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We’ve long dreamed of it, but only now is it coming to fruition: asymmetrical multiplayer in a tower defense game. The original Anomaly Warzone Earth from 11 bit studios broke the tired mold by making you walk a mile in the attackers’ shoes in some tower offense, tasking you with demolishing alien towers instead of constructing them. Besides the nifty flip of a familiar concept, it boasted crisp graphics and a hero unit that could support your units by frantically activating power-ups during crucial moments. Anomaly 2 is gearing up for an even bigger reinvention of the tower defense genre--and from what we saw at GDC, it takes everything that made the first game great and amplifies it with clever upgrades.

The most significant of these upgrades is the addition of multiplayer--no longer will you be constricted to competition through mere leaderboards. In Anomaly 2’s online matches, one player controls the typical six-vehicle squad, while the other takes the role of an alien overlord and must build a devious maze of high-tech turrets. It’s the first instance of this kind of multiplayer tower defense scenario we’ve heard of, and gosh darn it if it isn’t one of the prettiest to boot. Anomaly 2 will use the same impressive graphics engine as the first game, albeit with improvements like better lighting and even more flashy effects.

When an online match starts, it’s a race to 1,000 points, which can take anywhere from five minutes blowouts (the game ends if one player gets ahead by 500 points) or 20 minute battle royales. The human squad can rack up points by obliterating buildings, while the alien planner can get a bit craftier. Victory for the extraterrestrial side can be acquired through repeatedly eliminating individual units in the attacking squad, or they can construct a generator which will accumulate points over time. These generators force aggression from the other player and prevent matches from being drawn-out stalemates; the catch is that the human forces will rake in the points if they manage to destroy the defenseless generator, which has no attack capabilities of its own.

The aliens may not have their own hero unit and the tech powers he provides, but they’ve still got access to four (of seven total) unique abilities. On top of using upgrades like faster build times, you can find new methods of making your towers deadly. Take, for instance, the Kamikaze ability, which detonates your tower of choice to vaporize nearby units in a massive explosion. The method for choosing your four abilities, on both the human and alien sides, is something we find fascinating: the order in which you select your tech powers will determine their effectiveness. So the last ability selected will be your strongest, opening the doors to a cavalcade of potential skill builds.

Though they’re forced to march into the sights of some terrifying alien laser towers, the human military forces aren’t without a few tricks all their own. They’ve got access to the other huge change to Anomaly’s gameplay: the ability to morph your units between one of two distinct forms, all on the fly. With a simple double-click, any vehicle in your convoy can transform into a new unit--and yes, they’re all animated with some sweet Transformers-style flair. For instance, the Assault Hound can become the Hell Hound, or the human-buffing Shield Guard can shift into a tower-debuffing Gripper Guard. Again, these transformations can be activated whenever you see fit, and won’t cost you a virtual dime.

This continuous morphing of your bullet-spitting caravan adds an entirely new layer of strategy to Anomaly’s already-intense gameplay. Fret not, newcomers--the game’s expansive single-player campaign will introduce you to the ins and outs of the advantages and drawbacks of each vehicle form. The single-player story this time around will drop players in the post-apocalyptic frozen wasteland of North America, and move south as the game progresses. Anomaly veterans will be happy to know that an even more brutally difficult mode has been added: Nightmare. If you thought the original Anomaly’s Hardcore mode was tough, Nightmare will utterly curb stomp you.

That difficulty doesn’t come from punishing game design, either; 11 bit listened to the fans of the first game and made some very player-friendly improvements to the game. For instance, you can now control your hero unit using the trusty WASD layout, and activate his four abilities using the number keys. Choice among those abilities is the new Aim power, which lets you mark a tower as a high priority target so that your convoy will blast whatever’s an immediate threat. You’ll also be able to actually see where checkpoints are, so there’ll be no random guessing or frustrating setbacks while trekking through the campaign.

All the upgrades make Anomaly 2 look like quite the indie package, which is set to release on Steam and the official 11 bit website (complete with a bonus gift) for a reasonable $15. Besides the requisite Windows, you’ll also be able to play it on Mac and Linux. Anomaly 2 is set to release within the next six or seven weeks, with a multiplayer beta starting soon. From what we’ve seen in Anomaly 2, we’ll gladly march to our deaths against a stronghold of alien towers if it’s this fun.

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