Taking the fight directly to the aliens!
The words "tower defense" usually cause me to hesitate, but like any genre it has the potential for transformation and reinvention. Just ask 11 Bit Studios, the developer behind the Anomaly series. They took the familiar tower defense formula and flipped it on its head. It essentially asks the question, "what if players are the aggressors and enemies have to fortify defenses to avoid an all-out assault?" Thus the series, and more specifically Anomaly 2, reveals itself as an important progression within the genre. Audiences recognized this when it was released last year but now PS4 owners can also familiarize themselves with the standout tower defense release.
Anomaly 2 touts a 14-chapter campaign that explores a straightforward plot in which alien crafts land on Earth and essentially take over the planet. Project Shockwave represents the last hope for humanity and it's up to players to recover the plans for that project and help produce a super weapon to wipe out the alien invasion. It's simple and often cheesy though it stands as a valid excuse for destroying cool-looking alien machines.
The narrative also paints a picture in which humanity takes action and brings the fight to the aliens. In turn, it results in a tower defense experience in which the name itself acts as a bit of a misnomer. Anomaly 2 is all about offensive preparation and pushing forward against enemy units. The aliens are the ones playing a traditional tower defense game, while players participate in something more active and dynamic. The start of each mission is traditional in the sense that time stands still while players prepare units and select a path to take during the mission. From that point on, it's time to wreak havoc on the alien scum.
Players control a commander unit who quickly moves across the battlefield as instructed, while vehicles move along a set path. The key to each mission lies in the way players use that commander unit to lay down special abilities and transform vehicles in the appropriate situations. The abilities range from Repair, which heals vehicles in a set radius, to Decoy, which draws enemy fire away from allied units. Enemy units drop stock for each ability as they are destroyed, so it becomes important to actually fight the aliens despite any temptation to slip by unnoticed. In turn, missions are often action-packed and challenging.
It's an unusual feeling of exhilaration, at least compared to other tower defense games I've played. Waiting around for enemies to appear often proves boring, but being the aggressor adds much-needed excitement to the genre. That doesn't mean Anomaly 2 avoids all genre pitfalls though. More specifically, I was struck by a lack of depth around the halfway point in the game. Though each vehicle can be transformed in the heat of battle, the lack of both unit and ability variety creates a scenario in which players find a useful strategy and stick to it. I didn't have to deviate much from my usual plan of action on a mission-to-mission basis, which results in an unwanted level of tedium.
The addition of multiplayer in Anomaly 2 ideally provides more depth in the sense that players will have to adjust strategies with each new opponent even if it also forces one player to revert back to the familiar tower defense formula. At least, those are my thoughts based on tutorial levels. The game includes no local multiplayer options and the online community is practically nonexistent. I was unable to connect to a match on multiple occasions, despite waiting for 10+ minutes each time. Hopefully the player count will increase with time, but as it stands I can't truly judge the online multiplayer.
Anomaly 2 largely overcomes its few missteps though. 11 Bit Studios laid the foundation with the first game in the series and Anomaly 2 continues to reinforce the novelty of that foundation. The simple reversal of roles really does make a difference, one that results in a more meaningful experience. It may not convert those who avoid the tower defense genre at all costs, but it does prove that a few small but important tweaks can change one's perception in a big way.
Code provided by publisher. Review based on PS4 version. Also available for PC, iOS, Android.