I got my hands on a copy of Anomaly 2 -- a unique spin on the tower defense game model in which you command the creeps instead of the towers. A really interesting concept. This game is a sequel -- the original came out in April of 2011 and is 11 Bit Studios' flagship title.
Keep in mind that I did not play the first one, so the entire experience in this video was new for me.
The game revolves around a not-to-distant future where a strain of towering, snake-like robots have become hostile to humans. You are a commander of a squad of tanks that must enter the battlefield and attack the "towers".
The game is set in North America -- though it's a snowy, desolate North America where all the highways are ripped up and heading to grandma's house means taking your life into your own hands.
This title has two game modes -- the single player "story mode" and the multiplayer campaign. During single player, you follow along with the story -- which is totally on-rails, though you do have the option to occasionally flip the switch and take an alternative rail.
The multiplayer is a lot more open and fluid, allowing each player to decide how exactly to out-maneuver/corner the other.
The game is a 2.5GB install. The settings menu was great. You can rebind your keys, which is fantastic. The graphics settings don't support anything other than 4:3 aspect ratio, so no 1280x720 for me.
The help menu was perfect. It had text if I wanted just to read something quickly and then video/audio if I wanted a demonstration. It covers every unit and gameplay mechanic.
What kind of mechanics you ask? Well, you have a tactical map that allows you to choose the best path for your guys to follow. You also have a gear menu that allows you to upgrade and purchase new units.
Aside from that, you are a commander and you must personally run around the field of battle, dropping health packs and decoy units that will distract the towers.
Now, keep in mind that you personally can be shot by the towers just the same as your guys. I find it odd that you're a tiny foot soldier who can take the same amount of damage as an army tank, but we're going to skip that part.
Now, units is where this game really gets exciting. You have a vast array of units that all do different things and have various advantages and disadvantages. The object is to mix and match your units to balance your squad as a whole.
Of course, the enemy has various units as well -- which really comes into play during the multiplayer games when one of the players seizes control of the robot snakes.
Given the genre of the game, the graphics are beautiful. It's a top-down 2.5D view with lots of stuff in the foreground that obstructs your view, but none of it in critical combat areas, so you never have any trouble seeing your enemy.
The opening cutscene was awesome -- two guys traveling around; couple of best-friend scavengers looking for weapons, food, and chicks. It was so good, in fact, that I was depressed that I couldn't follow their story after the whole thing changed directions and focused on the army and their morph-able tanks.
The one guy was goofy, but he was wearing an American flag banana -- you know he was a badass.
The next couple of cutscenes managed to bring me back into the story. Some were just text on a screen as your guy -- acting as the narrator telling the story to someone in the future -- fills in the details. Others were very engaging and made me forget about the exposition.
The storyline is great. I love the whole rogue robot meets heroic military vibe they got going. The friendly unit design is well thought out and how they play against the enemy towers works for me -- provided you're not playing on "nightmare" mode where the enemy snake towers spread like kudzu.
This game is not about destroying all the towers. In fact, this game is about destroying as few of the towers as necessary to get from point A to point B.
The sole purpose of the tactical map is to plan the path of least resistance to spare your guys a gruesome death.
My grief with this game revolves around the same issues I take with all tower defense games. And it's this: why doesn't anyone ever leave the road?
It's a well known fact that 1400 Greeks at Thermopylae incapacitated the entire Persian army by tricking them into taking the road.
In browser-based tower defense games, sure, the enemy creeps in the road are mindless orcs. They don't know about strategy.
In this game, I'm a tank commander. I've read Patton's book; now let me use it.
But let's set that aside for a moment.
In traditional tower defense games, there are hundreds of creeps who advance forward until they overwhelm the defenses and reach the castle.
In this game, you've got six dudes.
But even if we accept the premise that you are strapped for units and must survive where everyone else failed, the storyline of the game is one big long tutorial. It might open up later, but I made it to level five and they still wouldn't let me use all of my skills or all of the units.
I'm not going to wait forever. Stop holding my hand and let me fight off killer robot snakes! If this game was not a tower defense game, it would be a whole lot of fun. If I had a 16x16 city grid to work with and could stop my units from time to time or send out scouts, I could be a lot more effective as a commander.
Outside of the limitations, I also have some complaints about the static in the background of the menu screen -- which you are exposed to for several minutes while you wait for a multiplayer game to start. After a while, it began to make me car sick and I was forced to take a break. That's something that's unique to me and will only effect a few people.
More obvious, that the multiplayer maps are locked until you play X-number of matches is foolish. As is not matching players if they chose different maps.
However, I did like the multiplayer a lot. Ironically, it fixes all of the problems I have with the story mode.
If they can farm a core group of players, I can see this title having a strong multiplayer following. It's very chess-like.
I want to love this one. I truly do, because I feel like they took a lot of time and care in making the thing. The units are very creative on both sides of the conflict and being able to out-maneuver an enemy that is bound to a plant-like root system should be a ton of fun.
Combine that with a cool story, and all the raw materials were there.
But it's a tower defense game and with that design choice comes all the sham tactics that tower defense games require -- namely forced marching and on-rails path-finding. And sadly, this game forgot the most important one -- hundreds of creeps.
For me, this title is sabotaged by it's own genre and I can look past neither its limitations nor the straight-jacket I was saddled with long enough to see any bigger picture.