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XBLA Review: Anomaly – Warzone Earth

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Anomaly’s first levels tank. There’s zero sense of the greatness yet to come, the opening drudge a wandering, memorization-laden trek through decimated Baghdad. It’s a tutorial, learning the possibilities created with a weaving movement system that becomes the heart of Anomaly’s later stages. Sadly, it barely resembles the 95% to follow.

Warzone Earth deserves your attention, five stages in bringing a euphoric feeling of brilliant game design that not even finding Jesus could match. It’s that gut feeling that only comes along when you’re holding something special, your mind has turned off, and the investment in the design is total. It’s that good.

Coming from 11 Bit Studios, Anomaly’s sole fault is that there’s not more of it, the exact, non-arguable sign that the project came together on all fronts. It never wears out its uniquely refined, reverse tower defense design.

Imagine if you will those plodding, typically no-brained troops marching forth to your base in the flooded defense genre: that’s you. In this case, there is a brain behind them, working in tandem with British forces (or forces with a British accent rather) to take out alien tech that is, apparently, nothing more than technology. Nothing here occupies the organic realm, just the technological.

The sole human accompaniment is a soldier, donned in a super suit capable of dropping power-ups to the convoy following the path prescribed by the player. It’s a crucial mix of distraction, health, and offense, total destruction unavoidable otherwise. Maintaining a healthy back catalog of bonuses proves crucial across these sprawling maps, which increase in alien populace and firepower as the game globe trots a bit.

Anomaly is one of those that weaves between the strategy hungry and the frenzied arcade player, finding a niche for both sides. On the surface in casual settings, there’s enough to keep the player invested (and feeling intelligent), and at its hardest, controller tossing brilliance. It’s clear from the get go how much thought was put into each corner, the scenarios delicately balanced with fairness in mind.

Financial elements remain in play, that tough decision between upgrading or adding to the bulk of a militaristic, world saving train always in mind. One questions why, facing utter annihilation, said foreign governments don’t chip in a few bucks to bulk up the squadron. It’s the equivalent of an asteroid speeding towards Earth that would split the planet in two, but politicians bickering over the cost of saving civilization.

There are fumbles on Anomaly’s rise to greatness, namely a checkpoint system that seems to, well, checkpoint when you don’t want it to. Having a single vehicle parade into a warzone with 10 times the turrets is a guaranteed level do over. Some co-operative play would be a boon too, sending two super soldiers into the rumble with their individualized squadrons. Post-campaign, Anomaly has skirmishes and survival to prop itself up strong, enough to give it a pass.

If nothing else, 11 Bit has crafted a title that becomes the ideal example of, “limitations breed creativity.” It’s what the Xbox Live Arcade playing field has become, and hence why this generation’s best are born on this digital platform. Anomaly joins those ranks, or at least after the first two levels.

Seriously, they’re terrible.

Anomaly – Warzone Earth is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Fantasy Violence, Language. This game can also be found on: Android, PC, iOS.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.