Hands up who likes tower defence games?
I'm waving my arms and bouncing on my chair like the boy in the maths test who really needs a wee. I'm hooked on the things in all their forms, from Flash Element TD to Field Runners, from to Hidden Path's excellent Defence Grid: The Awakening to the multitudes on the Android Marketplace. On the bus, while the bath's running, even in the bath, they scratch my itch.
Anomaly: Warzone Earth, from ex CD-Projekt staffers 11 bit, brings a zesty little tweak to the genre: it places you in charge of mobile forces and leaves tower-construction to the AI.
Serious buffs may have come across the likes of Anti-TD in the past, which embraces similar concepts, but with nowhere near the level of scope and substance of Anomaly. On a similar scale to Defence Grid, it's a more complex piece of development than standard TD fare, with crisp, pleasing visuals and some interesting tactical challenges all of its own.
A colossal alien mothership has been spotted heading for earth, but just as it reaches the atmosphere, we blast it to smithereens. Go us! Those smithereens, however, have rained down on earth's cities, where they've set up domes of crackling energy: the game's eponymous Anomalies.
What's going on inside those opaque bubbles? Some kind of alien disco? One can only hope. It's your job to find out, with your hand-picked troupe of combat vehicles.
Your armoured column consists of up to six units and there are six types to deploy. Some are lightly armed but heavily armoured; designed to soak up fire so your more lightly shielded big-gunners can go to work. Some offer area-effect shielding to the units in front and behind them.
They all move at the same pace. By flicking to the command screen you're able to path them around the grid-like cityscapes, choosing which direction they turn at each junction. It's essentially a series of waypoints you set on the way to the mission's key target.
Your vehicles may move at a plodding pace but the decision-making and the action is intense nonetheless. This is thanks in no small part to the unit you have full movement control over: the commander.
His role is to provide tactical support to your armoured column as it ploughs inexorably toward the key alien target at the heart of each anomaly. He has no offensive capabilities, but grants limited support functions such as area-effect heals for your units, smoke-grenades to fox enemy targeting, and the deployment of decoy vehicles. The commander can dart around and collect these as powerups en-route.
The tutorial mission inserts you on the outskirts of your first anomaly-shrouded city. Radioactive debris is raining onto the roads, so it's up to you to act as human GPS and field-mechanic to your forces as they make their way into the city. This involves re-pathing them to avoid threats, repairing them as they become damaged and ordering new units onto the field if they're lost.
Once inside the anomaly, mild disappointment at the lack of alien disco-tech soon gives way to grim determination. The fiends are turning earth's cities into warzones, studded with various flavours of turret.
The basic variety is a fast-tracking laser cannon – not too threatening alone, but dangerous in clusters. You soon encounter more specialised kinds such as the scorcher, which can't rotate but fires a searing heat-ray at long range down a single road. Then there's the behemoth, which pumps out massive AOE damage.
Here's where on-the-fly unit management becomes paramount. There's a single key target on each map to destroy, but the last thing you want to do is face a scorcher head-on down the main strip. Re-pathing when such threats appear is crucial so you can set your column up for a side-on approach.
In addition, you need to keep your commander out of the enemy's kill-zones. If his health is reduced to zero he becomes stunned for seven seconds, leaving him unable to support the column. This can easily lead to a wipeout.
To make things extra-interesting your vehicles collect resources on the road which your commander is unable to pick up. You can then pause the game and spend these in the upgrade menu to improve specific abilities.
This can lead to some interesting choices with meaningful outcomes: do you head down the more dangerous road for the sake of the resources that lie along it, risking failure for the reward of added toughness and firepower?
With 14 missions to play through, 11 bit tell us that main story-game will last around six hours. There's an extra 'endless' mode to tackle afterwards. This involves entering an anomaly and trying to destroy a key target within five minutes while turrets spawn semi-randomly to keep things fruity.
Upon completion a new target appears, the timer is reset, and turrets begin respawning in a more prolific fashion. The levels intensify in this way until the player's forces are wiped out, or his brain explodes.
Six hours of story-missions doesn't sound like a lot, but that's reflected in the 10-15 Euro price point slated for this download-only game. 11 bit has yet to announce which digital services they'll partner with for the PC version.
The studio is also working on a rather tidy-looking iPhone version, with an intelligent rejig to the UI and control system to reflect touch-control, and a higher-resolution iteration for the iPad.
The ultimate aim is to release Anomaly on Xbox Live and PSN as well, but 11 bit informs us these deals aren't yet in place. Here's hoping they do get sorted out as those platforms could be the perfect home for what's shaping up to be a fun, pleasingly tactical reinterpretation of tower defence principles.
Anomaly: Warzone Earth is due to be released on PC, iPhone and iPad.