Anomaly 2 Review
The Good: Jazzier graphics engine. Units have new morphing ability. Now with multiplayer!
The Bad: Short single player campaign.
The Ugly: Multiplayer tutorial really insufficient. No multiplayer AI to practice against. Few people playing it.
I heard a lot of different terms used to describe last year’s (or maybe it was the year before) game Anomaly: Warzone Earth, but the one that resonated with me was tower offense. As opposed to tower defense, where you are tasked with building up a maze-like arrangement of defensive towers to destroy waves of incoming enemy units before they can reach their goal, in Anomaly you were the one trying to survive a tower gauntlet to reach the finish line. To accomplish this task you had a number of different units you could employ from short range tough units to longer range delicate ones to support units like shield generators. With limited cash on hand (the game calls it curasarum, or something close to that), you have to pick your assault convoy lineup with some care. You also have the flexibility of picking the route you take to your goal; at many points the road branches, and you can choose which way to turn taking into consideration the enemy tower formations that lie down each path. Added into the mix was a squad leader, a little guy that you controlled who would run around among the towers depositing special abilities like decoy targets to fool the towers or healing pods to repair your units. It made for a nifty spin on the tower defense formula, and I think did pretty well financially, so 11 Bit Studios is back with a sequel called simply Anomaly 2 (Anomaly Warzone Earth 2 probably being too much of a mouthful). How’d they do?
In most ways Anomaly 2 is much like Anomaly 1. You’re still trying to brave the towers to reach a goal, and you still have the little squad leader running around depositing the same powers, and the routing hasn’t changed. Most units are carryover from the previous game, but there are some genuinely new units as well. The new units show up only briefly near the end of the single player campaign, which spans 14 missions and will take you maybe four or five hours to complete. 11 Bit did bring two big new changes to the party (actually three if you count an improved graphics engine, which is nice but I kind of don’t count it) – your units now have a transformer ability, and the game now features multiplayer. It is the latter that may give the game some longevity in the face of a shortish single player campaign, but in a lot of ways it isn’t so well implemented. Anyway, let me discuss those two in greater depth separately.
The transformer ability is easy to understand – each unit has two forms, and you can switch back and forth between them at will. For example, your short range, light-damage, machinegun-wielding unit can also become a high-damage flamethrowing unit that can only fire sideways. This comes especially handy in dense city environments where the towers are tucked into narrow alleys here and there so you will only have a short time to shoot at them. You also have an artillery unit that shoots with a lot of damage at long range, but only in a narrow forward arc of fire, that transforms into a shorter-range, lower-damage unit that fires guided rockets. Your shield generator doubles as a unit which emits rays that slow the firing and tracking movement of enemy towers. Etc. It costs nothing to transform your units, and you can transform each unit in your convoy individually, but they are completely vulnerable for a few seconds while they transform so I wouldn’t do it in the middle of combat where they may be dead before they complete the change. It’s most effective when looking down the road and seeing what form you’ll want your units to be in when you get there.
Multiplayer is where the real meat of this game resides. 1v1 battles are set up in which one plays the tower offensive role, the other taking on the tower defense and running the aliens. Given that you’ve had the opportunity to run through the campaign playing as the humans, that the units and what they can do and all the squad leader powers are familiar to you, mostly what you need to know is how the multiplayer game is scored. In this the human multiplayer tutorial completely fails as they are just replays of the first three single player missions that teach you nothing new. On the alien side you’ve seen how their towers attack – you dealt with plenty of them in the campaign – but the alien economy and powers are completely unfamiliar. To try and smooth you into that role, there are three slim alien tutorials to guide you. They do a piss poor job. The aliens gather curasarum in a completely different way (it accumulates slowly over time, and they have a special tower which can mine it), and they have different squad leader powers (there is a tower healing, a taunt power which causes all enemies in range to attack you, a kamikaze in which a tower explodes doing damage to everything around it, and a berserker in which a tower does additional damage for a short period of time), but you lack a squad leader entirely so you place them directly on towers. Additionally, the alien towers themselves can emit a power burst in exchange for tower health, different towers emitting different power bursts. One can slow down the enemy convoy, another wipes away deployed human squad leader powers, while another completes all towers under construction instantly. I can’t even, as I sit here and write this, think of what the other ones are. It’s a lot to pick up in just three tutorials, and all you can do is play the same tutorials again and again to get used to them or take a crack at multiplayer.
Once you decide to take that crack, you’re greeted by only a single, small multiplayer map – the others are locked until you get more multiplayer games under your belt (sometimes a lot more). I appreciate that they’re trying to start you out and let you develop some kind of strategy on a small map before hurling you into a larger one, but the way around that should have been some kind of AI skirmish ability which the game is sorely lacking. Multiplayer games are won based upon a point total or by achieving some point lead over your opponent. The point goals are fixed for a given map, and it would have been nice to at least allow players to change those, but you can’t. It’s just another example of the incredibly sloppy way in which multiplayer was implemented.
I really like the ideas that 11 Bit has brought to Anomaly 2. The transformer ability, though it sometimes causes an uncomfortable level of chaos to the game as you’re busy morphing your convoy and deploying squad leader abilities all the while closing inexorably on the enemy towers – that brings a delicious sense of tension (though if it gets to be too much for you, you can pause the action by entering the tactical map). Multiplayer has within it the seeds for fine gameplay, but with some iffy design decisions, lacking a serious tutorial, no AI to play with, and few other people to play against, it turns what should have been the game’s best piece into its greatest disappointment. I’ll add that given the wait times I’ve had to endure while the service tried to find me an opponent, and that a few times I just gave up waiting, doesn’t bode well for the multiplayer future. Maybe 11 Bit will toss out some kind of map editor and with it will build a dedicated multiplayer community to keep it going, but without viable multiplayer and with a short single player campaign, I can’t recommend this budget title as a good value for your gaming dollar.
Reviewed By: Phil Soletsky
Publisher: 11 Bit Studios
This review is based on a digital copy of Anomaly 2 for the PC provided by 11 Bit Studios.