Anomaly: Warzone Earth begins with an opening montage that would be right at home in a Call of Duty game: explosions in Baghdad, wide shots of military vehicles, a solemnly voiced narration, and middle eastern-themed instrumentals. All of the tension and foreboding of this intro is immediately cut off the moment our main character comes into view, wearing an armored suit fashioned with gigantic labeled icons on his back. It may offer an explanation for how the UI mechanics integrate into the setting, but you have to wonder how he can even reach for those buttons in the first place.
Originally released on Windows and iOS platforms, developer 11 Bit Studios has taken its on-rails tower defense game to consoles, starting with XBLA and ending with PSN. The player assumes the role of 14th Platoon’s commander as he guides his military convoy toward the war-torn city of Baghdad in order to investigate a mysterious anomaly that crashed without warning in the center of the city. Being set in the not-too-distant future, all of the vehicles and tech walk a blurred line between reality and sci-fi, with a narrative that explains the importance of retrieving the unknown source of energy before the terrorists do, while not offering any real-world commentary.
The basic purpose of each mission is to guide your platoon from Point A to Point B, often completing whatever plot-based objectives are thrown your way, ranging from blowing up one thing to blowing up many things. Players take direct control of the commander, who tears through the battlefield on foot, while the rest of his squad operate through vehicles. At the start of each mission, players must set up what route the vehicles will follow using the on-screen map, adjusting which directions and turns the squad will make along the enemy-infested streets. This mechanic is about as exciting as directing traffic in real life and ultimately proves tedious as each mission likes to add obstacles to force players to change routes regardless.
While your squad is equipped with the latest in machine guns, lasers, missiles and other weaponry, their armor carries the same amount of protection as tin foil, which is where you come in; in addition to guiding their path along the roads, players must utilize an assortment of items to keep their squad-mates alive, such as a cone that regenerates the health of all who enter it, a decoy that draws out the enemy’s fire, a smokescreen that affects enemy radar, and so forth. Alternatively, you can take the safest route in order to bypass the largest cluster of enemy units. However, in order to add additional support (or upgrade your existing unit), you require funds, which are earned by killing enemies, making combat an unavoidable necessity.
Occasionally you’ll receive support in the form of item drops from the map, as well as new types of vehicles (such as shield drones that provide extra defensive support and air strikes that can take out large groups of enemies when timed properly), with the former requiring manual retrieval on the map. While the commander can take damage on the field just like his squad (yet, surprisingly, can endure far more damage than his fully armored teammates), he is given far more freedom of movement, and is able to pass through trees, buildings, cars and other obstacles on the map like they aren’t even there. This creates a Schrödinger’s Cat effect that makes one wonder if this was the result of gameplay convenience or lazy design. As far as the presentation goes, there is nothing particularly special or offensive about the game’s design aside from an annoyingly persistent narration from the Commander, whose voice actor only knows how to talk by yelling. Another thing that must be mentioned is the repetitive voice samples from your nervous squad-mates (“We’re halfway to dead, sir!” is a phrase that will reverberate in your head far too often).
All of the mechanics in Anomaly work as intended, and the inclusion of a fast-forward button is a welcome feature to speed up the action, but the constant pausing in order to change your squad’s direction or add/upgrade units works against the flow of a real-time tower defense game. It isn’t so much a gameplay flaw as it is a limitation of porting a title of this nature to consoles. To that end, anyone who is interested in the game would likely be better off checking out the iOS or PC versions, as the interface would undoubtedly prove more streamlined and unrestricted.
This review is based off of a review copy of the Playstation 3 version of Anomaly Warzone Earth, developed by 11 Bit Studios.