The tower defense genre is so worn out at this point, that it's hard to take another seriously. In 2011, 11 Bit Studios' Anomaly: Warzone Earth turned the tower defense genre on it's head by reversing the sides and letting you be the one on the offensive; taking the same style of survival and allow you to be the one destroying different types of towers in your path. The sequel, Anomaly 2, iterates on this excellent formula, while adding just enough new abilities, scenarios, and a multiplayer mode to keep things fresh and challenging.
Anomaly 2 starts with a fairly basic premise, and after a couple of training missions you're out stopping mechanical aliens who have invaded a post-apocalyptic Earth trapped in an everlasting winter. Most objectives are pretty standard, and will have you saving scientists, or taking out simple targets to clear paths. The dialogue between the characters is fairly throwaway, but I never found it offensively bad thanks to decent voice acting and minimal intrusion. Forgettable is the right word to describe the story here, but it's more of a quick and minor attraction to the main flow of the game.
Luckily, Anomaly 2 looks and sounds fantastic, with excellent use of contrasting colors and beautiful environments ranging from snowed out abandoned buildings, to a tropical forest filled with orange mechanized aliens. Effects like aliens sprouting out of the ground, or explosions from your Hammer unit's rockets are satisfyingly brutal. The game's minimalist interface conveys information easily, and the VR-like tactical map is a fast and easy way to scout the battlefield and change routes. An excellent soundtrack complements what is overall, a surprising amount of polish, attention to detail, and high production value for a game of this scale.
Anomaly 2's single player levels generally have you making it from point A to B early on, and you'll initially start with only the most basic units. You can only hold up to six units moving on a track, and as the commander you're tasked with keeping those units alive in real time. All of this is done with you on the field, moving around and dropping abilities along the path to bolster your units or distract foes. With each new mission a new unit or ability is introduced to answer a new enemy unit. The mission progression does an excellent job of introducing every new ability and telling you exactly what it does and what situation it's needed for. There's a solid amount of mission variety as well, and while some like a ridiculously brutal defense mission towards the end can be tiresome, the game constantly introduces enough new elements to the formula to keep from being tedious.
Anomaly 2's combat relies on fast paced strategy that leaves very little room for error, with failure often occurring in an instant. Each unit has a transformation ability, whether it be a switch between close and long range, or a shielding ability versus the ability to slow down enemies. This trade-off gives a dynamic sense of strategy to each encounter, allowing you to quickly adjust based on the enemy at hand. For example, using a long range machine gun unit can cause an enemy to transform to a highly deadly form, whereas keeping them in close range will hold their fire and allow you to use slower, more powerful tank units to take them out. When paused in the tactical map, you can choose to change the path of your vehicles on a set grid. Often, you'll be faced with deciding whether to use different types of units to combat a certain enemy. With the unit selection menu, you can upgrade and sell old units for new ones. Unit and path selection is where much of the battle is won, as choosing the right combination of units to face the right enemy makes all the difference.
All of these things combine to create an intense, fast-paced, and tactical-style of game. However, this intense combat is let down by a few structural issues. The game's high level of challenge is certainly welcome, but the randomness of ability drops can ruin entire runs, forcing you to restart from the beginning if you get too generous with your abilities early on. Missions are quite long, and despite having checkpoints to restart from, there's no ability to save mid-mission. When some last for upwards to 40+ minutes, this can be incredibly frustrating. When you've finally gotten the full host of abilities and unit types, it often feels like 11 bit has opted to throw hordes of enemies in your path rather than coming up with new unique challenges. The last two missions of it's 5-6 hour campaign play much more tedious than everything that comes before it.
Anomaly 2's take on multiplayer is a mix of both styles, with one side playing the game's single player style of tower offense, and the other side playing classic tower defense as the mechanized alien towers. Playing as the aliens is fairly standard tower defense, and the dynamic between both sides makes the multiplayer feel unique. Games are based on a point system, and the first side to hit 1000 wins the game. Both sides are polished and interesting enough to deliver a solid take on asymmetrical multiplayer. Finding matches, however, is a different story. With a small player base, complicated set of rules, and lack of decent tutorials, it may be difficult to find a community playing the game that won't totally annihilate you. Still, what's here is definitely intriguing, and worth a shot if you can find a partner to play with.
Anomaly 2 is more of the same, but there's still nothing out there really quite like this franchise. 11 Bit Studios has added a greater focus on intense moment-to-moment strategy that adds on the original concept without straying too far from what made it's predecessor excellent. While there are a few frustrations that keep Anomaly 2 from being truly fantastic, the game's additions to it's unique tower offense gameplay makes this a worthwhile sequel.