It’s the near future. Aliens have invaded Earth. The humans fought back… and won. Now they’ve launched a counterattack against the aliens where it will hurt them most; their home planet. That’s where you come in.
The Anomaly series by 11 bit Studios has always been a tower offense game where you play as human forces attacking the aliens who have invaded their homes. Anomaly Defenders, their latest release and the final game in the series, is different. Now you play as the aliens on their home planet, and the game has switched to tower defense. It’s all about protecting the launchpads from invading human forces, so that your people can escape their onslaught. It’s an interesting take on a classic trope, and one that works well for the game.
Anomaly Defenders consists of twenty-four levels that can be played at three different difficulty settings. You start out the game with only the most basic of towers, and as you complete each level, you earn technology points. These points are invested in your Technology Tree, which gives you access to more towers, functions, and perks that help you in your defense against the humans. Fairly standard stuff, but that’s not a bad thing.
Each level consists of the launchpad you need to protect, one or more entry points for human forces, set routes that they follow, and designated spots for you to set up your defense. You spend carusaurum to build your towers, and every time you destroy an enemy unit, you earn back carusaurum. You can also build mining units that both earn you more currency and serve to distract the enemy forces from making their way straight to the launchpad. Destroying enemy units also causes them to explode into balls of energy, which you can collect and spend to use special functions on your towers, such as using a shield or repair. Each of your towers has a different function, and it’s up to you to figure out how to use them to their best ability. Once you defeat all of the waves for the enemies, you’ve won the level and you can progress on.
I don’t play that many tower defense games, and yet I found myself really enjoying Anomaly Defenders. The art is what drew me at the start. Each level is rendered beautifully in a way that calls to mind both the light streaked urban settings of Tron and the bioluminescent natural world of Avatar. I’ve been playing mostly retro games lately, and so this was a welcome change. The design of the towers themselves is fine. Nothing particularly special, but I don’t think it needs to be. What’s important is that the UI itself is easy to understand and user friendly. It only takes one level to understand what you’re looking at, and even if you don’t get it right away, the game gives you hints as you go along.
Gameplay is engaging and fun and the towers have different specialties that help you combat different sorts of enemies. I think that these abilities, combined with the power ups that you can use on each tower, allows for the creation of an individual playstyle that I found appealing. I found myself utilizing long ranged towers most often, and when one of my friends played, he said he prefered a completely different strategy. It’s nice that it doesn’t feel like there’s one correct way to beat a level, which adds more replay value as you experiment with different technologies. One of the helpful features of the game is the pause button, which lets you stop the action so you can build more towers or apply functions to your existing towers. On large, expansive maps, this is especially useful since you will have enemies attacking from multiple entry points that aren’t always visible on one screen. This is helpful during massive waves of enemies, or when more difficult enemies appear. The humans have many different types of units to deploy, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses, as your own towers do. Learning how to best attack them is part of the fun of the game.
The technology tree that you can access between levels has a nice feel to it. You choose different towers to develop, and each of those have different strength levels that you purchase as well. I found some of the towers more useful than others, and there were a few that I didn’t develop at all because I didn’t see a strong use for them. I was playing the game mostly on easy and normal though, so it’s possible these towers are more useful when playing at a higher difficulty. The same went for the different functions available. I found some of them useful but ended up completely ignoring others that I didn’t use a lot. Surprisingly, the perk branch was one of the most useful sections of the tree for me. Here was where I could spend less to build towers and hold onto more energy to defend them. Investing points in that tree made the game a lot easier for me.
Despite the twist of being about aliens whose world is being invaded by humans, the story for Anomaly Defenders is pretty basic. There’s not actually that much in the way of storytelling at all, outside of the short intro movie and the bit of detail you receive about each level. In a way, this is okay. It’s a tower defense game, so the story probably doesn’t need to be too involved. Still, because the world itself looks cool, I found myself wishing I knew more about it. Why is the world dying? Why do the plants glow? What’s some of the history of the alien people? I actually found myself making up my own answers to these questions, so in a way perhaps it was better that the game doesn’t really spell these things out. I do think it would have been fun to get a little more lore about the various levels you’re defending, especially since they went to the trouble to name them, but ultimately it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the game at all.
I’m really surprised by how much I enjoyed Anomaly Defenders. It’s an engaging game that’s fun to play, and it has a decent amount of replay value as well. Between the beautiful art and the enjoyable play, I can highly recommend the game (and already have to a few friends), even to those who don’t normally enjoy the genre. Definitely one of the more fun games I’ve played in awhile.
Anomaly Defenders is on PC, Mac, and Linux for $9.99 and is available on Steam and Games Republic.