For a game whose title is composed purely of clichés, Anomaly is unexpectedly refreshing. I wish they'd called it Guide a Convoy: Past Turrets – in fact, I'm going to pretend they did.
In Guide a Convoy: Past Turrets, you guide a convoy of different vehicles past alien turrets. You're just one man with no weapons, running around a top-down view of urban Japan and Iraq infested with alien gun emplacements. You direct your tanks, APCs and weapons platforms by switching to planning mode with the mouse wheel, then clicking on junctions to choose which way your convoy should turn at each.
At first, you're just diverting to avoid blockades. But later missions ask you to plan a route that'll let you take out every turret, or reach an ally by a certain deadline. Your tanks and walking missile launchers fire automatically at the various gun emplacements they pass – it's your job to keep them repaired with area effect heals, and distract the turrets with decoys and smoke grenades.
It's like the game's level designers are playing a tower defence game, and you're the creeps marching through their maze. You get to buy new vehicles for your convoy, such as shield generators that protect the vehicles in front and behind, then decide the order they should roll out and which ones to upgrade. Tough ones up front will tank more damage, but the sooner your powerful ones enter range, the faster the enemy guns will be knocked out.
It isn't like anything I've played before. There's an exciting feeling of hands-on management: your convoy is what does the damage, but you're down there frantically trying to keep it alive. I love to run in ahead and dance in front of the enemy turrets to attract their fire. If you circle around them entirely, they're facing the wrong way when your vehicles come into firing range, giving you a few seconds of free shots.
Turret idiosyncrasies makes route planning more interesting. One of the most powerful types can only fire directly forwards, so you always want to follow a straight road past it, never directly toward or away. Others can turn, but only slowly, so you can run ring-roads around them. Intelligently adapting your route as the threat changes breaks up the action nicely.
The whole thing is conspicuously gorgeous: the dusty roads of Baghdad are rendered with as much care and detail as if they were making a first-person shooter, so from your birds' eye view the maps are almost absurdly crisp. There's design polish too: every click is satisfying, every principle is easy to understand and clear in execution, and every interface reacts the way you instinctively want it to. It's instantly and enduringly fun to play.
And the strangest thing about it all: here I am enjoying a game made entirely out of escort missions.
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