By now most everyone is sick of Tower Defense games. They seem the go-to genre for smaller developers and we’ve been inundated with subpar entries, perhaps because it’s easy to think of a new gimmick or theme for them and slap right on. In my mind nothing much has bested Desktop Tower Defense, the original browser game which almost single-handedly kicked off the popularity of the style, although there have been a few notable exceptions like Plants Vs. Zombies and Pixeljunk Monsters.

Fortunately, Anomaly: Warzone Earth is here to buck the trend by completely flipping around the formula. Following a wildly successful iOS and Android launch the game was retooled for PC and Mac, and it’s now available on the Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade. The big thing here is that instead of setting up towers to defend your base against waves of attackers, you’re the one doing the attacking. That’s right, technically this isn’t “Tower Defense”, it’s “Tower Attack”.

In this XBLA version you control a commander on the battlefield who runs around collecting power-ups to protect your convoy. Unlike the other versions you directly control the commander (rather than just clicking where you want him to go) and you have to keep a close eye on them to make sure your troops get through unscathed.

The basics from other Tower games remain the same- you earn money by destroying enemies and can buy units and upgrade your existing ones to be better prepared. Since you’re leading this convoy of vehicles you’re given the ability to its route on the fly just by hitting the Y button, which will pause the game and zoom the camera out to show you the map grid and any available enemies or power-ups. There you’ll see a line charting your current route and you can move to any intersection and change your direction to better plot your enemy’s destruction. Different towers attack with different methods so if you’re not watching where you’re going you’ll easily get picked off. For example, one tower shoots an intense beam of light ahead of it in a straight line, so the only easy way to kill it is to take it from behind or on the side. Other towers are only vulnerable to certain kinds of weapons.

While the first vehicle in your convoy is going to receive the brunt of the attacks there’s a lot of strategy here, from the choices and placement of your vehicles to your route to smartly putting down power-ups. You have a range of vehicles to purchase, from close-range machine-gun trucks to ones outfitted with long-range missiles, tanks, support vehicles whose force fields can raise rechargeable shields over nearby units, even one that can manufacture power-ups. You’ll find four different types of power-ups on the field over the course of the game, sometimes when you cross a checkpoint or destroy a particular enemy. Your commander can run around and drop them as needed, such as one that repairs your vehicles or scrambles the enemy’s lock-on. The most powerful power-up is a missile that you can use to call in an air-strike on towers yourself, which is perfect for destroying clumps of enemies or softening stronger ones for your convoy to mop up.

The game does a perfect job of getting you acclimated to the new style of combat and all the tricks of the trade, and then throws you against some really fun and varied levels. It’s a nice-sized campaign, and while there’s no multiplayer mode there’s a ton of challenge modes, including a few that see you facing up to 18 waves of enemies in increasing intensity. There’s even an Xbox-exclusive Tactical Trial mode that gives you six different challenge levels, that give you things like a VIP unit you have to protect from harm, or one-way streets. Two harder levels of difficulty are available for anyone who wants even more of a challenge.

While Anomaly: Warzone Earth was already great on mobile platforms it truly shines on the big screen. An addictive, challenging game.

Rating: 9/10

Anomaly: Warzone Earth (800 Microsoft Points) was developed by 11 bit studios and released by Microsoft Studios.This review was based on eight hours with a copy provided to us by the publisher for review.

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