moment of disorientation, right before we turn your asses into space dust. What makes you think this time will be any different? Klaatu, E.T., Jaws… every alien care package you’ve sent us we’ve sent packing. This isn’t going to end well for you.
There begins the struggle for Earth. That was a lot of talk just then, but if it’s to be backed up somebody is going to have to get all shooty with these space invaders. Apparently those sombodies are a bunch of Brits called the 14th platoon.
The first thing you notice when booting up Anomaly is that the introductory cinematic is quite good; you might minimize the game to double check that you’ve indeed paid a mere ten dollars for it. It’s fast becoming impressive the level of quality a small indie studio can produce. Encouraging is another adjective I could have used where you saw “impressive.” Happy days. So at the outset you’re given one option which is to begin the story mode. Jumping into that it’s quickly noticeable that the aforementioned quality wasn’t exclusive to the cinematic prelude: your first glimpse of what looks like an alien-bitch-slapped Baghdad is quite wonderful. There’s a consistency throughout each level that really held onto my attention and made me want to wander around a bit. Buildings turned into twisted metal, pockmarked roads and burning rubble litters every spot of the battleground. Of course there’s no time for that though. There’s only just enough time to destroy the illegitimate towers of the aforementioned space invaders, just so we’re clear. Still, I really can’t stress enough how brilliant Anomaly looks, and effortlessly so! It’s delightful to look at. Just make sure for every second you spend gawking at scenery you spend two more murdering aliens.
So about controlling the troops instead of defending against them: how does this work? Well, the first thing you learn out of the gates is that you’re commanding an on-foot, er, commander… of the 14th platoon. As the… eh… commander you’re free to wander where you like, but stray too far from your units and you’ll be giving an unfair advantage to the pesky aliens. Your brigade of vehicles (which will never total more than 6 in number) will never stop pressing onward, save for a few scripted moments. And when you let them perish. Hard to press on when you’re dead and all. You won’t control what enemy structures they target either; while this is frustrating in a few situations the AI usually handles itself well and attacks in the order you’d imagine it should.
By freeing your hands from constantly working out enemy targets you really have only two jobs. The first: you’ll frequently be pulling out of the action to observe a bird’s-eye-view map which gives you the essentials: possible roadways to be taken, location of you and your troops, location of slobbering aliens, location of any objectives and lastly the location of any power-ups you may have left on the ground. More on those in a moment. The routes you plan will sometimes require strict adherence to a linear path, such as a mission where you provide escort for a transport, or the opening bit where you’re gently taught how to navigate around potholes in the road. Don’t worry though: those potholes aren’t there because in the future our governments turn to evil and stop paying for road repairs or some other insanely horrifying scenario. No, they’re there because of those damned dirty aliens. Damn you, interloping scumbags!!!!!
Ahem. Anyway, this tactical view, which doubles as a pause button, is quite nice to use, not like the garbage interface of Supreme Commander. You can enter and exit the mode in a split second and there’s no massive trauma to your computer’s processors to boot. Looking back, it makes sense that the same aliens who’ve invaded Baghdad and Tokyo are the developers behind Supreme Commander; they obviously wanted to make zooming in and out of things so demoralizing that come their invasion circa 2018 we’d already be dead, humanity swept away in a furious bloodbath over Supreme Commander‘s interface. I don’t need to tell you, but it’s obvious that these alien morons were severely unprepared for this operation. While their corpses rot, I pity their wives, husbands and children back on Rygel IX or wherever the hell they came from. Who cares? (And I assure you, they are all corpses now. I beat the game, see.)
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
That sure was a long explanation of your first job. So the commander’s second job– and this is the bit that must be carried out in real time– is scurrying around to deploy enhancements in the field. Deploying enhancements achieves two things. Number one: it ensures the survival of you. And number two: it increases the odds of death for anyone who is not you. Primarily, aliens.
There are 4 types of tactical deployments, each doled out as needed. First is the wrench. Anyone who has played Team Fortress 2 knows that when you hit something with a wrench it gets fixed, so I don’t need to explain this one.
The second is the smokescreen; again, anyone who has ever seen a magic show knows there is one simple truth about smokescreens: once an object is engulfed in smoke, and therefore rendered invisible, any and all opportunities to kill that object are nullified. Forever. Or until the smokescreen dissolves… whichever comes first.
The third– and I quite enjoy this one– is the decoy. I don’t have to tell you what a decoy is used for: you’ve all seen the part in Return of the Jedi where the Ewoks launch an hilarious and adorable frontal assault on a bunch of Stormtroopers (who may very well share genes with our aliens here, judging by their equally poor IQ and decision making skills), all while Han Solo sneaks in the back and sets off detonation charges in what turns out to be a sadly undermanned base; particularly when you consider that it’s powering the shield for a giant space station which has the capability to disintegrate entire planets with a concentrated laser beam. I mean, if that were my space station I might consider investing in separate shield generators on separate moons. But hey, if there’s one thing villains prove time and time again, it’s that they’re dumb as hell. Right, so anyway, the great thing about these decoys is that they have a walloping success rate. I found it to be at about 100%. Every single time you plunk down one of these glowing blue squares the aliens just can’t resist shooting at it. It’s like cat nip, but for aliens instead of cats.
The fourth and final deployment which becomes available to you– and I really felt like I could never get enough of this one– is the bomb. This one is nice because it’s really the only time you have any say on what gets blown up. If I could equate this to a similar gaming experience, it would be that of using a Terran Ghost to place a tactical nuclear strike in StarCraft. Except that your commander in Anomaly is way more badass than a Ghost because he doesn’t even have to move outside the blast radius. He just stands there and takes it. Just place your marker near some unsuspecting alien towers and watch death come from above. They’ll never see it coming. Except for the part where your commander walks right up to them and places a mysterious marker on the ground in front of them and they overhear something about an air strike on his personal radio. Other than that, they really won’t see anything coming. Except for their imminent deaths. They’d have to be fools not to see that coming. Oh, wait…
Of course, I’m not giving these poor aliens any credit, and I have to admit they do deserve a tiny bit. The difficulty curve is a bit slow to pick up in Anomaly, most of the first campaign, where the setting is Baghdad, being fairly straightforward and not overly difficult. This is fine though; the initial campaign is about 30-35% of the time you’ll spend with Anomaly, the better half being spent in the second theater, Tokyo, and some skirmish type modes that open up after certain points of the story mode. It’s fair then that it serves mostly as an introduction to the workings of the game, letting the real mayhem unfold in Tokyo. When things do pick up there are a few nice twists that do well to complicate strategies and even undermine your sense of security and progress. Yes, our antagonists hold the power to surprise. *Slow clap*.
Sing Swan Song
Anomaly won’t last you a terribly long time. The skirmish modes, which are sort of an afterthought, are enjoyable but also brief; depending on how you play them, each of the three or four scenarios might last an hour a piece; they’re essentially random bits of map from one of the two settings in story mode and you’ll go through waves of invading tower folk. As far as I can tell those are a bit random in generation, so that might lend further depth, though not much. In these missions you’re on the clock to take out specific targets, usually with not much leeway, so you’ll have to decide which of the three factors that you’re graded on you value most: directness (how efficient your route is, in relation to your objectives), efficiency (keeping your squad intact) and ruthlessness (how much alien hide you demolish). It’s a cute diversion once you’re done with the story, but I found myself bored with it, holding the fast-forward key more often than not.
Oh, and on that, it’s a neat little device the developers kindly thought to include. During any lulls in action, or times where you’re just going to traverse a gap with no opposition– or for whatever reasons of your own– you can hold the shift key to speed things up; everything in unison of course: your units, friendly and unfriendly fire, countdown timers, as well as the commander, so there’s no tactical advantage in its use, it’s simply a handy tool thrown in for players who’d rather not have a lot of downtime in their experience. I appreciated it.
Ultimately what I felt I got from Anomaly was a solid campaign which lasted me somewhere between 3-5 hours, and that’s probably what any seasoned player of tower defense/offense will get as well. If you lack any experience in the genre I’d still recommend this game to you: the learning curve is very gentle, too gentle in my opinion, but here is a fine experience to hone your skills at. The first half of it was average to above average in terms of enjoyment and challenge, while the latter half was nothing short of exemplary. The gameplay itself is ace, the few talking heads who bark instructions and whatnot do a fine job, even if a bit campy at times, and all around Anomaly feels like a totally professional work. I’m not aware of any other games in 11 bit studios’ catalog, nor am I aware of the disparate pasts of the folks who comprise 11 bit studios, but I have to say if this is the first game most of them have worked on you can colour me impressed. Well, colour me impressed either way.
The $9.99 price tag may be a simple enough selling point for many Steam enthusiasts (the game is also available through Gamersgate and the Apple Mac Store, and there’s also a demo), but that you get such a high level of quality to boot, Anomaly: Warzone Earth receives a high recommendation from me. Depending on your level of vigor this is a solid weekend, or at least an afternoon, of finely crafted alien extermination.
Email the author of this review at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Minimum System Requirements (PC):
- OS: Microsoft Windows XP SP2/Microsoft Windows Vista/Microsoft Windows 7
- Processor: Intel Pentium 4 2.4GHz or AMD Athlon 64 +2800
- Memory: 1 GB RAM
- Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 7600 / ATI Radeon X1800 or equivalent
- DirectX®: 9.0c
- Hard Drive: 1 GB
- Sound: DirectX 9.0c compliant sound card
Minimum System Requirements (Mac):
- OS: OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.3, or later.
- Processor: Intel Pentium 4 2.4GHz or AMD Athlon 64 +2800
- Memory: 2 GB
- Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 7600 / ATI Radeon X1800 or equivalent
- Hard Drive: 1 GB
Reviewer’s System: Intel Core i7 @ 2.8 GHz, Windows 7 64-bit, 6 GB RAM, nVidia GeForce GTS 250.