Did I miss something? Back when Anomaly: Warzone Earth came out it was the apple of most critics’ eyes. Then Anomaly 2 released as essentially a dilution of a successful formula with the inability to trump the original (as pointed out in our previous review). Now, Anomaly Defenders works harder than any other game to… separate itself even further from its original success.
The idea behind Defenders is a great concept: let’s tell the same story, but from the aliens’ point of view. After the opening cutscene though, the developers clearly ran out of ideas. As hinted at in the world’s briefest narrative, the aliens “used to be bringers of life,” but now that the humans have defeated their invasion and have mounted a counter-attack, “our own children are after us.” Okay, so the aliens originally brought life to Earth and created humanity? Color me intrigued.
Your main goal across the proceeding twenty-four disconnected stages is to protect escape pods being jettisoned from launch pads, as waves of human aggressors attempt to drive your species into intergalactic extinction. And after all your alien buddies have successfully evacuated countless planets, then will we get to hear more about how the aliens probably built the pyramids oh please oh please oh please? Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”
Without a single bit of follow-up story, after trudging through the ten hour campaign you are given a conclusion that is hands down the most disjointed and nonsensical game ending I have ever experienced. In a harrowing exodus away from humanity’s attempt at complete and total genocide, as occupants of countless shuttles drift through space in a planetless diaspora, the following text appears on the screen: “We won.” (Clearly victors write more than just history, but all subtitles as well.)
Aside from the hysterical ending, what occupies the space between beginning and ending of this game is particularly underwhelming not just in comparison to previous entries in the series, but in comparison to other tower defense games as well. Admittedly, the towers themselves are intriguing, and using technology points to upgrade various abilities is fun – and if you’re already familiar with the Anomaly games then you’re going to enjoy using the Scorcher tower even more. But where previous entries focused on the tactical approach to towers, in this version it is all too easy to lure the silly humans to their doom.
Even with three difficulty tiers, the hardest part of Anomaly Defenders is finding any real challenge. I never even bothered unlocking tower abilities like EMP, Explode and Snipe in my play through – Repair and Shield are perfectly sufficient. Almost in acknowledgement of the lack of strategic challenge the game presents, Defenders pulls a cheap stunt and simply inundates you with “things” all happening at once. It’s one thing to say there’s often too much happening on the screen – that charge can be leveled against many games — but that error is exceptionally egregious here.
In particular stages you’ll have harvesters operating to attract the enemy, enemy waves coming simultaneously from several different directions, air raids flying in from another angle of approach, abilities to strategically utilize and towers to upgrade. You might think that pausing the action would give you time enough to strategize, but with so many health bars, energy to manually collect from defeated enemies and particle effects happening all at once, sometimes clicking on a specific tower can literally turn into a guessing game. Then resuming the action while focused on one part of the map inevitably means things aren’t going well elsewhere. Defenders feels great when you can focus your attention and energy on a single spot on the map, but when it deliberately tries to distract you it doesn’t become challenging, it just becomes annoying.
As you conquer stages you unlock the aforementioned technology points, which you can use to purchase towers and upgrades, with refunds having no penalty. The trouble is that most of the upgrades are just beef up your units along a linear path, where waiting to increase a tower’s maximum range inherently means not buying something else that’s shiny and new. Yes, it’s great to make your towers stronger, but at the expense of something new?
How a tower defense game can justify not automatically unlocking new towers for your use is confusing – getting new towers to experiment with is a staple of the genre. Forcing players to make the decision to spend technology points on new towers tangibly slows down the introduction of new gameplay elements, and for a game that is inherently redundant already, that’s just a poor tactical move on the part of the developers. As a result, the pacing of the game is monotonously slow. But the poor decisions don’t end there.
As a whole the game comes across as something produced by those who have little experience in the tower defense world – and perhaps 11 Bit really doesn’t (which helped them be so dramatically different in the first place). But in exploring the roots of a genre they once were dangerously close to revolutionizing, there are simply a whole host of features both absent and sorely missed. Why can’t I adjust the scroll speed when I mouse to the edge of the screen? Why can’t I tell my towers to focus on a specific enemy? Why not tell me the little arrows on the platforms are what determine a tower’s default heading? (That matters a lot when placing Behemoths.) Why not tell me that clicking on the triangles indicating where the next enemy wave comes from also tells me what type of troops are coming? And why does the space bar only work to pause and unpause the game sometimes?
They had the art assets, the story and the set-pieces all developed. Hopefully this little foray didn’t cost too much to make and was always intended as a learning experience for the developers, to help them understand the fundamentals of tower games. Fortunately, there are still interesting parts of this tale that remain untold. So while this entry is lackluster and easily outmatched by more experienced opponents, there is still some value here. So despite the fact that this title is lower on the score scale, hopefully 11 Bit employees are all standing around the studio saying to each other: “We made a game that was mediocre. We won!”
SCORE: 6.0 out of 10
A code for Anomaly Defenders was provided to Pixel Related for review.