The Good: Unique spin on tower defense formula
The Bad: That gets somewhat repetitious after awhile
The Ugly: Nothing
As a gamer I’m rapidly becoming a big fan of budget titles. Am I better off dropping $50 for Dead Space 2 and the roughly 15 hours of gameplay that it offers, or is my gaming dollar better spend on the likes of Anomaly: Warzone Earth, which, for a measly $10 provides about 10 hours? I guess the answer depends on what kind of gamer you are. Looking for immersion? Big name actors doing the voicework? In-game movies akin to a Hollywood motion picture.? That’s the big budget title. But if you’re like me and gameplay is the key, thrifty titles can have a lot to offer, where the developers are forced to try and substitute a little creativity for dollars. Anomaly: Warzone Earth, an unusual spin on the tower defense formula, being a case in point.
I’m not sure if it’s possible that anyone reading this has never played tower defense given the unbelievable plethora of free tower defense games on the net, but just in case, this is how it goes. You have something you’re trying to protect – a home base, a stash of treasure, whatever – and there is a circuitous path the leads from an entrance to that thing. Creatures (tanks, monsters, pirates, insects, et al) appear at the entrance and move down the path. You construct defenses to stop them, earning credits for each one you stop, and using those credits to improve your defenses to stop more of them. And so goes the game, typically with the enemies coming faster and tougher, until they finally reach their goal. Such games have an almost mechanical strategy to them – find the key choke points to place defenses and concentrate there, and pick the defenses that stop more of the enemy and buy those. The economics of the game will tell you if it more efficient to have two low-ranking towers or one upgraded one. That kind of thing.
So in Anomaly: Warzone Earth you’re the guy trying to get down the path. Aliens have invaded Earth (well, maybe just Bagdad and Tokyo) and set up defenses and you have to get through them. To do so you have access to a number of different vehicles that you can buy, from armor light but damage heavy rocket launching crawlers, to armor heavy but causing much less damage tanks, plus flame throwers and others. You earn money for destroying enemy defensive guns, which you can use to buy more vehicles or upgrade the ones you have. You can also zoom out and look at a map of the whole city, see where the enemy guns are, and pick a route that minimizes your engagement with them (or maximizes it, or sends you past a particular type of gun, depending on your strategy), though the enemy sometimes throws more guns in your path after you’ve picked your route...
In another added wrinkle, the only thing you actually control in the game (besides the selection of path and which units to buy) is a soldier on the ground. You run around with your convoy, deploying special effects like air strikes or decoys to distract the enemy guns or smoke to hinder their targeting. And while you can’t be killed you can be knocked out of action for several seconds, perhaps the several seconds that your convoy needed you most. All of this can lead to some tense moments, guns pounding on your convoy, you trying to get in there and drop a repair pod for the vehicles, new guns popping up all over the place.
This being a budget title there are some shortcomings. There are twenty maps (I think) in the single player game, some of which only take ten or fifteen minutes, and the whole things adds up to about 10 hours of gameplay. There’s no multiplayer at all, and unless you’re one of those people who likes to try and grind to the top of a leaderboard or scrape up every last achievement, there’s not a lot of incentive for replaying it. There are only six types of enemy guns, and about that number of vehicles. The underlying economy turns out to be pretty simple, and I very quickly found a convoy structure that worked for me and stuck with it, making the whole game kind of mechanical after awhile. Voicework is actually quite good, but the plot is thin, and the movies are pretty much just pans across the city using the game engine.
Still, even considering those limitations, the designers have done a lot within that framework. The missions are surprisingly varied, far more than just get your convoy to that spot and then get to that next spot. There are escort missions and rescue missions and missions to destroy certain alien structures or a string of them. If some type of modding tool comes along I suspect the community will come up with even more of them. Furthermore each map manages throughout the game to add something new be it a new special effect you can deploy or a new enemy gun or a new vehicle. As you play through the game each level is always just a little bit fresh, something that you haven’t run into before, some new problem you have to work with.
The graphics are smooth and exciting, the action is hectic and well-balanced, and the gameplay is truly like nothing else I’ve ever seen before. And, as I started out saying, this is a budget title. How much gameplay do you need for $10? I think for the money Anomaly: Warzone Earth is a fine bargain.