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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Review: Anomaly 2 (Sony PlayStation 4)

Review by Pierre-Yves L.

Anomaly 2 is the third tower offence game from 11 bit studios, and it puts players to the test by providing them with very limited resources and requires lots of forward thinking if they are to drive back the aliens that have invaded and already decimated most of the Earth. It's a similar formula to what 11 bit studios has done in the past, and that's not a bad thing at all.

Anyone familiar with the tower defence genre should find the reverse formula a comfortable adjustment. Players are put into the tactical leader’s seat as the commander of the convoy Yukon, and must lead their forces across frozen tundras to find food and supplies. This story outline fits itself into the gameplay perfectly as every level feels like a last ditch effort, where the humans struggle with minimal supplies in a desperate struggle for survival. Most of the time it looks like an endless line of enemy forces are standing between the convoy and its goal. As with the previous game at times players are able to choose between a couple of different paths through the levels, but none of these roads are easy because of how limited your forces are compared to your opponent's.

The core concept of Anomaly 2 is to reach the goal at the end of the road with as many units as possible. While destroying the towers between the start and the goal is fun and sometimes necessary, it is generally not the main purpose in this survival situation. Players move around the map as the actual Commander while their forces move along the set roads that must pass under enemy fire. Being in direct control of a unit has a purpose as you're setting up repair bubbles for your forces as well as decoys for the enemies to attack so that your units don't take damage, and this is what makes  Anomaly 2 that much more unique and interesting to play. Most games simply give players a disembodied cursor to navigate through the world with. Here, however caution is required as the commander unit has his own hit points, can come under fire and be 'killed'. The resulting respawn time as the commander heals up costs your forces precious time that can lead to them coming under fired. If they are destroyed, this results in a failed level.

Now while the convoy doesn’t have that much offensive power, what it does have works extremely well. Each unit is designed for multi-situational combat from frontal machine guns and laser cannons to variable degree double flame-throwers. Strategy comes into play as each unit has multiple functions, but cannot use them all at the same time. For example, the starting tanks with their mid range laser cannons can morph into bipedal mechs with close range dual-flame-throwers to attack towers on both sides of the roads at the same time, but they lose their range in doing so. While each of these modes has trade-offs, it allows them to have a role to play in any situation, where in most strategy games a unit will be worthless outside of its speciality.

The biggest portion that any player will spend doing as Commander is figuring out which road to take. Just about every level has a fork in the road in which some can seem easier or harder depending on the towers currently occupying the space. Other towers can be added on a moments notice and some are much more destructive than others. A menu of the field can be brought up at any time allowing players to choose which roads to take and modifying which forks to choose. If players wish to grant them more time, they can even have their forces circle back around if given the chance in order to destroy more towers, or collect more resources to buy or upgrade more units.

Checkpoints are conveniently placed in case of a disastrous decision or if the player wishes to try something different, but nonetheless restarting from these can be tedious as there is no option to increase the speed of gameplay to re-traverse to the desired point. Unlike most tower defence games where the action can be "fast forwarded" at will, Anomaly 2 doesn't have one. This can make experimenting or making mistakes time consuming. While this is not overly bothersome by any means, it does become noticeable during the above mentioned scenarios and can feel like it drags out until you get back to where you wanted your forces to be.

Offering up more than just a single player campaign, players also have access to a competitive multiplayer option. Multiplayer interestingly puts one player in the tower offensive style that the single player mode offers, while the other plays a more tower defence game. Sadly as much as I had wanted to, I was not able to find a multiplayer match, so I wouldn't expect the community for this game to hang around for too long.

Overall Anomaly 2’s release on the PS4 offers console players the chance to play an interestingly designed take on the tower defence genre in which we will hopefully see more of in the future.

- Pierre-Yves L.

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Review: Anomaly 2 (Sony PlayStation 4)
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