I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with tower defense games. On the one hand, they can be extremely fun and tactically very deep; on the other, they’re often very difficult and take up a large amount of time to pass a single level. Spending 45 minutes on one stage only to lose at the very end is common on many of these sorts of games, and I’m not sure there’s a genre I’ve said “screw this, I’m out” more at because of it. And into this sweet and sour mess comes 11 Bit’s Anomaly series, which threatens to turn everything onto its head by reversing the formula and allowing the player to control the creeps rather than the towers. So, how does the latest entry stack up?
In Anomaly 2 (out now, $4.99) your task is to lead a convoy through a variety of different post-apocalyptic environments while taking down huge alien towers. If it sounds similar to the first two iOS entries, Warzone Earth (our review) and Korea, that’s because it is. Very little has changed as far as gameplay is concerned, which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on how much mileage you got out of the first two games.
One thing that is changing this time around, quite literally, is the way units in your squad function. Each one has two forms, which can be switched between with a quick double tap. This effectively doubles the amount of vehicles in the game as each unit’s second form is usually quite a bit different than the default version. For example, the Sledge Hammer unit has an extremely high range but can only fire straight ahead, but when morphed it turns into the Rocket Hammer which has a short range but fires in full 360 degrees. It’s a neat mechanic and adds a whole new layer to think about when leading your convoy into the fray.
Most everything else in the game is largely the same as its predecessors, including the high difficulty. It’s entirely possible (nay, probable) that I just suck at this series, but about halfway through the campaign I had to drop down from “Normal” difficulty to “Casual”. It wouldn’t be that bad — afterall, I like a good challenge — but it can take up to thirty minutes or more sometimes to pass a level, and as I mentioned in the opening, it really kills my buzz to be destroyed in a few seconds at the very end of all that.
Making matters worse is that unless you have some of the more recent generation of iDevices, the game can be quite choppy and prone to crashes. This was a huge problem when the game was first released, but luckily a quick update alleviated some of the issues. However, as of this writing I still was experiencing fairly regular crashes on my iPad 2 (I know, I know, it’s old tech). And though closing all other apps and restarting fixed most of the crashes, the game still lagged pretty horribly at the beginning of some missions.
Thankfully, there’s a pretty good reason for that choppiness: the game is one of the best looking things you’ll see on iOS. It’s absolutely stunning, especially on a tablet with a bigger screen (and even more so with a big ol’ retina display, I’d imagine). It somehow manages to look stylized and incredibly realistic at the same time, with devastatingly rendered wastelands full of crumbling buildings and crawling with spider-like robots and huge alien monsters. The game is almost worth the whole asking price just for the visuals alone.
Of course, a game can’t stand on visuals alone, and while 11 Bit Studios has arguably perfected their “Tower Offense” formula this time around, it often ends up feeling more frustrating than fun. That’s not to say it’s a bad game; on the contrary, it’s an incredible game (and perfect for tablets). I just hope next time they add a Stupid Baby Mode or something so non-masochists like me can enjoy it more.
iFanzine Verdict: Anomaly 2 by 11 Bit Studios is a beautiful game that is in many ways a perfect evolution of the first two games. It carries over all the best stuff while adding a few new mechanics and even a surprisingly complete multiplayer mode. Unfortunately, the game is incredibly challenging even on lower difficulties and has some stability issues. However, if you enjoyed the first two games, this third entry will be everything you want and more.