There was a certain novelty to the idea of Anomaly: Warzone Earth that made the gaming press “ooh” and “aah” so much and fawn over the game. Much of that was because the idea of a Tower Offense game was something legitimately new in a sea of so much of the same things. Another part of why the first Anomaly worked so well was because it was primarily for iOS, with other versions coming later. Depending on which review you read, the game was lauded for its controls or criticized for them. Anomaly controlled well enough on an iDevice, but that experience fared differently when it was translated to console and PC. To be fair, I don’t personally know which version is superior as I don’t own an iDevice. Thus when Anomaly 2 was assigned to me, I went in with some trepidation and not a lot of expectation. I had played the first game, but it wasn’t something that connected with me and it ended up in my ever growing backlog on Steam.
So how is Anomaly 2 different? It can be said that it looks a lot better than its predecessor. The levels are rich with detail, and really drive home the idea that you are commanding in the middle of the hellish leftovers of Earth. Enemies look sharper, though much the same, and it does seem like the units that you control have been completely redesigned. There is also a new multiplayer mode that I was not able to try out. This isn’t uncommon when dealing with reviewing games at press time, however, as we have a hard time finding someone else to play with simply because the game just isn’t out yet. So while there is a seemingly non-impactful new multiplayer that I couldn’t play, that’s about where the changes end.
– UPDATE 5/15 –
After launch, I’ve taken the opportunity of fans and other journalists playing the game to give multiplayer a go, in hopes it would alleviate some of the frustrations I experienced with the main game. This was also to give a better and clearer picture of Anomaly 2 as a whole. The multiplayer puts one opponent in the shoes of the Commander, and the other opponent in control of the aliens, and placement of the alien towers. I paired up with not only randoms online, but another member of the staff for this foray into multiplayer madness, and our collective experience was a reinforcement of the inherent issues of the game. We both found the setup, layout, and objectives confusing and arduous to learn. Once we did familiarize ourselves with the game enough to play it, the experience itself just wasn’t very fun.
Anomaly 2 is the same formula as the first game, just tuned up a little bit better and with a shinier coat of paint. There are some new additions here and there, but this is largely the same game that Anomaly: Warzone Earth was. The problem that starts developing early on is one of forced innovation and iterated progress. The game likes to give you the illusion of choice and freedom on the battlefield, but it is really just an illusory thing at best. The set up pretty much spells it out; plot your path through a maze of enemies, and let your convoy go to work while you juggle power ups to buff your troops, or evade enemies. This means you will always be traveling very deliberately toward a goal in a very linear path. You can alter that path and make breathtaking choices like “left turn” or “right turn” but other than that, the game plays like an almost on rails experience.
Anyone looking for variety in the form of the combat or the units will probably end up disappointed. The only change in units is the new ability to morph. This means all of your units can transform into another version of themselves with a different set of abilities. This seems like it would be a great addition for the game, but in actuality it adds variety in the form of stress. Changing your units on the fly seems good and well until you realize that you’ve only got so much time to perform so many actions before it all goes to hell. So if you need to change a unit from a long range spec to a short range spec, that’s simple enough; but also need to deploy a decoy, heal your convoy and change spec? That’s altogether different. This little additional strategic element makes the game infuriating more often than it should be; and it strangely makes the game feel like a more hectic RTS at a certain point.
This level of anxiety isn’t really something that I expected out of a game that got its beginnings as an iOS title — games usually aimed at a casual audience. To make matters exceptionally more confounding is that the mouse cursor for your character is gray, and your character is gray. Why is the color choice a problem? Well, I would say a good 45% of the game takes place on streets with asphalt, or in the ruins of cities. As you can imagine, there is a lot of gray going on at times and it becomes absurdly easy to completely lose track of the cursor and the character. When you’re dealing with a game that routinely surprises you with attempted murder, those lost seconds can mean life or death. Gamers hate dying in games sure, but gamers especially hate dying in a game because it put them at a disadvantage with poor mechanics or design. This happens too often here because of top down design that hasn’t learned the lessons of established veterans. Mouse cursor colors should be an obvious and playtested thing; unit upgrade paths as pithy substitutions for content is just lazy.
The novelty wears thin when you realize that you’ve actually been playing Tower Offense games for a very long time as “Real Time Strategy” games. Here Anomaly 2 is trying to reinvent its own wheel with little tiny incremental upgrades instead of taking the same drastic approach that gained it such praise in the first place. The result isn’t something groundbreaking; the result is a confused and missed opportunity that has more in common with RTS games in every wrong way possible.