Far from being the next step in the genre or one that simply excels in every category, Anomaly Warzone Earth provides some enjoyable RTS action on the PS3 even though it isn’t a shining example of excellence in the genre. Artistically the game stumbles through enemy designs that are far from captivating, but the gameplay is basic enough that it’s enjoyable despite not having as much control as other RTS/tower defense games allow. It may not be the best RTS game ever, but considering the dearth of them on the PS3, Anomaly Warzone Earth ultimately stands out as it’s a valiant effort by developer 11 Bit Studios to keep the genre alive.
+ Controlling friendly units and issuing special abilities is easy thanks to the control scheme.
+ The battles may not be epic, but the enemies do put up a good fight which encourages different tactics be used.
+ The gameplay is easy to get into, even if you're a novice RTS/tower defense player.
- Art design isn’t that memorable and almost borders on being the epitome of generic.
- Battles become a bit predictable at times, partly because not a lot of control is given of the friendly units.
- Story is run of the mill if not completely forgettable.
- Co-op mode feels like an afterthought.
Certain game genres may be plentiful on the core consoles, but one that is extremely rare to make an appearance is RTS games. A staple of the gaming industry thanks to its surge of popularity in the early to mid-1990s, RTS games have usually found their home to be on the PC in part due to how it’s easier to manage half a dozen units with a mouse rather than a game controller. Such an immediate control preference has resulted in RTS games being a rarity on consoles like the Xbox 360.
At long last a RTS game has once again appeared on the PS3, almost amounting to a time cycle that’s equal to the wait between the Olympic Games. The game responsible for bringing some direct RTS action to the PlayStation Network is none other than Anomaly: Warzone Earth, a throwback to the old days of the RTS/tower defense genre that in the process delivers some decent gameplay despite not having the high production values of what gamers may be accustomed to seeing on the PC.
RTS games haven’t gone the way of the platformer or the shmup genre in how rare it is to see one surface, especially when it’s a quality product, but seeing one appear on consoles is almost a surprise of sorts. Though, to be honest some of immediate specialness of Anomaly Warzone Earth may be lost since it’s a PSN port of an existing iOS game, thus core RTS gamers may already be familiar with it. But those who haven’t heard of the game should owe it to themselves to at least scope it out merely to get a taste of pure RTS action that they can enjoy on their couch.
By now you may be wondering what the hook or plot of Anomaly: Warzone Earth is. Are the Russians or North Koreans the baddies or does the game take place on another planet with insect like creatures? To be honest Anomaly isn’t that fantastical as it takes place in Baghdad and Tokyo in the year 2018. Ok, that alone may make some think the game is merely a modern warfare RTS without the charm found in games like Company of Heroes, but the hook in Anomaly Warzone Earth is that alien wreckage has landed which means all sort of bad stuff is happening.
A bit similar to the plot of Battleship: The Movie, minus Rihanna trying to act and a bad boy turned savior of the Earth, the arrival of aliens who don’t have the same mindset as E.T. or Gizmo results in massive bubble shields being erected over a portion of land to allow the aliens to create vast structures and in the process plan the decimation of Earth. Enough narrative structure is provided in the game to keep the action moving and explain the arrival of bigger enemy units, but if there’s one massive weakness in the game it’s that there isn’t a big narrative hook. Not a lot of RTS games focus on the story, but some of the best such RTS games as the old-school Command & Conquer entries provided some cool story elements or at least hammed it up to such a level that it was enjoyable (Kane and the Brotherhood of Nod FTW!).
The somewhat grounded approach taken in Anomaly is nice, but there isn’t too much character in the game outside of somewhat odd lines yelled by a Brit soldier such as “Tougher than a bull elephant’s backside”, which I must admit is a rather descriptive thing to say when fighting technological advanced alien forces. Maybe I was simply expecting more, but it would’ve been nice to at least have something more substantial in Anomaly merely to drive the action along a bit more as there aren’t any cutscenes outside of a few quick in-game moments.
Outside of an ok narrative which really does come across as Independence Day + Battleship: The Movie set in Baghdad/Tokyo, Anomaly: Warzone Earth manages to provide sufficient RTS gameplay and best of all it doesn’t feel held back or dumbed down by appearing on the PSN. I’ll admit that I’m not a core RTS gamer as I didn’t sink 120 hours into CoH or C&C back in the day, but I’ve always enjoyed a good RTS experience – even if it was Army Men: RTS on the PS2. Developer 11 Bit Studios kept to the basics as the camera view is isometric, I was able to set a path for my squad, and purchase new units or upgrades. In some ways the game is a bit different as the only units I could purchase were vehicle based units as actual ground soldiers aren’t available and justifiably so if I may add since all the enemy units are massive structures.
The thing about Anomaly is that it may be overwhelmingly simple on the surface as it’s merely resource management to the max, but it does have a slightly deep layer to it. Besides plotting the best route to travel in the attempt to avoid tougher enemy units, the game does reward players who go to battle with a keen sense of tactics as additional resource materials can be acquired and in some cases the amount of back-up (additional units) is limited so it pays to be smart instead of going gung-ho into battle.
Switching between things such as the course of my unit or purchasing upgrades is all a breeze since each action can be performed comfortably on the PS3 controller without any fuss or having to go through four sub-menus merely to do one action. So thankfully the direct experience of playing Anomaly Warzone Earth on the PS3 isn’t riddled with control annoyances that sometimes plague other console based RTS games.
Battles don’t become so repetitive that I wanted to cry tears of boredom since new units do pop up as do some light boss type scenarios. But after I acquired the basic tools my soldier could dispense such as laying down decoys or smoke screens everything slowly enters an almost predictable rut since the same actions are being done and the direct visual representation of the battles aren’t terribly eye catching. Maybe I’m under selling the gameplay a bit since as a RTS game Anomaly Warzone Earth isn’t a complete cake walk as playing the game on the Casual setting does provide a decent challenge.
Going into certain battles can be predictable, especially since every enemy unit is highlighted on the map, but having to juggle certain things such as healing vehicles and laying down support items does create a hectic yet fun atmosphere in some cases since my OCD kicked in and I didn’t want to lose a single unit. I expect the same feeling may be had by other players as well but others may yearn for a slightly deeper experience, or at least one that goes beyond playing a battlefield babysitter of sorts.
In some ways I was disappointed with the lack of control over my units as not being able to have them focus on one enemy or at least have a sense of what their targeting radius was did result in some missed opportunities for optimum damage on the enemy. The lack of control in the game did cause it to feel a bit repetitive in a few cases since the same enemies popped and I was doing the same thing; either purchasing new units to suit the situation or play auto mechanic doctor to heal my precious Crawler unit.
Playing the game via co-op doesn't offer as much luster as it should since the mechanics are split between the two players. Instead of both players being able to play an active part in battle, one player simply plans the battle route while the other takes command of the units. I guess it's an adequate solution without having to totally make a co-op mode that's vastly different than the SP campaign, but it does leave a bit to be desired as one player ends up being nothing more than a human GPS.
One minor annoyance of sorts is that units that survive a level aren’t carried over to the next stage, even if I put precious money into upgrading a particular unit. It’s understandable that my four unit squad with two upgraded APC units weren’t carried over as it could present balancing issues, but it is annoying to start from scratch in every level or at least not have the option to at least carry one unit over.
I don’t know if it’s because the game is set in realistic locales or is a port of an iOS game, but Anomaly Warzone Earth isn’t the finest looking RTS game out there. Far from coming across as a terrible example of what the RTS genre can achieve on the consoles, there isn’t a distinct style in the game; a combination I believe is because the art style borders on generic and because the visual effects used during battles consist of basic things like red laser beams of doom. The setting of Baghdad isn’t the chief reason as to why Anomaly lacks a true style of its own as it doesn’t feel like a Call of Duty map altered into a RTS game with aliens thrown in. In the end I just think the slightly mediocre look of the game can be attributed to how the actual designs of the aliens and even the friendly units aren’t that unique.
With enemies that have a greyish metal look and almost appear to have a look similar to the movie representation of the Transformers (big, bulky, lots of sharp angles), there just isn’t a sense of wonderment when a new enemy unit popped up as I merely thought “oh, there’s another big thing I need to blow up.” I think it’s fine for the some of the levels in Anomaly: Warzone Earth to merely look ok since they aren’t interactive and don’t directly play a part in the battles, but gamers who are accustomed to the high-end look of RTS games on the PC such as the beautiful C&C reboot may be disappointed with the flat and rather low-poly appearance found in Anomaly.
As a rare RTS entry for the PS3 I think what Anomaly: Warzone Earth delivers is decent enough to be experienced despite falling a bit short in some areas. Far from one of the best RTS games to appear in general, Anomaly: Warzone Earth is an action romp that succeeds in providing action that encourages true battlefield tactics/good decision making while making it easy to do in the process with a PS3 controller instead of a PC mouse. If you finished every single Command & Conquer game on the highest difficulty setting you may think Anomaly is a cakewalk, but for those who are casual RTS gamers or merely want to try something different then the game is worth trying out despite its shortcomings.
A review code was provided for this game.