The game offers a typical array of unit types, which will offer no surprises to anyone who has ever played a video game. For those who haven't, though, allow me to present Anomaly's catalog of wonder. There are tanks that go boom every two seconds and missile launchers that go whoosh every four. The whoosh hurts the bad guys more than the boom, but there's the extra waiting, you see! Hence, strategy.
There are other familiar choices, like shield-boosting units and the obligatory flamethrowers. But yes, the unit selection takes a page from The Book About Games Like This. Except for the ultimate unit: the commander. You're different. While your troops dutifully march down the dotted line, you can wander wherever you want, and you travel at a faster clip.
That's handy, as you're wearing this outfit called, somewhat underwhelmingly, the Combat Suit. With the suit, you can drop time-limited power-ups on the field to support your troops. Repair kits replenish your units' shields within its range of influence, smoke screens throws off the enemies' aim, and decoys distract nearby towers. The fourth Combat Suit power, calling in an air strike, doesn't become available until relatively late in the game. (That's fine, as Anomaly is plenty engrossing with just the first three.)
Without the suit, your units would be screwed, like Patton's tanks in the mud. The puny tanks and whatnot are overmatched by the enemies' towers, which feature lasers, rippling bolts of electricity, and holy-crap-even-scarier lasers. So to keep the troops rolling, you have to support them almost constantly, throwing down repair kits in the midst of a firefight, and desperately scrambling to distract the enemy towers for a moment or two. The opponent has such a strength advantage that by the halfway point of the game, you're almost always on the precipice of death.
This makes it sound like Anomaly is a frenzy of action, and it often is, but not to the exclusion of strategy. Frenzy can be calculated, to a degree. It's not only possible to gain a long-term strategic advantage in a given stage of Anomaly, it's essential. Poor planning will always sink you; even if you survive one enemy enclave, a reckless approach will mean your supply of power-ups is too drained to conquer the next.
However, you can only build a strategic edge in Anomaly by understanding how you'll respond in the moment. Can your energy-shield truck hold the force together while you dart away to distract the energy-gobbling juggernaut to the east? Will you be able to lead the convoy around that turret-laden corner with your meagre supply of smoke screens? The fun is in finding out.
In that way, the game is a gradual reconnaissance into your capabilities as a leader. The smaller battles hone your self-awareness and prepare you for those glorious life-or-death crucibles – there's at least one per stage – where the screen bursts into a Technicolor fog of war, with glowing power-ups layered on top of energy bars on top of exploding missiles. And amid the madness, there's your happy little commander, directing traffic.
8 / 10