Anomaly: Warzone Earth Preview

By Jeff Mattas, Dec 09, 2010 3:00pm PST Ever since the release of Desktop Tower Defense, scads of tower-defense games have been produced by a ton of developers. A sea of hits and misses followed that attempted to harness the addictive gameplay formula pioneered by the original. Indie developer 11Bit Studios upcoming game, Anomaly: Warzone Earth, flips the tower-defense gameplay on its head. Instead of placing turrets to defend against waves of attackers, the player assumes the role of antagonist, guiding a convoy of various units through the field of battle. You'll be defending your convoy (basically a mobile base) while attacking enemy turrets and vehicles in your path.

Not long ago, 11Bit stopped by the Shacknews offices to show us how Anomaly is shaping up on PC, iPad, and iPhone. Despite the reminders that the builds I saw were in-progress, everything already looked like it was coming together quite nicely for its planned digital release in 2011.

According to 11Bit, Anomaly's plot is a simple one:

It's 2018. Just regular 2018. Nothing extraordinary has happened. Until an alien spaceship crashes in the middle of Baghdad. A protective dome goes up around the ship, almost immediately. No one can see in it, to see what's going on underneath. It's called the Anomaly. You are in charge of leading a convoy into the anomaly, discovering what's going on, assessing the situation, and going from there.

Each of the game's missions begins with a tactical view of the map, which displays all of the routes, intersections, and enemy placement. With the exception of a couple of missions with pre-selected loadouts, players begin by purchasing up to six different units for their team from a limited cash pool, and plotting the initial route through the map. The battlefield can change dynamically mid-mission, but players can enter tactical view at any time (which pauses the action) and re-plan their attack route.

Arranging the different types of units in a convoy is also an important strategic consideration. For example, the APC is heavily armored, but weak at attacking. The Crawler has a very strong dual-missile attack, but is slow and weaker when on defense. The Shield unit can project a protective bubble on the units directly in front and behind it, for some extra defense.

In another twist, players won't participate in the action via a disembodied mouse cursor. "Instead, there's an on-screen avatar. His is simply known as 'The Commander.' The squad cannot exist without The Commander. The Commander cannot exist without the squad." The Commander unit is "not just some that guy you run around with," clarifies 11Bit, but instead he "participates in the action to really support the squad."

The Commander has the ability to drop four different power-ups, called "deployables" to help the convoy survive. The "Smoke" deployable obscures the enemies' field of view within its radius, making your units tougher to pinpoint. The "Decoy" deployable draws enemy fire for a limited time, and the "Repair" deployable heals damage as units pass through its radius. Finally, the "Air Strike" deployable gives players some additional offensive punch. Resource caches can also be periodically located, but sometimes going after them can require taking a more out of the way route, potentially losing your score multiplier in the process. It's worth noting that The Commander is absent in the iPhone and iPad versions of the game, in lieu of letting players simply tap to drop deployables where they choose.

In addition to standard enemy turrets of the cannon-fodder variety, players will have to contend with a variety of special enemy units from giant Behemoth Tanks, Scorcher turrets that fire red-hot lasers, Singularity turrets that cause your team to turn on you, and Lightning turrets that can arc their firepower across multiple units at once. Tackling each enemy type effectively will require different tactics from the player. (Some are too deadly to approach head-on, for example.) Both player and enemy units have unique silhouettes, making them easy to identify for effective route-planning.

Anomaly: Warzone Earth will include 14 mission-based levels, as well as two "endless" modes. Standard mission objectives will range from "get to the waypoint" to "destroy everything." Special escort missions, and missions where you'll have to collect your convoy units from different points on the map are also present. After completing a mission for the first time, new challenge-based objectives become available, such as "hit the objective using only a certain type of unit, or beat the mission without using a specific deployable." "Endless mode" tasks players with destroying an enemy base within a time limit, and randomized enemy placement. According to 11Bit, it's not technically "endless," though, and can be beaten in about 3 hours. In all cases, online leaderboards will track the top performers.

Though the gameplay I saw was set in Baghdhad, Anomaly will feature a variety of different locations, as well as various lighting and weather conditions. While weather and lighting changes are primarily aesthetic, different cities will have disparate street layouts. Streets in Japan, for example, will have much denser, grid-like roadways, compared to Baghdad, and will require players to make a strategic adjustment.

In practice, the combination of frantic on-the-field action supplemented by the meaningfully strategic choices involving unit-organization and route-planning, seems like it could be a winning combination. The game's proprietary engine already looks quite capable, and the sharp unit design and great shadow-enhanced sense of isometric depth made my eyes quite happy.

Though the only version I was permitted to get my grubby mitts on was an unbalanced, early iPhone version, Anomaly still managed to get its hooks in pretty quickly. The missions on iPhone and iPad will also be tailored to be a bit shorter and more ideal for quicker play-sessions.

11Bit Studios is an eleven-man team based in Warsaw, Poland, created by former members of Metropolis Software. Metropolis worked with a variety of big publishers and developers, including Eidos, Ubisoft, and Atari, before being purchased by CD Projekt for their game "They." Shortly thereafter, some of the developers split off to form 11Bit Studios. Anomaly: Warzone Earth will be the first game to come out of the new studio, built entirely using its own proprietary tech. What I saw of Anomaly had only been in development for a year or less (depending on the platform), but was already looking pretty polished.

Anomaly: Warzone Earth is planned for an early 2011 release on PC and Mac, followed shortly thereafter by iPad and iPhone versions. Tower defense fans looking for a clever twists on the genre should most assuredly keep their eyes on this one.

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