Anomaly 2 pits tower defense against tower offense

Anomaly 2 retains the concept of "tower offense" that made its predecessor, 2011's Anomaly: Warzone Earth, stand out. This time around, developer 11 bit Studios is adding a heads-up multiplayer component to the strategy title, and when humans can control both the offensive and defensive sides, they're both forced to think on their feet at all times.

We were able to play a match from each perspective on the PAX East 2013 show floor, and while we got destroyed on offense, we pulled out a victory when we had to defend. The attacking team sends out squads of forward-marching robots, while the defenders erect "towers" — stationary alien structures — to fend them off.

On the map we played, which featured three generators, the first team to score 1,000 points or reach a 500-point advantage won the match. Taking out a generator deals a big blow to the aliens and is worth a great deal of points, but the specifics of how the warfare plays out are what give Anomaly 2 such strategic variety.

Each team chooses from a number of abilities at the start of the match, tech that gives its side an advantage. For example, the attackers' choices include increased damage, speed or health, while the defenders can reduce the amount of time it takes for a tower to be built. This informs your tactics, which are limited by your supplies — namely, cash. On offense, you'll have to collect cash by sending robots out to go get it, while the defensive team receives a slow trickle of cash automatically.

you'll be able to morph your robots into war mechs

Cash is used to pay for your units, so you won't have a lot of options at the start of the match. But on offense, you'll be able to morph your robots into war mechs that have different properties. The standard form might do a lot of damage but only be able to fire in one direction, while the morphed mech might have two weaker guns with which it can hit two targets at once. After placing units, you'll direct them to a target by zooming out to the tactical view, which offers a schematic overlay of the battlefield.

On defense, you'll be able to tell which kinds of units are coming at you from both the tactical view and the zoomed-in close-up perspective, which shows off the gorgeous, colorful visuals in Anomaly 2. You'll have to adjust your tower-building strategy based on what's headed your way and weigh your needs against the available resources. It's also important to keep an eye on the attackers' commander, a human who runs around on the battlefield to collect ability drops and use them on his units.

Those abilities and units combine to add a great deal of depth to Anomaly 2's strategic action. The commander can run alongside his units, conferring buffs on them, and the defending team can heal towers being atttacked. Battlefield awareness is also vital to success. While playing defense, we noticed that our opponent, 11 bit managing director Grzegorz Miechowski, had placed a bunch of slow mechs and sent them toward one of our generators. We dropped a Harvester unit near another generator in the opposite direction and were well on our way to victory.

The Harvester can't take a lot of damage, and it's relatively expensive, but it's deadly when used correctly. Its main draw is that it can steal resources from the attackers — cash, abilities or the most precious of all: points. We were already ahead, and with the Harvester pilfering Miechowski's points, we quickly hit 1,000 and won.

Miechowski told Polygon that 11 bit wanted to build a multiplayer mode for Warzone Earth, but said it just wasn't feasible since the company is an indie studio — it's "short on cash and short on people," he said. Warzone Earth's success allowed 11 bit to add multiplayer to the sequel; although the single-player campaign is still offense-only against CPU aliens.

According to Miechowski, community input has been a major part of Anomaly 2's development, which began in the fall of 2011. Miechowski told us that 11 bit began testing the game at a "very, very early stage," working on the multiplayer mode with the most basic of art assets. The company also brought in local members of Warzone Earth's user base, inviting the hardcore players into its offices in Warsaw, Poland, to play an alpha version of the game.

Anomaly 2 will be available on Windows, Mac and Linux for $14.99 this spring. Warzone Earth was released on iOS, but Miechowski wouldn't say whether the sequel is in development on the platform.

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