Anomaly: Warzone Earth hits its stride thirty minutes into an alien invasion in Baghdad, Iraq. This atypical strategy game puts you on the offense as you fight to take back Earth. Blending tower-defense and real-time strategy, the developers at 11 bit studios created a uniquely addictive game, which now has a home on Xbox Live Arcade.
Like most XBLA games, Anomaly: Warzone Earth focuses on gameplay over story. There are key plot elements at the very beginning of the tale and the end, but everything in between is a blur. Players are in charge of Earth’s defenses. In this game, that means a variety of tanks, mobile rocket launchers and mobile shields. Stages are presented in 2.5D top-down maps.
In most tower-defense games, you try to hold your ground against a barrage of enemies, while slowly building and rebuilding defensive tools as you gain loot. Anomaly: Warzone Earth makes the alien invaders the towers and puts you on the offensive. Real-time strategy comes into play as the aliens change up their defenses, forcing you to reroute your tanks. Players control the command leader, who can run around the map to pick up loot and distract enemies.
The battle takes place between Baghdad and Tokyo, two totally unrelated locations. Gamers start in Baghdad to a lackluster opening, which prepares you for the gameplay. On the first stage, the aliens blast open pits in the road. Gamers have to call up their citywide map and adjust their route so that their tanks don’t fall into the pit. It seems simple enough. However, by the third stage, you’ll have to adjust your route, while shooting down alien ships and stations. Needless to say, the ships become more abundant and much more powerful as you progress through the game.
In the first stages of Baghdad, the game will set you up with a default set of tanks. These can be upgraded up to three times to strengthen armor and attack power. You can also change up your tank formation at any time. This becomes especially important once you have access to shield units and the Dragon tank, which comes with a flamethrower. Guarding weaker missile units with your shields is just as important as protecting units that are heavily damaged. The Dragon tank is powerful, but has a much shorter attack range than the long-range mobile missile units.
When you take down enemy towers, you will often be rewarded with a loot drop from your air force. These power ups allow you to repair damaged units, setup smoke screens, create decoy units and paint targets for an aerial strike. Players will need to use these bonus items sparingly, especially when enemy bases begin to turn your troops against the command leader or drain your energy to rebuild enemy ships. The frenetic battle really gets chaotic once you’re in Tokyo. By the final two stages, of this fourteen-stage game, it will be nearly impossible to make it through a map without losing a few units. Although you can buy back units at any time, seeing one of your leveled up units get blown up will cause you to pull your hair out.
The game does a good job of mixing up the combat across the fourteen stages. At first, players are simply trying to get from point A to point B. Just when you’re getting comfortable, 11 bit studios adds in an escort mission, where you have to protect one of your airships flying overhead. Instead of focusing on getting your vehicles to the designated meeting area, your first goal is to take out any alien target that is in firing range of the airplane you are escorting. Timed missions are also integrated into the game. Instead of taking the easier route, and building up your bonus item cache, you’ll have to battle your way through the most difficult sections first. It’s nerve racking but great. You will also be forced to change your strategy when time bombs are dynamically planted in the middle of your route or overhead lasers – that work like the Gears of War ‘Hammer of Dawn’ – begin to target you.
Anomaly: Warzone Earth is one of the best additions to tower defense and real-time strategy gaming on XBLA. As you play through the game, you will be able to unlock bonus games for additional gaming beyond the main story campaign. Three levels of difficulty also keeps the war fast, furious and definitely worth your time and attention.