Anomaly 2 is a successful and welcome sequel that improves upon the original in almost every way.
Anomaly 2 is a well-polished and intense addition to the unusual “tower offense” sub-genre, but while its new “convoy-versus-towers” multiplayer twist is an interesting idea, in execution it leaves a little bit to be desired.
The sequel to 11 Bit Studios’ 2011 release Anomaly: Warzone Earth, Anomaly 2 takes place in the year 2034: in the wake of an alien invasion that has left Earth shattered and broken, and the few remaining human survivors scavenging like rats for food and supplies in a desperate, endless struggle for survival. Yet there is hope, in the form of a super-weapon known as Shockwave that might just turn the tide. The scientist who created it is still alive, and it’s up to you, as First Lieutenant Simon Lynx, to lead the team that will rescue him and enact revenge upon humanity’s enemies.
It’s not exactly a Mario Puzo novel, but as an excuse to direct a small but heavily-armed group of transforming tanks through ranks of creepy alien turrets, the story is quite adequate. In fact, Anomaly 2 does a fine job of dressing up the game in Sunday finery. The blasted Earth is a hazy blue-grey (hey, nobody said nuclear winter was pretty) but the lighting and level of background detail is excellent, and it gets considerably more colorful as you work your way deeper into the game. Weapon effects are also impressive – rockets leave satisfying trails of white smoke, while the heat of alien scorchers shimmers over cracked, blackened roads – and when things blow up, they blow up real good. It’s also a pleasant surprise that the voice acting is generally decent. It’s not great, but for a niche indie title it’s actually quite good; some of the accents are hokey but the delivery is committed and well-paced.
You control Lt. Lynx, the commander of a convoy of one to six military vehicles, while plotting the course the convoy will follow on an overhead tactical map, and then supporting it on the ground as it moves through ruined streets by using one of four special abilities. Each ability has a small area of effect and a brief lifespan, after which it expires; to use the Repair ability on the convoy, for instance, you drop a “repair token” in its path, and the units driving through it will be partially or fully repaired. You’ll gain the other three abilities as the game progresses, eventually allowing you to place Decoys to distract enemy turrets, disable them completely with EMPs, or direct your convoy’s fire with the A.I.M. ability.
It’s a simple and elegant system, but it comes at the cost of some feeling of immersion. Concessions to gameplay are unavoidable, but sooner or later you’re bound to wonder why you can’t tell your convoy to pull over and stop for a minute – you can’t, by the way; it’s an inexorable journey forward that can only be paused by entering the overhead map – or why it takes a special ability to tell your guys what to shoot at. This latter point can be especially frustrating after the introduction of a turret type that actually becomes more powerful and dangerous if you shoot at it with the wrong kind of weapon: a fact your crew just doesn’t seem to grasp no matter how much you yell at them. And trust me on this; I yelled at them a lot. It adds a layer of challenge by mandating on-the-fly convoy manipulation – buying new units, selling old ones, changing the marching order – but inevitably, there are moments when the inability to issue some very basic orders to your soldiers feels a little overly contrived.
There are four difficulty levels, and although the lowest, “Casual,” is for the most part a cakewalk, anything beyond that can be challenging, and sometimes extremely so. Anomaly 2 is a very hands-on game, and while you can spend an awful lot of time poring over the tactical map, planning your route from start to finish, and then modifying it as the situation changes, you’ll also have to be quick with the mouse to collect abilities and then use them when needed to keep your convoy alive (and they’ll be needed a lot).
Despite the strengths of the single-player portion of Anomaly 2, the vaunted addition of multiplayer, which puts one player in control of the human convoy while the other takes command of the alien turrets, is somewhat less compelling. It’s a straight-up arena battle that eschews the narrative of the single-player mode, and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself, what it ultimately adds up to is a large and largely empty grid to fill with turrets or drive aimlessly around on. The turrets are trickier to control than the convoy, yet the tutorial explaining their use is almost hopelessly vague, and victory conditions can also be heavy-handed and sometimes result in fairly evenly-balanced battles coming to a very sudden and unexpected end. The turrets also seemed to have a distinct advantage over the convoy (once we figured them out), and while that could be just a matter of practice making perfect, the truth is that after seven or eight matches, my multiplayer partner and I didn’t bother exploring it further because we’d grown bored.
A rather glaring technical issue with checkpoints means that choosing to reset to the previous checkpoint will sometimes take you back to a point much further in the game, costing significant chunks of playtime. Compounding that issue is the lack of a “save anywhere” function; some of the levels can be pretty lengthy, especially if you spend a lot of time planning your route or just horsing around, and if some real-life intrusion pops up, the only thing you can do is pause the game and leave it running. A simple “save and exit” option would go a long way toward alleviating potential aggravation, especially as long as the wonky checkpoints remain.
But on the whole, Anomaly 2 is a successful and welcome sequel. The multiplayer component feels unnecessary and tacked on, but the single-player game improves on the original in almost every way. If you enjoyed Anomaly: Warzone Earth, or if you just have a taste for strategy games that do things a little differently, then Anomaly 2 is a no-brainer.