When 11 Bit Studios came out with Anomaly: Warzone Earth a few years back, it seemed as though they had struck upon a formula that would lead them assuredly to success. Refining the ideas in the original release, by the time the game came to the Xbox Live Arcade it was near perfection. Almost unfortunately Anomaly 2 feels less like a sequel and more like a “what if” scenario, where most of the game’s aspects have been given split personalities, instead of upgrades. The reason that’s only almost unfortunate is that this new game, while distinctly different in several regards, still retains enough of the original’s good qualities – in other words, this game is really good, but only in those ways in which it resembles or harkens back to the original Anomaly. Specifically, the core concept of the game, which has you leading a squad of soldiers along paths to strategically attack stationary towers, remains intact and as intriguing as ever (and mysteriously not emulated by anyone else).
The story does and does not pick up where the last left off – it mentions that your previous victory over the invading machines was only temporary, and that humanity has now been pushed back outside the anomaly, the Earth covered in perpetual winter. Strangely, there’s no mention of the mysterious “others” whose people supposedly chased the machines across the cosmos to ensure their destruction, so for this title humanity is left entirely on its own. The game does retain its high visual fidelity, where said aliens look a little more impressive this time around – yet, inexplicably, this title does not support 1080p.
This time your commander may call upon five different units (as opposed to six before), where each unit has a second form that it can morph into. Each form has distinct advantages and disadvantages, such as distance or field of view restrictions, while really only three new unit types have been added: a unit that makes all others in the squad invisible, a unit that slows down enemy towers, and a unit that produces drones to bolster your commander’s powers. Arguably, each new addition doesn’t serve much purpose and you won’t find yourself relying too heavily on them (as guys with guns are the most useful during an intergalactic war). Though you’ll play a much more active role in managing your squad, successfully planning a route and determining which units should lead assaults on which enemy types is pretty satisfying.The commander has undergone some changes, where he leads your squad and deploys different powers in the same way he did originally on the PC, which is to say that you move him around with the keyboard, or by clicking on spots on the ground with the mouse. At this point the use of a controller is not supported (thought it looks like a future option). Sadly, this lack of support leads to a disconnect between the player and the general, where during moments of intense action you can completely lose track not only of the commander but the location of your cursor on the screen. Holding down the right mouse button does pause the action while you decide where to deploy an ability, so you do have a chance to recover and strategize, but the fact that the game gives you a way to work around one of its obvious flaws only makes you slightly less disgruntled about the existence of the problem.
The commander’s abilities have seen some insignificant changes which weren’t strictly necessary, and feel more like they were altered simply for the sake of saying they are new. The absence of the air strike ability is frustrating, and the addition of a disabling EMP burst seems cool until you realize the deactivated towers come back online once they take damage. You also have a suit ability which allows you to designate which tower your units will focus fire on, which really only raises the question as to why this isn’t a regular feature of the game, instead of one which replaces something more useful like the smokescreen.
All of the bad guys, from the first machine to the final boss, are basically the same as well. A few towers have been created deliberately to thwart successful strategies, like enemies that pop up out of the ground in groups and explode when killed, disabling your shields. Overall, this game is excessively more difficult than the original Anomaly was, which makes it all the more baffling that this sequel includes a higher tiered Nightmare difficulty – it will be all you can do to micromanage your squad through certain sections on Casual. So if the first game wasn’t challenging enough, 11 Bit has answered your prayers.The single player campaign still takes about five hours to beat, but here you don’t have the additional VR missions or extra campaigns supplementing your purchased product (yet?). What you do have is multiplayer, which sounds intriguing, but mostly isn’t. In multiplayer matches one player leads a squad while the other places towers on the map. Both players attempt to reach a certain score limit, where killing each other is the fastest way to achieve victory – not that there’s ever any danger of things moving too slowly. Matches can take less than a few minutes to complete if either player makes a mistake (in squad configuration or tower selection), as it’s difficult to adapt to changing strategies on the fly. Once you get the hang of things, an even match can be a fun little game of cat and mouse, with the squad player sniping at distant towers while the alien player does his best to protect his harvesters or generators. Presumably unlocking maps by playing ranked matches will extend the point threshold, which should extend the short length of day-one matches.
Overall, though the game provides plenty of things to complain about, the irony is that the design choices only appear weak when held in comparison to the first game. Were this a completely new title, it would be every bit as interesting, innovative and surprisingly beautiful as its progenitor. Unfortunately, this game doesn’t exist in that sort of vacuum, and simply cannot compete with the excellence of what 11 Bit has already achieved. If you haven’t played Anomaly before, the original game is strongly recommended. If you’re looking for a new challenge, this will suffice, so long as you’re not expecting it to trump the original’s Royal Flush. But in fairness to Anomaly 2, that’s a pretty high standard to have to live up to.
SCORE: 8.5 out of 10
A code for Anomaly 2 was provided to Pixel Related for review.