Rage Against the Machines: Anomaly 2 [Review]
Anomaly 2 is the sequel to Anomaly Warzone Earth. That’s pretty much all the back ground I have for you since, unfortunately, I did not play the original Anomaly. Most games will provide some of the background story if their sequel continues a connected storyline, but apparently the developers of Anomaly 2 didn’t feel this was necessary. All I really knew at the start of the game was that machines came to earth, we thought we beat them, but then they came back and beat us. The plot of Anomaly 2 is that a scientist has developed a weapon that will end the machine threat for good, so you need to get him and his crew so they can help you take out the machines globally.
Even though I didn’t like being left in the dark regarding the story of the first game (which you could say is my own fault), Anomaly 2’s story doesn’t appear to rely heavily on it. If you’re not familiar with the Anomaly series at all, it is a reverse tower defense game that takes place on a future earth, one that has seized in a permanent winter due to the war with the machines. In the single player you play as the human forces, and they need to make their way through streets filled with machine towers to complete various objectives. In the multiplayer you can choose either side, with humans always assaulting and machines always defending.
I have to admit, this game was way more engaging than I thought it would be. I realized it was reverse tower defense, but assumed for the most part I would setup my convoy, upgrade it as needed, and generally watch the fruits of my labor plow through some buildings. I realized I was wrong from the start of the game.
As a player the only thing you directly control is the commander: a character that walks on the field with a special suit that allows you to deploy and pick up power ups. I thought that if the commander went down it would be game over since he’s not that easy to kill, however I found the he is just disabled for three seconds. I’m going to get into the power ups a bit later because I think it would be best to explain how the game plays out.
At the beginning of each level (or at least most of them) you can choose which units you would like to fill your convoy with. You can choose up to six units, mixing and matching them as you see fit. You can’t choose for free, however; there is an in-game currency and each unit has a cost. You’ll get a certain amount of currency to start each level with, and you can pick up additional currency around the map or by destroying towers. That extra currency around the map is usually placed out of the way, so getting to it may not even be worth it if it’s heavily defended. The choice is yours.
I thought I was going to have a large selection of units to choose from for the humans. I was wrong, and I’m glad I was. Each unit has a transformation that allows it to not only change form, but completely change functionality. This meant that I didn’t have to worry about choosing certain units at the beginning of the level and then switching them out later because my surroundings had changed. For example, the Sledge Hammer is a long range artillery unit that can pack a major punch from a distance. Bad news is that it can only fire in a 30 degree radius, so urban combat will usually take these guys out of the equation. Its transformation is into the Rocket Hammer, which allows it to fire rockets in any direction at mid-range.
These transformations aren’t perfect, however. The Sledge Hammer has good armor, but changing into the Rocket Hammer will decrease that armor. Same thing goes with the Assault Hound, a vehicle with double six barrel guns. For close range combat it can change into the Hell Hound which has dual flame throwers, but they are only viable at short range. Besides the assault units, you also have support units which you can use to give yourself a strategic advantage or perhaps create extra power ups for you. My favorite had to be the Guard, which in Gripper mode slowed down enemy fire rate, targeting, and movement, but in Shield mode it shielded up to five allies.
Your units can also be upgraded, but it costs currency and it gets very expensive. Each upgrade will increase specific attributes of your units, and sometimes you will be forced to choose between upgrading or perhaps buying another unit. The upgrades are potent enough to make you think whether or not you want to have two Assault Hounds, or just upgrade one and let it tear shit up.
The levels are built like you would expect real cities to be built, so there are lots of cross-roads and intersections which mean you have an abundance of choice in where to go. The commander controls the path of the convoy via the Tactical menu, which also allows you to view most of the map and enemy placement on the map so you can decide which route you want to take. Some parts of the map will not be available to you because of scramblers, so you just need to be prepared for that. I felt the pathing could have been displayed a bit better when it came to overlapping pathways. On a few occasions I accidentally took a wrong turn because I didn’t realize that the change I made was on a second pass of the area.
It felt like choice was a big part of the game, and I had a lot of thinking to do. Many of the objectives you need to get to can be reached from multiple paths, and I needed to decide which way to take my convoy based on the squad I had formed. If I had a ton of power ups it wasn’t that big of a deal, but in those (many) cases where power ups were slim and my squad was a bit beat up, I had to decide how to get to my objective (or at least the next power up) without losing squad members.
Power ups are dropped by destroyed towers and come in the form of repair kits, decoys, EMPs, and AIM. Decoys and repair kits were used heavily since there are some areas you have no way of making it through without getting your squad hammered; so you put down a repair area that your squad will ride through to keep them alive while taking out enemy towers. Decoys helped distract towers, as they focused their fire on the decoy; this especially helped with large, powerful towers. EMPs will disable towers for a short time, only reactivating them if they are fired upon, and AIM allows you to direct the fire of your squad to a single target.
All these things together turn what I thought would be a more laid back strategic game into a hectic one. As the commander you are very active— constantly using power ups, morphing units, picking up power ups that drop from enemies, altering routes, and even changing the formation of your squad. The battles can get very frantic, and missing a power up drop, forgetting to transform a unit, or having your squad in the wrong formation can cost you greatly. Resources are limited, so you need to keep what you have alive and use power ups only when you need to—especially toward the end of the game.
As I mentioned earlier, you do get a chance to play as the machines but that’s only in multiplayer. There are three tutorials available for the machines, but I highly recommend playing through the campaign first. The tutorials give you a general understanding of how to use the machines, but, to be honest with you, they are quite lacking. They don’t really explain the difference between the buildings and what they do. They don’t explain what buildings are good in what scenarios. They didn’t even explain that there was a structure limit, and that if you go over that limit older structures you had in place would disappear.
The first thing I jumped into was the multiplayer tutorials, and to say they were frustrating is being nice. I didn’t even know what power ups were and which ones did what, so when the AI was using power ups I really didn’t know how to deal with them. That being said, once I finished the campaign I had a much better understanding of not only the human side, but the machine side and the effects of the towers.
There are towers for every occasion—towers that are good against slow-firing units, towers that blast through shields, and even towers that need to absorb damage to transform and become extremely powerful if the commander makes the mistake of using a fast firing unit. The towers are able to deploy their own abilities like healing, temporarily increasing strength at the cost of health, or even taunting the moving units. There are other structures that allow you to harvest currency and even negate the effects of power ups.
The tower defense part of the game looked pretty solid, but the only problem is that no one is playing multiplayer. The game has only been out for a week and I was unable to find anyone online. I was disappointed, but with the game only being $15, I can’t imagine it would be that hard to get a buddy to pick it up and play with you; especially since the 2-pack is $25.
Even though I didn’t get a chance to enjoy the multiplayer the way I wanted too, the campaign is worth the $15 alone. Now that I’ve finished the campaign I’m very interested in going back and playing through it again on a higher difficulty. Not only can I increase my global rank, but at the end of each level you are graded on speed, efficiency, and ruthlessness. Now I get a chance to improve those as well.
With the game giving players so many choices all the way down to the end, I feel it has a lot of replayability. If the multiplayer community ever picks up I think that would be a nice bonus on top of an already great game, but for now I’ll have to be content with the campaign and reaching the top of the global ranking. I think Anomaly 2 is a great RTS that provides action a lot of other RTS and tower defense games don’t. I recommend it to players looking for strategy, challenge, and fun.