I’m going to go ahead and say that 11 bit Studios’ quirky strategy game Anomaly Warzone Earth doesn’t make the greatest first impression. From the outset, you can get a good sense of how the game’s mobile, touch-focused origins. But stick with it, because if you give AWE a chance, you’ll find a challenging game with a unique spin on the sort of pathfinding gameplay pioneered by Flight Control made to work on your full-fledged console.
Anomaly Warzone Earth takes place in the year 2018, just days after twin extraterrestrial objects crash in Baghdad and Tokyo, creating protective domes that block communications and line of sight with what’s going on inside. Inside the dome, aliens have set up a variety of turret-based defenses, and it’s up to you and your mechanized infantry to get inside and see what they’re up to.
11 bit Studios describes the game as a “tower offense” title and that seems like the clearest descriptor of any with the aforementioned Flight Control thrown in. On the highest level, in AWE you’re creating paths through the war-torn city streets for your armed vehicles to navigate to either avoid or engage enemy turrets which, of course, come in several different flavors of deadly. Not to be outdone, your vehicles are well-armed and in some cases, well-armored, and can be upgraded on the fly as you earn money taking out enemies or picking up vital resources on the battlefield.
Creating paths means pausing the action and navigating to a map view where you basically flip switches that determine where your convoy goes, and AWE will mix it up on you by dropping in new enemies and obstacles to block your path, requiring some last minute course correction. You’ll outfit your convoy with your choice of vehicles in most missions, including their position and upgrades, with up to five slots available.
Your convoy knows what to do, and will automatically attack enemies when they’re within range. So your responsibility is to act as the “Commander,” an on-screen character who runs around providing support to the convoy (i.e. smoke to confuse enemy fire or make repairs if the convoy takes damage). Your support capabilities are limited, though, meaning you’ll have to conserve them and use them wisely, and hope that a supply drop will provide you with more.
AWE straddles that line between intense frustration when your convoy was destroyed because you ran out of repair kits and that sort of perfect elation that comes with knowing that you beat the map without losing any units. A lot of it all comes down to keeping an eye on what’s happening with your vehicles and learning the course through trial and error.
Once you’ve beaten the campaign, there are beat the clock/”kill x enemies” challenges on the main menu, if you want to completely bypass the story content and match your skills against game. It’s a solid addition to add replay to the relatively short downloadable title.
It’s a surprise how effectively it reverses that first initial impression.
Starts simple, gets excellent
Not to sound snarky, but one of the pleasures of AWE is how thoroughly it turns around the low expectations you have for it. What starts as a simple pathfinding game turns into a terrific strategy title in the couple of hours that AWE lasts.
A ton of tools at your disposal
Upgrading your units and being able to drop more into your convoy lends a great sense of progression to each map, and your Commander abilities make encounters feel active and on many occasions downright frenetic.
The screen can get kind of busy
With so many things trying to shoot at your convoy, it may be hard to keep track of the individual energy bars of your vehicles. Thankfully, you get audio call-outs when they’ve been hit or their health is low, but with five vehicles in a row, you still might find yourself losing an APC because it was in the middle of a field of explosions.
Somebody save me from these autosaves
It didn’t happen a lot, but there were a couple of times that I was saved into a corner by AWE, having crossed the map and survived with little to no money for additional units, low health, and only an APC and a shield unit. While the checkpoint system is great for keeping you from having to cross huge swaths of the map, it would have been nice to have some kind of basic cash drop or something to keep you from flailing before a boss battle.
Oh man, that VO
The story is no great shakes and the voice acting, mostly featuring an actor who sounds suspiciously like Captain Price, grates with its weird asides and encouragements (“You did so well, they’ll make you Prime Minister!”). Part of me wants to say it’s fun, but the other part of me can be a humorless jerk about rough VO.
If you can get beyond the clunky storytelling and oddball dialog, mechanically Anomaly Warzone Earth starts simple and gets more fun with elaboration. Each course is like a terrific little combat puzzle and there’s more than enough there to keep you challenged every outing. It’s the rare case where a game survives the transition from mobile to consoles and takes advantage of the move.
Anomaly Warzone Earth is available now on XBLA for 800 MS Points.