Anomaly: Warzone Earth review for XBLA

Platform: Xbox Live Arcade
Publisher: 11 bit Studios
Developer: 11 bit Studios
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: Leaderboards
ESRB: E10+

Anomaly: Warzone Earth has a nice little spin on the typical ?tower defense? formula. Instead of buying up towers, upgrading them, and sometimes scrapping them, all in an effort of keeping an invading army past a particular threshold, you?ll now take on the role of the actual invading army. There?s still a lot of buying, selling, and upgrading going on, but this turn of events allows for a bit more variety than you might see in a standard top-down tower defense game.

Developed by 11 bit Studios, the game is actually a port of versions that appeared on the PC, Mac, iOS, and Android platforms. The gameplay follows a group of soldiers, represented as a convoy of vehicles on screen, as they make their way across a war-torn Earth fighting off alien invaders. Most stages involve working your way across a number of city blocks, where the enemy has positioned defensive units that will fire on your convoy once they?re in range. You?ll typically have the option of selecting between a handful of units, upgrading them with earned cash, and can even plan your route through multiple streets on the fly in order to take the safest or most direct route to your goal.

One unique element is that you?ll have direct control over a commander unit. The commander is an actual person, dwarfed in size by the convoy he?s directed to protect. You can be fired upon if you get too close to the enemy, and can even be incapacitated if you take too much damage. But having direct control is certainly more useful than the automated path that the convoy moves on. As the commander you can make use of certain tools which give your convoy added benefits, like healing, smoke screens and more.

The strategy angle comes into play in a variety of ways. Some maps involve just moving from point A to point B, while attempting to survive the run. You can plan your route and unit selection at the beginning of the map, but change your route at any time with the press of a button. You can speed up time so you?re not waiting around for a fight to happen, and can upgrade, scrap, or buy new units at any time provided you have the cash to do so. There is a hard limit on how many units you can have at once, and using the right mix is certainly key to getting the job done.

The best part of Anomaly: Warzone Earth is the sheer variety given to the maps you?ll encounter in the single player campaign. It?s not always about moving across the map to an end goal, which would certainly grow old after a while. Instead you?ll have different objectives tossed your way, like escort missions that become trickier due to a set path of the unit you?re tasked with protecting. Or missions that restrict you to a five minute time limit, where you need to move quickly from location to location in an effort to knock out a number of enemy generators. Another map had me locating and securing my friendly convoy units, instead of giving me the option to buy them, which meant I had to be very careful with some limited resources throughout the map.

The fresh approach to just about every level played really helps to elevate Anomaly: Warzone Earth above most tower defense games. The addition of reversing roles, combined with the commander role, certainly helps as well. As a whole, it?s a pretty great experience on XBLA, and one that I feel you should certainly check out. Even if you?re pretty tired of anything remotely labeled as a Tower Defense game nowadays, as I certainly am, you?ll find Anomaly?s approach to the genre refreshing.

Grade: B+