Take a Stand – Anomaly 2 Preview

Nostalgia is a wonderful thing. It feels like only yesterday that 11 bit studios released Anomaly: Warzone Earth, and sucked hours of our lives away with its epic, tower offense gameplay. Recently, 11 bit studios announced the second installment in the Anomaly series: Anomaly 2, set for a home invasion in 2013. For those of you new to this game series, take a peek at the trailers for the original, Warzone Earth, and the newest trailer for Anomaly 2.

The year is 2021, and mankind is taking a stand to win back the planet that was brutally ripped away from them in Warzone Earth. This time around, you’ll face off against Earth’s nastiest alien invaders as Simon Lynx, First Lieutenant of Convoy Yukon. Your mission (should you choose to accept it) will be to rescue Doctor Zander from New York, and help him implement Project Shockwave: a weapon that promises to destroy the aliens for good, and take back Earth for mankind.

Anomaly 2 has the same familiar map layout and enemies you have come to know and love from Warzone Earth. Be warned, however, as even foes you are used to fighting have evolved. The Behemoth returns in Anomaly 2, but this time it has a small turning radius instead of its previous static state. This makes the Behemoth much harder to avoid, as its deadly blast can incinerate your troops if you aren’t careful where you move. Small changes like this add to the experience, as even veteran Anomaly fans will find themselves changing up the way they used play to cater to the more challenging alien AI in Anomaly 2.

The Prelude and Tutorials are not optional in this game – you have to play through them to get to the actual levels. While this may seem like an annoyance, it’s not as cut-and-dry as the previous Tutorial in Warzone Earth and adds the base storyline. On any given level (including the Tutorials), you will still be able to choose the difficulty, regardless of what difficulty you’ve played previously. You can choose to play Casual, Advanced, Hardcore, or Nightmare.

At the start of every mission you will be briefed on your objectives, such as taking over an enemy unit, rescuing an important person, or seizing control of an entire area. As this happens, you’ll be given the layout for the level, and will be able to see where the enemies are at a glance. You are then thrown into map mode, seeing all of the enemies and routes, and you will have a chance to plan out the basic route, buy your vehicles for the level, or even change the position of your units in the Convoy. These options are imperative as you make your way through each level, because changing your tactics is a necessity in this heart-pounding, action-packed game.

You’ll begin the game in the Prelude level, which gives you the basic storyline and lets you see the road ahead. From there, you’ll go through three more levels of Tutorials in a simulator. You will be playing through the Tutorials as Lieutenant Lynx, learning how to use the equipment and tactics in a simulated environment before embarking on your mission to rescue Doctor Zander and recover Project Shockwave. The way that the Tutorial ends is incredible and adds to the storyline, instead of making you feel like you were just going through the motions of a Tutorial to learn the game. Without spoiling it too much, you’ll notice that the game glitches while you’re in the simulator, which – believe it or not – is important to the plot. Your Colonel will remind you to stay focused on your task and learn as much as you can and assures you the simulator is just getting jostled from the warfare further away. She was wrong.

Adding to this new and improved game, there is a fresh mechanic that players will find very interesting in Anomaly 2. Your vehicles now have a morphing ability when you double click on them – changing what they can do, which only adds to the diversity in your tactics. An example of this would be the Assault Hounds morphing into Hell Hounds. Assault Hounds are a tank-like unit that have a fast rate of fire and do more damage as they keep fighting. You’ll reach max level damage after 12 seconds of consecutive fire, so it’s a good idea to keep these units constantly fighting enemies without lulls in between, as the damage rate resets if they aren’t attacking. This makes them much better at the front of your Convoy. When the Assault Hounds are surrounded, however, they are at a disadvantage as the time it takes to move back and forth between enemies can cost you time and damage; this is where the morph ability comes in handy. You can double-click them and turn them into Hell Hounds, equipped with two independent flamethrowers that can attack different targets at once. They also do burn damage that creates a damage-over-time effect to enemy towers. When they are morphed into Hell Hounds, you may want to switch them into the middle of your lineup, as they have less armor in this mode than some of your other units.

Where there are new features for your units, there are bound to be enemies who have advancements as well. Anomaly 2 not only introduces the morph ability to your troops, but also to alien towers. For instance, when you encounter a Charger, it won’t attack your squad, but it still has tricks up its sleeves. Naturally, your squad wants to automatically take down any alien technology they encounter, and you’ll soon see they will attack the Charger just as quickly as they would any other enemy. That would be fine, but if units that have a faster rate of fire attack Chargers, those attacks actually fuel the Chargers, which allows them to morph into Storm Reapers – a dangerous enemy that cuts through your units like a hot knife through butter. The Storm Reapers have all the power of a Behemoth, and none of the disadvantages Behemoths have with their shortened turning radius. This deadly alien tower shoots bolts of electricity out at your units, hitting them hard all at once. While you can burn this enemy down, it takes a lot of fire power to do so, and can cost you a lot of health – or even units – just to get past it. To defeat these Chargers without them changing, you’ll have to make sure that the front units in your Convoy have a lower rate of fire (such as Sledge Hammer units), which gives enough of a delay that it can’t properly absorb your attacks to use to its advantage, making it easy prey.

Players will also see the return of familiar items from Warzone Earth, including Carusaurum, which many will remember is an alien element used to buy units or upgrade existing ones. A new item in this game is called an EMP Ability. When you pick up an item that has a lightning bolt symbol, you’ll be given one EMP Ability to use whenever you choose. Using this item will deliver an EMP burst that will stun the enemies until they take damage from your troops, buying you time to focus your fire on the first few targets instead of being attacked at once by an overwhelming number of enemies.

Gameplay and inventory aren’t all that changed for the better in this second installment of Anomaly. The rendering in-game is gorgeous. The graphics are much improved in Anomaly 2, as each new level creates a unique appeal – be it bigger explosions, breathtaking scenery, or buildings crumbling around you. Each chapter introduces the objectives and the next phase of the storyline with an artistic image of what’s going on in the world around you, such as a picture of two soldiers discussing map routes in their vehicle, or a lone soldier walking into New York City amidst the snow and debris. These images are have a mixture of sepia tones with a blue hue, and small bits of vibrant colour visible – almost as if you were seeing touched-up photographs from a World War in a museum, years after it had happened.

You are in the United States, and the hauntingly beautiful, ice-covered scenes will give you chills. As you approach the city with Convoy Yukon, you’ll see the Statue of Liberty, half-sunken into the coastline and covered in ice, with rusting and flipped-over boats scattered all around it, and rubble and snow in place of city streets. This gives the game less of a military feel, and more of a realistic, post-apocalyptic tone that makes Anomaly 2 even more relatable. In this future, being in the military is a way of life, and it’s easy to see why.

Even the Convoys’ animations are cleaner than the original, making this a truly valuable experience. You will still see city high-rises and the same notable alien invaders, but where there would be multiple high-rises, droves of cabs, and clean streets, there are broken and dilapidated buildings, rusted metal bridges, and piles of rubble everywhere. The only warmth you’ll feel in this game is the contrast of gigantic explosions, with bits of debris flying everywhere and smoke rising from the ashes left behind when you tear apart your foes.

The pulsing overtone of the music is felt through the use of bass guitars and heavy drums, with only some quieter, higher-pitched hums to add depth to the sound. It is almost as if the music is beating as your heart would, speeding up and slowing down based on your in-game situation, and creating that sense of urgency the combat demands. There’s a lot more dialog to keep you immersed in the story in Anomaly 2, and the voice acting is diversified this time around. Most notable is Lieutenant Lynx: he still has a powerful and militant voice, but with a hint of despair that did not seem to exist in the previous game.

The addition of a new multiplayer mode is what most gamers will look forward to, and should greatly add to the replay value in Anomaly 2 – though I have not had the pleasure of playing it yet. 11 bit attended PAX East in Boston to show off its multiplayer gameplay, though sadly those of us not in the area have yet to see it in action. It’s a great step forward to add a multiplayer option, and will give people the chance to switch it up and play as the aliens, or as the humans taking down other players through fast-acting tactics. There’s nothing like playing a game of chess with your friends that involves lasers, bombs, and air strikes!

If you haven’t had the opportunity to play the Anomaly series, I have said it once and I’ll say it again: It is a big surprise in a tiny package. It is a refreshing change from the tactic games we’re used to, and it adds an artistic quality with its graphics that you won’t get from other games in the genre. It’s also inexpensive and will give you hours of gameplay without the worry that you’ve just dropped sixty dollars on something you may not even enjoy. Taking into consideration that this game has more dialog, more customization of units, and a multiplayer option that was not present previously, Anomaly 2 is a game you simply must have in your collection.

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March 27, 2013 - 8:13 am