Back in 2011, Anomaly: Warzone Earth was a PC and iOS game that flipped the tower defense genre on its head, putting the player in the role of the attacker instead of the defender. The unique take on the genre made it a global success and pushed it to just about every imaginable platform (even Blackberry 10!). Most importantly though, it was a nice balance between casual pick-up-and-play controls and deeper strategic elements that hit home with players—especially on mobile devices.
Anomaly 2 picks up where the original game’s expansion left off, in a world overrun with alien robots and some very familiar gameplay mechanics. You still set your routes and assist your units as they move and attack, which are explained in long and fairly tedious tutorial missions. Fortunately, after a couple of these dry simulation missions, your virtual reality training session is interrupted by an attack, in which you are thrown into a real battle to test your new skills.
Many of the single player campaign’s missions play out in a similar fashion: buy a few units, set your route and do your best to make it through alive. Your tanks and other various armored vehicles roll through the urban environments in a single-file line, looking for robot aliens to blow up. These units can often be transformed into another mode to more properly fit the battle you are approaching. For example, you may want to transform your Assault Hound into a Hell Hound so that you can handle enemies from both sides. But the most important thing you’ll be doing is buffing up your units with repair abilities or distracting your enemies with decoys. Knowing how and when to time these abilities are where the meat of the tactical gameplay comes into play.
Similar to Anomaly: Warzone Earth, Anomaly 2’s iOS/Android port cuts out the player-controlled on-ground commander of the PC version in favor of a traditional strategy game skybox view. In the PC version, the ability to control an on-ground commander gave Anomaly 2 an added sense of activity and involvement. You couldn’t as quickly just double-tap to transform units or repair units in the back of the pack. And while that change certainly streamlines the controls, there are plenty of moments in the mobile version that made me feel like much more of a spectator than an active player.
If you stay up at night wondering why you are maneuvering these units around a post-apocalyptic New York City while Tremors-like aliens pop up out of the ground left and right, you may be playing the wrong game. Despite featuring voice-over narration and fully-rendered cut scenes, there isn’t much of a story to be told here. Yes, there is some scientist with some mysterious piece of technology that will be able to help defeat the alien invaders (insert whatever other science fiction trope you want to throw in)—but beyond that, there’s not much to the narrative. The top-notch graphics and sound design are enough to get you from one battle to the next, but I wish they had put a little more effort into how this generic sci-fi story played out.
One of the big additions to Anomaly 2 is the new 1v1 multiplayer mode, which turns the game’s tower defense/offense gameplay into a competitive multiplayer strategy game. One player plays as the defenders and the other as the attackers, each with their own set of goals and win conditions. There’s a lot more to learn here before jumping in (especially when playing as the defense), but it’s definitely an interesting concept. If you can get past the steep learning curve and actually find someone to play against in matchmaking, you’ll find a well-balanced multiplayer strategy game—certainly one of the best on mobile platforms.
In a time when a game like XCOM: Enemy Unknown can appropriately find its way to iOS, Anomoly 2 is a lot less impressive than it might have been just a couple of years ago. And even with its shiny level of polish and a fun new multiplayer mode, Anomaly 2 still feels more like another expansion that a true next step forward in the series.
Luke Larsen is the tech editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @lalarsen11.