In this day and age, it’s hard to get excited about tower defense games since this is a genre that has been dissected, examined and finally put in all sorts of different blenders that has often yield great results, whereas other experiments have been less successful. How incredible then that developer 11-bit studios has unlocked the secret in how to turn this stagnating genre into something wholly unique and interesting, as Anomaly Warzone Earth expertly turns the tables in this richly satisfying strategy/action title that’s back in full force on the Xbox Live Marketplace and still remains the same frantic, addictive and relentlessly explosive tower “offense” game it was on its PC counterpart. So if you have ten dollars and a weekend to kill, then you simply can’t go wrong with Anomaly Warzone Earth.
Warzone Earth keeps the storytelling to a fair minimum as an enormous crater hits Bagdad in a near future, contemporary setting. This crater then turns out be a massive energy dome that houses entrenched alien forces that have nasty plans for the inhabitants of earth. You’re then put in charge of a British task force convoy that must infiltrate the dome and decimate all opposition before they render earth uninhabitable. It’s a kooky, irreverent setup that doesn’t evolve in any meaningful ways and the only form of story progression you get is through mission briefings and on-the-fly transmissions between characters barking orders at each other. It’s all good-fashioned, predictable B-movie nonsense, but it’s a good enough excuse to square off against red-glowing alien turrets.
Anomaly Warzone Earth’s story mode is a six-hour romp through bright and-dark lit urban environments where strategy, wit and quick reflexes are the recipe for success. But don’t be fooled by AWZ’s familiar aesthetic and birds-eye perspective, this is not a tower defense game – quite the contrary actually. AWZ brilliantly switches things up by letting you go on the offensive, as you’re forced to compile a squad of supply vehicles, robot-like crawlers, armored personnel carriers and even fire-spewing tanks before you then bring up a tactical screen where you have to plot different routes through the battlefield and then let them do their thing. You have no direct control of your units; they simply opt for the course you’ve chosen and will then engage enemies of opportunity. While all of this happens, you as the squad leader –represented by a soldier with a battle suit– are forced to escort the convoy and aid them with a variety of offensive and defensive abilities.
You don’t get to shoot any of the entrenched, stationary turrets and enemies, but you do get to deploy smoke screens to cover your squad’s advance, repair wounded units and even call in airstrikes on enemies and more. You do have a limited supply of these abilities though, and they can only be collected from supply drops that show up once an area is cleared. Knowing when to use these abilities and whether or not you want to use all the precious cash you’ve garnered during the mission to buy more units or upgrade existing ones is part of the fun and appeal of Anomaly War Zone Earth.
Furthermore, the game does a fantastic job of gradually introducing more enemy types and mission parameters as the campaign progresses and before you know it you’ll escort damaged units, desperately leg it across bridges that are being pulverized by enemies, destroy shield generators and fight against the clock in ever changing and incredibly challenging scenarios. Make no mistake, AMZ is can be extremely daunting even on the casual difficulty setting and you’ll quickly find yourself rethinking strategies and trying different approaches to best counteract the enemy, and the reward for doing so is oh-so sweet. To alleviate frustration, the game’s checkpoint system is generous and pop up just when you need them the most.
It’s too bad then that just like its many contemporaries, Anomaly Warzone Earth does not include any multiplayer options to speak off, which is all the more disheartening since the games’ incredibly unique and solid mechanics would lend themselves well some sort of cooperative or competitive multiplayer mode. I mean, just how sweet wouldn’t it be if one player was in charge of summoning turrets and enemies while another player would have to work his or her way around them with all the abilities of the single player mode? Here’s hoping for a sequel to address this omission.
For an arcade game, Anomaly War Zone Earth looks incredibly sharp both technically and artistically – the lighting is absolutely superb and explosions and other effects look wholly amazing. The game’s interface is also incredibly slick and smooth and jumping back and forth between the different menus and handling all the action is an absolute hoot. Voice-acting is a bit stilted in some spots and while the soundtrack nicely complements the action with aggressive guitar riffs and action-packed ambience, it still gets a bit repetitive overtime.
While the Story Mode can be completed in a manner of five to six hours, there’s a good amount of additional modes that do a wonderful job of rounding out the package. First up is Bagdad Mayhem, where generators show up seemingly at random at must be destroyed within a time limit. Tokyo Raid bakes together the toughest set-pieces from the campaign into challenging skirmishes and gives you limited resources and little room to breathe. Finally, there are also virtual missions that feature different variables and obstacles that you must overcome and all of these modes prove to be incredibly tough and are strictly meant for those who like chase leaderboards. The omission of multiplayer is still irksome, but the content handed to you is still more than enough to warrant the generous price tag of ten bucks.
After playing countless of me-too Tower Defense off-shots, it’s incredibly refreshing to see a game that effortlessly manages to spice up the formula with great mechanics, pin-point controls, exhilarating strategic depth, hectic action and a terrific audiovisual presentation. Toss in the lengthy campaign and enjoyable extras, and the kooky plot and lack of multiplayer are the only missteps in this otherwise incredibly solid and thoroughly entertaining strategy/action title.