What do you get when you take the tried-and-true formula for Tower Defense and flip it on its head? The answer is (apparently) Anomaly: Warzone Earth, an indie title from 11 Bit Studios, where the player controls invading forces battling through tons of defensive guns.
First, let’s elaborate on this "Tower Defence in reverse" concept. You control a group of up to six units, along with a commander. Using an overworld map, you guide your rag-tag team through a map riddled with gun turrets to the final destination - as though the enemy were playing Tower Defence and you're the poor shmuck that's trying to run the gauntlet and get to the other end. Aside from setting up the route, the player has no direct control on their team members - the units move and attack towers independently.
The story tying the battles together is that an alien spaceship has crashed to earth in two parts - one hit Baghdad, Iraq, the other hit Tokyo, Japan. Your job is to navigate your forces through the streets of these fine cities, taking out anything in your way to get to the destination. There’s a nice little twist at the end, but overall, the story is a straightforward "move and kill the enemy" scenario.
As you progress through Baghdad and Tokyo, bigger and better (albeit more expensive) units will become available. In early missions you’ll get whatever tanks are on hand, while in later ones you receive an amount of money and pick which units you purchase. Whether you pick a few and upgrade them, or go with a larger number of less powerful vehicles, the units you start with may determine whether you win or lose. In addition to the starting budget, you earn money by destroying towers.
Aside from the units you command, you also take direct control of your commander, who you use to plant power-ups which fix your tank or blind the enemy. If he gets ‘killed’, he will be down for a couple of seconds while his health regenerates; those seconds can be the difference between victory or defeat in a heated battle.
The defensive units have some big guns too - some carry lightning guns which will attack your commander and any nearby units. There’s a variety of units to purchase and upgrade, but you can only have six deployed at once. The best strategy is to have low-armoured units at the back, heavily armoured units at the front, and to split them up with shield generators in between.
As with traditional Tower Defence games, your units travel down a set path; the difference here is that you can alter the path strategically, so that your units have an advantage over the defensive alien units. Altering your course is as simple as popping out to a navigation view and setting up the path - maps typically have a lot of smaller ‘blocks’ you can have your units circle around, which in some cases can be exploited to have your units duck in and out of the firing range of larger units.
Anomaly: Warzone Earth takes place in devastated cities cut off from the world by domes, caused by the anomaly. As such, both cities are hazed over with filters, giving you a convincing sense of being in a dome. The units are also highlighted with bright outlines, helping them to stand out in the (often dark) surroundings. Enemy attacks are also bright and pleasing to the eye - unless your units are being destroyed, of course, then it’s more like “@#$%#!”. Once you have cleared the initial story mode, there’s two other modes to explore - Tokyo Raid and Baghdad Mayhem - both of which pit you against up to ten waves of hostiles in the given city.
Anomaly’s biggest weakness is the auto-save feature. The problem is that, while missions don’t take long enough to warrant a mid-mission save, the included checkpoint system can auto-save at the most inappropriate time, leaving you without a single gun and with your only recourse being to restart the mission. A quick-save feature (which you have control over) would have been a better choice.
Despite the hazardous save system, Anomaly: Warzone Earth presents a fresh take on the Tower Defense genre. It’s satisfying, but leaves a lingering hunger for a sequel - hopefully with a tighter save system and more units. At just $10 USD (via steam dowload), this is a pretty decent slog.