First Look: Anomaly – Warzone Earth for XBLA

If you’re a PC or mobile gamer, 11 Bit Studios’s Anomaly – Warzone Earth might be old news to you. The game originally came out on PC about a year ago, on iOS last summer and on Android earlier this year. Now it’s finally made it to Xbox Live Arcade and in turn I finally got around to giving it a try.

Anomaly is a tower defense game, inverted. Instead of placing towers to ward off incoming attackers, you control the incoming attackers trying to get past, or take out, fixed emplacements. You’ve got two tiers of control in order to accomplish this.

First there’s a strategic map, accessed any time by hitting the Y button, where you plot your route to your destination. Your troops all follow roads in a single file line (at least in the first half dozen levels that I got through) and at each intersection you determine whether they should turn left, turn right, or go straight through the intersection. You can jump in and out of this map at any time, tweaking the route your troops take in response to battlefield conditions.

Once you’re done on the strategic map, your view changes to a nicely rendered map of the city and you appear on the field as a commander unit. He’s a pretty fast, quite durable unit with no offensive abilities. His job is (minimally) to draw fire, to run around and collect power-ups dropped by air support, and to use these power-ups to help keep your units alive. The three power-ups I’ve encountered are Repair, Smoke and Decoy. Repair forms a short-lived auto-repair circle on the map. Any unit that travels through it gets patched up. Smoke offers limited cover in a section of the map, and Decoy draws fire from all enemies within range (until the decoys are destroyed). There’s a least one more type of power-up that I haven’t uncovered yet. Some kind of Bomb. Yay bombs!

As you travel along the map fighting towers (your units, other than the commander, move and attack autonomously) you’ll also encounter nodules of ore. Destroying those converts them into cash. Cash is used to purchase or upgrade units. You can do that any time by pressing X. You can buy new units, upgrade existing units, sell units, or re-arrange the order of your units. In the 6 missions I played I was exposed to 3 kinds of units: an APC with good armor but mediocre firepower, a crawler with weak armor but good offense and range, and a shield unit that had no offense but placed a shield around the units in front of and behind itself.

As for enemy towers, there are basic machine gun towers, beam towers that you should only take on from the sides or behind (not always easy when you need to factor in the limited choices the road grid offers), Behemoths that are very powerful but slow to aim, and some kind of lightning tower that I haven’t quite figured out yet.

And that’s about it so far in terms of game mechanics. I’m playing through the Story Mode: chunks of an alien space craft have fallen to earth and covered Baghdad and Tokyo in strange domes. What’s going on inside? My military unit has been chosen to go in to investigate, and kick some alien ass at the same time. It’s not an epic tale but it’s enough story to keep your interest and get you to play just one more mission.

The game looks great and plays really well with a controller. It comes with some Xbox-y unlocks like stuff for your Avatar and so forth (I don’t play a ton of XBLA games these days…maybe these are standard features now?) and you get scored on each mission so there’s replayability there as you strive to earn more medals.

Like I said, I’ve only spent a couple hours with the game, so don’t consider this any kind of definitive review, but I had a really good time playing. I’d avoided the game on PC because I was pretty burnt out on Tower Defense, but I was offered a review copy of the XBLA version so I figured I’d give it a shot. I was very pleasantly surprised. Turning the tables and making you the attacker is a nice twist on the genre.

Old hands at the game may be tempted by the 6 Xbox-exclusive ‘tactical trials’ that 11 Bit Studios has created for the XBLA version.

Anomaly – Warzone Earth is 800 Microsoft Points, and of course there’s a free demo available.