Under the Alien Dome with Number Fourteen
I might not always like Valve all that much, but I do adore Steam. There’s stuff you can find there that you’d never find through any other route. Case in point: Anomaly: Warzone Earth.
Tower defense games are one of my longstanding loves, and I’ve burnt away many an hour trying to set up the perfect maze of destructive towers for critters to march along. So when some random Steam-clicking sent me along to Anomaly, I immediately checked to see if there was a demo available. The game is the sort of thing that could backfire horribly, after all – a tower defense game in which you play the part of the oncoming hordes rather than building towers in your defense. And while that could be a neat inversion, it could also be a game that takes away one of the core bits of fun that make up a good tower defense romp.
Having played through the whole demo… sort of. You’re actually still playing a pretty bog-standard tower defense game, it’s just that your towers are mobile now and the enemy fires back. Everything you’d expect from the game is there, from the super-defensive unit that does no real damage but boosts its neighbors to the offensive unit without any real durability. Heck, there’s even a speed-up button to force your squad to move a little faster like in tower defense. You do have a player avatar, but it’s not particularly involved except in dropping beneficial auras on the ground along the path. And the predictable idiosyncratic fire control from your supposed units is in full effect, leaving you with a tower that will be ripping all of your units apart while they insist on firing at something fundamentally uninvolved.
According to the game’s backstory, you’re part of a (presumably British) unit sent to investigate after an alien ship crash-lands in Baghdad. Under the eponymous anomaly, you yadda yadda yadda oh look turrets let’s crawl along the street while they shoot at us. It’s as good an explanation for genre conventions as you’re likely to get, spiced up a bit by continual radio chatter from several faceless individuals. The story isn’t the point, mostly providing a framework as you plot out your route and provide some small benefits for your squad here and there, but it’s done with appropriate aplomb, and considering that it’s nothing but voice acting it deserves some credit. (Although I’m pretty sure the military doesn’t pay individual squads for killing enemy units.)
If there’s a real fault to the game from what I’ve seen, it’s that it really is pretty much standard tower defense. Stuff like plotting out your routes feels innovative at first, but when you realize you’re doing the same thing as you’ve done in other games but from a different perspective, the charm gets lost. Plus, you’re denied one of the best parts of a tower defense game, when you get to watch your perfectly-designed engines of destruction crush the living heck out of incoming enemies.
That being said, it’s a well-done tower defense derivation with a whole lot of polish for an indie game. Seriously, the game feels meaty, and while there are little bits here and there that would have been nice (the unit sprites are awfully small, for instance), it’s not like the game doesn’t offer you a full buffet for your money. At ten bucks, there are worse options, and the game does aim appreciably high. It’s not the complete inversion that it wants to be, but it’s a pretty solid example of the genre despite that.
I don’t think I’m going to be picking up the full version just yet, though. It’s neat, but I have enough games on my plate at the moment, and it doesn’t have that certain ephemeral addictiveness to it. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve been totally spoiled by games that really engage me in a story.