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Our overall verdict "gold"

Wow. That was the first word out of my mouth when I finished playing Anomaly 2 last night. I hadn’t played the original game, hadn’t heard of the second and didn’t even have a clue what genre I was dealing with. I truly had no idea I was about to give my PS4 such an explosive treat. Anomaly 2 is an action-based real-time strategy game. It’s the year 2034 and aliens we call The Machines have crapped all over the earth and only a few humans have survived in what is now a bleak wasteland. You control a military unit on a quest to find something called Project Shockwave, a weapon capable of evening up all the odds and winning back the earth. Exciting stuff.

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After a stunning opening movie that puts the cut scenes of many AAA games to shame, you are eased into Anomaly 2’s mechanics via a few short tutorials. The game is then broken down into various missions, all of which continue with the tutorial’s guiding hand when new elements are added. Strategy games can feel overwhelming if you’re dropped right in the shit with little help, and they can also feel laborious if the supplied tutorials are too long, too dry and poorly designed. None of those problems here. Each helping hand is brief, to the point and explained to you via some excellent voice-overs. You learn as you play and at no time does anything feel either too complicated or dumbed down.

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Each mission consists of planning a route through enemy territory to a designated goal, and buying and placing suitable convoy units to get your team through. Different units come with different advantages and disadvantages so you’ll need to plan carefully and sometimes sell and replace units mid-mission. Assault Hound vehicles will potentially get you a very high rate of fire but they need to shoot continuously in order to “warm up”. Sledge Hammer units are great for long range use and can deal more damage in a single shot but can only fire up to a thirty degree angle, making close combat impossible. To make life a little easier, each unit can be morphed to change their abilities and strengths. Use the Sledge Hammer to start dealing damage from afar then switch to its Rocket Hammer form to gain more cannon manoeuvrability and continue the damage as you close in. It sounds like the units are doing all the hard work for you, but as their commander you are on foot running back and forth morphing your units and placing decoys, EMP blasts and initiating repairs. You start each mission with a firm plan and your head held high and you will mostly end it with your poor little commander flapping about like a recently decapitated chicken. The superb music adds to the excitement and panicking and so I recommend you play with a decent headset so you can crank that tension right up.

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Graphically Anomaly 2 is outstanding. Beautiful textures, intricately detailed environments and a smooth in-game framerate even when the screen inevitably becomes a chaotic tangle of death rays and explosions. The voice-acting is top stuff and always helpful. Your men will let you know when they’re in trouble so you can dash back from wherever you scampered off to so you can repair their units or deflect enemy fire or quickly morph a unit into a more helpful form. Remember though, that your little commander can be shot too. You won’t get Game Over but you will be downed for several excruciating seconds, and every one of those seconds counts when your men are being turned into a bucket of KFC by an enemy Scorcher.

Trophy-wise, be prepared to pop them off like farts in a curry house. The game is very generous. There’s nothing worse than a stingy trophy list. When I “work” hard I expect a pat on the back. Anomaly 2’s trophies will smack you from behind, knock you to the floor and bury you alive.

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There are a range of difficulty levels to suit all, and for those of us who have difficulty enough remembering what day of the week it is, never mind what convoy unit morphs into what and which enemy unit will turn on you if antagonised by your Assault Hound, there is a help section which will repeat all the tutorials in bite-sized pieces. It’s clear that a lot a thought went into streamlining this game. There’s no fuss, fancy frills, faffing or fiddling about. Everything is designed to get you right into the game as quickly and efficiently as possible so you can start taking back the earth from the alien scum.

Conclusion

I don’t know how I missed Anomaly 2 when it was released, but I’m so grateful I found it. It’s real-time strategy heaven. Faultless gameplay, gorgeous graphics and a cracking soundtrack, it’s hard to believe Anomaly 2 can be bought for so few pennies. It’s absolute proof that you don’t have to spend your entire disposable income to get a near-flawless gaming experience.

S J Hollis Rating 9/10

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S J Hollis has been a keen gamer since the Atari 2600. She freely admits she thought E.T. was a good game but would like to stress her tastes have since dramatically improved. She is also an author, a morning person and thinks Elf ears are sexy. Follow her on twitter @SJHollis_