The lights are on
Mechs are cool. Whether it be the transforming beasts from Power Rangers or hulking Gundams from the countless anime series out there, one thing is clear: machines outfitted for war are powerful – especially if they can transform into something totally different at a moment’s notice.
Anomaly 2, a “tower offense” game, has such mechs thanks to new unit-morphing feature. Morphing units allow players to change their long-range, chain gun-totin’ Assault Hound tanks into a closed-quarters terror – aptly named the Hell Hound – containing flamethrowers on each arm.
Another unit, the Sledge Hammer, is one of the most powerful weapons of war acquired early on. It changes from a vehicle limited to utilizing a 30-degree firing range into the frog-like Rocket Hammer, able to shoot missiles in all directions.
These transformations aren’t just for the mech-loving kid inside of us to ooh and ah. They serve a tactical purpose that deepens the strategic experience in Anomaly 2. In Anomaly: Warzone Earth much of the strategy consisted of buying the same units to put in the same formation (there is one convoy makeup that works most of the time), and just focusing on choosing which routes to take in each level.
Having units that can serve multiple purposes, not to mention new enemies and ones that evolve to become even trickier to defeat, means there is much more to be constantly aware of – and more strategic decisions to make.
Do I keep my long-range Sledge Hammer firing away at far-off units to weaken them, thus leaving the Rocket Hammer dormant and unable to help out with the close-quarters skirmish? Or, should I have every unit pitching in on close-range combat, and face the next section of aliens at full health?
These decisions can be difficult to make as the game moves quickly, but it generally feels like Anomaly 2 presents players with more options for completing missions.
When Warzone Earth released in 2011, it was a breath of fresh air in what is still a crowded tower defense genre. At its simplest, a tower defense game tasks players with setting up defensive armaments in order to stop enemies that follow set paths. The Anomaly series breaks the mold in that you become the one following a path to your goal.
That path can be tailored on the fly via a tactical map to avoid locations rife with aliens waiting to vaporize you; constant changes to the battlefield keep players choosing new ways to reach their goals in one piece.
In the final mission of the demo I played, I could either break for the end goal or explore the level to see what was being highlighted on my map as points of interest. The risk involved paled in comparison to the reward: a new tank to add to the team and some Carusaurum, the in-game currency/resource used to purchase and upgrade units.
Another example of having to switch paths quickly is when aliens pop up in groups for ambushes. These surprise attacks keep players on their toes in what is already a challenging experience.
As is the case with the previous title and its kind-of-sequel, Anomaly: Korea, the visuals are slick. The game may take place in a frozen Canadian wasteland and New York City, but it is no less endearing to the eye.
The post-apocalyptic scenery is a reminder of a war with the aliens. Humans, having lost against their alien invaders, now travel around in convoys as scavengers. The mission is simple: take important information on Project Shockwave to Doctor Zander, and hope the last-ditch effort eradicates the pesky aliens for good.
Players take control of new combat-suit user First Lieutenant Simon Lynx. He’s new to the intricacies of the suit, but after some virtual reality missions he’s abruptly placed into the center of the war for survival.
Thankfully for him the combat suit is still a powerful tool. Just like in the previous titles, players can deploy special powers via the suit anywhere in the level. Always in control of Lynx, players can maneuver him around however they see fit to better place things like healing bubbles or decoys.
These power-ups are limited – enemies randomly drop them when defeated – but they’re crucial to your units not turning into a pile of steel and cloud of smoke. It does make the game a bit hectic when you’re trying to micromanage every little detail, but it is a controlled chaos representative of real-life skirmishes – if they had combat suits, mechs, and aliens.
On that note, Anomaly 2’s improved gameplay has it all: fun, alternate endings based on player decisions, and new ideas. It feels like a proper sequel, and also includes a multiplayer mode where players can take control of the aliens.
Anomaly 2 releases for PC, Mac, and Linux in the spring for $14.99. The franchise has had great success on iOS and Android, so the smart money is on Anomaly 2 releasing on those platforms as well even though developer 11bit has yet to announce any mobile plans for the game.