Tower defense games have always been a bit daft: waves of baddies throw themselves at stationary murder-spires until you whittle them down to naught, or the sheer mass of their corpses overwhelms your firepower.

“What’s my motivation?” a soldier might say, as they chug along proscribed paths, wielding weapons they’ll never fire while marching towards a goal they’ll probably never reach.

Anomaly 2 has the answer. But first, it must turn the whole tower defense convention on its head.

Here comes the change-up

Call it tower offense. You play humanity’s last hope, commanding troops as they march past towers o’ doom. The explanation involves an alien invasion that reduces the human race to a smattering of military convoys roaming a post-apocalyptic hellscape—I never played the first entry in the series, so the narrative eludes me. The important point is that your convoy’s vehicles travel along what’s left of Earth’s roadways—essentially taking on the role of the genre’s mindless baddies.

Classic tower combat gameplay abounds in Anomaly 2.

Fortunately your troops are no mere brutes but varied, shapeshifting battle-machines. Double tapping on them will reveal their alternate forms: these generally fall into long- and short-ranged variants, but you’ll also encounter support units with special tricks up their metallic sleeves. The game’s levels are ravaged cityscapes—lovely, in a sad, desolate sort of way. Surprisingly strong (though at times repetitive) voice acting guides you through the game’s story campaign, though there’s also a multiplayer mode if you’d like to challenge friends and strangers.

Much of the standard tower-defense rules apply. Your troops will navigate roadways in single file, marching forward and generally fire upon whatever’s closest to them—you’ll earn the ability to direct their fire after a few missions. You’ll also need to weigh the merits of buying additional units or upgrading your existing ones and find a fair balance between unit types, as your squad is limited to six vehicles.

Choose your own adventure with a tactical map

The most important difference here is that you’ll be choosing your own route: a tactical combat screen lets you plot waypoints at crossroads across the map, allowing you to use the ruined terrain and stationary foes to your advantage. You’ll find yourself able to avoid get the jump on foes by approaching them from their blind spot, scout out shortcuts, or avoid combat altogether by studying the map and planning ahead. But your enemy is a wily one: listen for the telltale beep of signal jammers, which will hide enemy forces on your map, or turrets that’ll outright ambush you when you get too close.

Combat abilities are the glue that holds the whole shebang together. You’ll have four powers at your disposal, ranging from repairing damaged units to firing off EMP blasts that’ll shut down enemies for a brief period of time. These are limited in number, but every enemy you crush has a chance to drop some—refrain from spamming them willy nilly and you should have more than enough to see your through. The same goes for your soldiers: as you defeat enemy towers and scour the map you’ll find a special resource—“Carusaurum”—that you’ll spend to build and upgrade your troops. It’s in limited supply, so expect to spend some time selling units you’ve built or making careful progress about the level.

The magic touch

You’ll want to see this one for yourself. Mice and keyboards are great, but I’ve always found that touch devices are a natural fit for these sorts of hands-off strategy games, wherein you assign commands in broad strokes to autonomous units. Anomaly 2 simply shines on my iPad, coupling good looks with a solid control scheme that lets me focus on shuffling my troops down the right streets. The game has been available on PC and Macs for some time now, but it’ll only set you back $5 on your iOS device. And no nagging ads or in-app purchases either! I’ll admit it’s a bit sad to have to add that as a selling point, but such is the state of mobile gaming these days.

Grab Anomaly 2 from the Apple App store, or pop on over to 11bit Studios’ site to get a discount on the Steam version.

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