Don’t let the screenshots fool you: This isn’t the game you think it is.
The first Anomaly was an unexpected sleeper hit that found a successful formula on flipping tower defense on its head by putting the player in the role of the invader. It’s not entirely dissimilar to the tower defense genre since Anomaly still revolves around choosing the right units in preparation of foe types to come. The key difference is that in this game the player has a say in the pace and positioning.
Anomaly 2 builds upon the first entry by accentuating the game’s twitch-based elements and introducing story elements that differentiate missions. Anomaly 2 is a more complex and difficult game, but it doesn't fix the faults in the winning formula 11 bit Studios established in 2011.
Anomaly 2 (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed])
Developer: 11 bit Studios
Publisher: 11 bit Studios
Released: May 15, 2013
I either love or hate tower defense games with very little room between the two extremes. The dividing factor is basically "action" or the lack thereof. Waiting for impending doom is boring, but I won’t notice if you give me sun drops or coins to collect. Anomaly is all about action, which is what made the original stand out. As the name suggests, it’s a strange amalgamation of genres and design that is hard to qualify.
The fourteen levels of Anomaly 2 take place from within two viewpoints. Off the field, the game most closely resembles tower-defense as you plan actions on a map that displays enemy towers that will meet your troops. Since you are the creeps, not the towers, you can choose different routes and even loop back to the beginning (though there isn’t often a good reason to do this). You also buy a variety of vehicles that offer defense, support, offense, or produce buffs, like slowing enemies down or temporarily cloaking the squad.
On the field, Anomaly plays more like an action game as you frantically acquire and apply support to your squad via area-of-effect abilities. Directing an EMP blast that temporarily disables a heavy damage tower is as essential to success as a well rounded squad. Anomaly 2 refines abilities, getting rid of the lackluster mist and bomb drop and adding in an EMP blast and power-up that concentrates fire on a single unit. The mix of slow paced strategic planning and fast-paced, click-happy action gives Anomaly a unique and engaging ebb-and-flow.
Subtle refinements to user interface and unit design make Anomaly 2 a better game, but it’s the addition of alternate roles for units and the vastly improved graphics that make this sequel a noticeable step-up. Each unit in Anomaly 2 has an alternate form which is accessed with a double click. Most of these forms are similar to each other, such as the gatling gun assault unit morphing into a walking mech with flamethrowers. I never used the Hell Hound mech outside the tutorials, but I found myself constantly switching the forms of my missile unit -- one offers a deadly direct shot while the other has a wider range but weaker attack. Doubling units’ abilities adds a greater variety of tactical loadouts and makes the action a bit more frantic as constantly switching between forms becomes standard procedure.
I played the first Anomaly on my Nexus 7, so I had a hard time adapting to the control of a commander unit present in Anomaly 2 (on PC). Using touch controls to trigger abilities feels intuitive, so it was a jarring experience to find myself using a mouse to direct an on-field commander who acted as the trigger and spawn point of abilities, instead of my finger tips. This may be old hat for those who played Anomaly on PC or console, but it bugged me, nonetheless. I often lost my commander’s position when combat got heated, got stuck on geometry, and wrestled with the camera until things clicked several missions in. If you have the patience, I’d recommend waiting for Anomaly 2 on tablet. Doing so, however, may detract from the great visuals.
The scope and scale of Anomaly 2 is much greater than its predecessor, as it features cutscenes, narrative-driven missions, and detailed landscapes. Each of the game’s 14 missions introduces a new mechanic, squad unit, and/or enemy tower. Some of the missions, such as one where you need to defend a base located in the center of a map, aren’t much fun but at least all of them have their own unique look and objective. From Rio to Antarctica, the game looks fantastic even if the levels are all propping up a painfully written and acted story. Thankfully, the cutscenes and dialogues exchanges are brief but not brief enough for a title destined for mobile.
While the greater scale makes for a more exciting visual experience, the increased size of the maps also highlights problems from the first Anomaly. Halfway through the game, I started to feel fatigued as I settled into using the same strategies. I also found myself -- as I so often did in the first -- putting myself into a corner by draining my abilities or health right before a checkpoint, forcing me to restart from the beginning. All of this makes me wish the game's levels were divided into smaller pieces. While the framework of Anomaly makes for some fun strategy, it also paves the way for some frustrating issues.
Multiplayer is an interesting but overall lackluster addition to the series. With a scant five maps (four of which need to be unlocked through play), it doesn’t seem the developer is considering it more than an experiment. I have a hard time gauging the success of this experiment, however, since my time with it found me in a couple amateur matches.
One player sets up towers (the game literally becomes tower defense), while the other directs a squad (identical to singleplayer). Finding the right build flow for the tower defense side is essential, as the offending squad can quickly decimate the buildings. At the same time, the tower defense side can build massive forces (through towers that acquire more building resources) that can be near impossible to combat if not wiped out first. Whether seasoned players will eventually discover a balance to multiplayer is an issue to be addressed after release, but I can say that, as an amateur, it’s not very fun or rewarding.
Anomaly 2 builds upon the original in every way, leaving me to wonder if this is as good as the concept of a deconstructed tower defense game can get. Anomaly 2 is an immediate and exciting strategy game unlike any other, but over time the repetition and lack of depth leaves something to be desired. It’s a welcome distraction on a phone or tablet, but the limits of the game are quickly noticed when played in long bursts on PC. For fans of the first that looked past these shortcomings, Anomaly 2 is a bigger, smarter, and better looking game.