Hands-On Preview: Anthill

If there’s one thing that can compete with birds and zombies on iOS, it’s gotta be bugs. Whether they’re wrapped up into an Action RPG or wriggling around in the soil of Mars, it’s clear that we can’t get enough of little creepy crawlers here at iFanzine. Out to continue this healthy trend is Swedish developer Image & Form, who sent a preview build of Anthill: Ants Ain’t Saints our way. The Gothenburg-based developer is probably better known for educational titles than devastatingly addictive Real-Time Strategy games, but now that I’ve finally peeled my fingers from the screen of my iPod Touch 4 to write this preview, I have a feeling that’s about to change!

Anthill’s think-on-your-feet, resource management intensive style will feel both immediately intuitive and refreshingly swift-paced to the Castle Defense fan. It sets the player in charge of supplying and defending an ant hive surrounded by hordes of unfriendly critters that a.) want dibs on food supplies the ants have claimed, and b.) need some underground living space of their own. If the player directs an efficient defense of the hive, the ants can turn this siege into a buffet of yummy enemy carcasses, cementing their own territorial claims!

The main implements in the player’s tool bag are pheromones, streamed along the ground in patterns the player traces out from the hive. Once a pheromone trail is laid, the player chooses a type of ant to dispatch along that path. Okay, so this sounds just a tad gross on paper, but the execution is amazingly fluid and perfectly suited to iOS.

Anthill takes the stereotypical army analogy very seriously. Worker ants form the hive’s supply lines, and the deeper these penetrate into enemy territory, the more shielding they’ll need from short-range Soldiers, long-range Spitters, and flying Bomber ants. Orchestrating the campaign is a continuous act of creative destruction: the player is constantly setting up new trails and removing them as the situation develops in real time. The player’s inventory of ants hang out in the burrow if none of their type are currently on assignment; otherwise they’re evenly distributed along the assigned paths. Directing Bomber ants toward far-flung enemy positions with touchscreen taps adds a nice pseudo-shoot ’em up element to the action, varying the player’s experience beyond the usual trailblazing.

About one-quarter of the way into Anthill as I write this, what I’m most excited about – in addition to the smooth interface and challenging variety of enemies – is the fact that the player’s performance feeds directly into gameplay. Stars earned for certain high score marks at the end-of-level tally don’t just appear on the player’s Game Center record; they’re traded for upgrades to the player’s ant units. Rather than being incremental in nature, upgrades tend to produce drastic changes — giving the ants far more endurance or entirely new destructive abilities!

We’ve only begun counting the ways we love Anthill, but we’re saving the rest for our review once the game releases in early October. Stay tuned for our interview with developer Image & Form later this week! In the meantime, there are plenty of additional details to chew through at the game’s official site.