Review: Anomaly Defenders

By Jacob Tierney 06 Oct 2014 0
The only good human is a dead human, that's what I always say. Wait... The only good human is a dead human, that's what I always say. Wait...

Previous installments in the Anomaly series reversed typical tower defense conventions by casting players as the attacking troops, commanding the units that crawl down tower-guarded paths. Anomaly Defenders makes an unexpected decision to shed what made the series unique, and returns to the genre's roots by putting you back in charge of the towers.

It's unusual for a game franchise to invert it's most unique feature. Imagine Gran Turismo turning into a track design game, or Tiger Woods Golf becoming a pro shop simulator. Actually, those both sound a lot more intriguing than what Anomaly has become, which is a bog standard tower defense game -- albeit a very pretty and competently designed one.

Hey guys, have you ever read "Speaker for the Dead?" Hey guys, have you ever read "Speaker for the Dead?"

If the gameplay is now more straightforward, the story ain't. Anomaly starts with a plot twist: you’re a human, working for the aliens, fighting the very troops you once commanded. Apparently humans have gone from underdogs to conquerors in the war against the aliens, and their successes have made them a little… genocidey.

The aliens have turned to you, the very commander who helped assure the human’s victory, to turn on your own people and defend various alien launch pads until they can can safely escape the onslaught. Apparently you’re the one human who isn’t totally comfortable with wiping out an entire species, though your entire come-to-Xenu moment happens off-screen before the game has even begun. Anomaly does its level best to give you a messiah complex early and often, with your alien instructor constantly carrying on about your brilliance and goodness.

All these narrative trappings are more interesting on paper than in practice, as they rarely impact the game proper. Your towers will still be shooting at futuristic tanks and mechs that you wouldn't even know had humans inside if the game didn't tell you, and Anomaly doesn’t make much of the fact that you are apparently a traitor to your entire species. Tower defense probably isn't the best genre for deep narrative, I suppose.

Story limitations aside, Anomaly Defenders it’s a quite good tower defense. I never tired of gazing at the pyrotechnic graphics and the detailed branching tech tree and challenging missions made this more stimulating than most entries in the genre.

Your former comrades will send waves of troops against you, following predetermined paths to your launch pad, which must be protected. There's a lot of nuance to the tower placement, with factors like line-of-sight to take into account. You can also lure the enemies into a less direct path by placing harvesters, which gain resources for you while distracting the shortsighted humans from their ultimate objective -- an interesting tactical twist.

So many lovely guns. So many lovely guns.

The game does a good job of introducing new enemy types and tactics to keep from growing stale, along with giving you access to the various types of towers you need to combat them.  Occasional environmental hazards like meteor strikes add to the challenge. It’s mostly straightforward stuff, but executed with such refinement and polish that it’s an easy game to like. Missions are balanced to challenge without frustrating. They constantly give you something to think about without throwing so much at you that they overwhelm.

Killing enemies gives you the resources you need to boost your defenses, in addition to “energy” which can be used to trigger one-time effects like healing, giving a lone tower a strength burst, or temporarily taking out your foes’ weapons. All of this can be unlocked and upgraded at the tech tree between missions, and amount you can unlock is tied to how well you succeeded in previous missions.

It’s perhaps worth noting that there is nary an IAP to be found. No special towers or energy boosters in exchange for real cash, just a full game for your payment. It’s a bit sad that something so basic needs to be mentioned as a positive in a review, but it’s nice all the same.

Tower defense games don't get much better than this, and despite discarding what made the Anomaly series special, Defenders is still a fitting conclusion to an unusually interesting TD game.

Review: Anomaly Defenders

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