If you’re like me, you’ve probably never heard of Anomaly Warzone Earth prior to reading this review. And now that you have, you’ve probably already forgotten Anemon- … Warzo– … the title. Unfortunate as the title may be, however, thankfully the content is a bit more interesting.
Putting a fresh spin on the arguably tired genre of tower defense, 11 Bit Studios’ Anomaly Warzone Earth puts you in the role of a faceless commander charged with leading a military convoy against legions of hostile alien gun towers; so, quite literally, tower offense. There’s also some story to explain how and why these towers have appeared on Earth along with the energy bubbles (anomalies) enveloping Baghdad and Tokyo, but it’s mostly just a means to an end. The only thing you need to know is that towers are bad and must be destroyed. However, since the commander doesn’t have a weapon, you’ll need the support of your convoy to complete your task.
Comprised of six slots, the convoy can technically include any combination of the six different tanks, APCs, and shield/item generators. Though you’ll want to include at least one unit with offensive capabilities if you expect to survive an encounter with even the most basic tower. Due to the various strengths of the different units, the arrangement of your convoy is important as well. For example, a shield generator can protect the units on either side of it, so placing it between two tanks is more beneficial than if it was at the front or tail end of your convoy. Convoy arrangement can also be modified on the fly, allowing for some useful juggling strategies against the six different types of enemy towers. Is the APC at the front taking too long to destroy those blaster towers? Swap it out for a Crawler. Is your tank’s HP bar almost empty and you just used your last repair item? Move it next to a shield generator. You can also buy and sell units with money collected from destroying towers and blasting Carusaurum deposits at (almost) any time. So the convoy you had at the beginning of a stage may be completely different than the one you lead to the conclusion.
Your job isn’t all unit management and organization, however. Since the convoy vehicles are relegated to traveling along the grid-like streets of either city in single file formation, you’ll also need to play navigator and map out the safest path for your units to travel en route to the objective for that stage. The direction from which you choose to approach a group of enemy towers can be just as important as the units in your convoy, especially in the later stages and challenge maps. And then there are the deployable powerup items of repair, smoke bomb, decoy, and air strike that you can use to improve your convoy’s chance of survival. In short, even though you don’t actually have the ability to attack enemy towers yourself, there’s still plenty for you to do.
Alright, now it’s time for a confession. If there’s one genre of videogame I am NOT a fan of, it’s real-time strategy games. Granted, AWE is more of an RTS-lite, but it still contains the same basic elements of amassing resources, building and upgrading units, and leading said units en masse against a foe. Here’s the surprising part, though: despite my inherent aversion, I had a lot of fun. Every aspect of AWE, from the initial tutorial stages to the endgame challenges and endurance runs, is created with the player in mind. Menus and maps are uncluttered and intuitive and accessed with a press of one of the face buttons. (Oh, and time stops when you do access them, so even the most intense situations can be paused while you take a few seconds to think and retool your forces.) New abilities, units, and enemies are introduced at regular intervals throughout the 14 campaign missions, ensuring that the gameplay remains fresh right up to the finale. And should you make a grievous error despite the mild difficulty curve, the generous checkpoint system will prevent you from retreading too much ground.
Whether you’re an RTS novice, an SC2 veteran, or just the occasional tower defense fan looking for something a little different, Anomaly Warzone Earth provides the perfect amount of challenge without becoming frustrating. Look past the bland title (and skip past the atrocious voice acting and unimportant plot while you’re at it) and you’ll be in for a real treat.
This review is based off of an XBLA copy of the game provided by the developer. All campaign missions, challenges, and trials were completed in approximately 15 hours. Anomaly Warzone Earth is currently available on XBLA, PC, iOS, and Android.