Until recently the tower defence genre shared a surprising number of similarities with when I used to make my own wine. There was a great deal of planning and preparation followed by much watching and waiting to see if all that prep would pay off into something marvelous or if the investment would end up going down the drain due to poor planning. Then in the last few years tower defence games, including the original Sanctum, seemed to enter a renaissance. No longer did gamers have to sit on the sidelines while their strategically placed turrets and towers fended off waves of enemies. The genre began allowing gamers the freedom to jump into the action at the ground level and to become part of the battle.
Sanctum 2 melds classic tower defence with first-person shooter mechanics as players must build their defences, with limited resources, to protect an energy core. A wide range of enemy aliens are released in waves to attack and destroy the core. Four character classes are available to choose from for the FPS portion of the experience running the traditional gamut from sniper, to heavy weapons expert. Between each wave, players build walls throughout the level to redirect enemies along the path of greatest resistance. Turrets can be built upon sections of the wall and upgraded. This all sounds pretty cut and dry but, much like my homemade wine, it is the subtle nuances which elevate the experience and provide a richness of depth.
The design of the enemies in Sanctum 2 is varied and brilliant. Reminiscent of giant insects and creatures from the deep sea, many have specific weak points exposed through their exoskeleton armour. This is where deftness in the first-person perspective can stop an alien wave in its tracks. Automated turrets are indiscriminate in their targeting of the aliens so it is up to the player to hit the enemies where it hurts the most. Laying some slugs into alien hides sounds pretty simple when, like any tower defence game, they follow a specific route. Sanctum 2 mixes up this dynamic. Should you ever get too close to the alien’s path, they will deviate from their goal of attacking the energy core and instead steamroll a path directly at you. Raw firepower is rarely enough to stop a wave so fleetness of foot and a constant rotation of zones to attack from ensures that the horde won’t overwhelm your position. The result of this coupled with jittery crosshair control due to some surprising kickback with the guns leads to plenty of white knuckled tension with your back against a wall and a monster bearing down on you.
With great enemies, plenty of un-lockables and customization, the game delivers enjoyable action at a frantic pace while not neglecting the cerebral pursuits of gamers
The strategic tower building portion of the game has its highs and lows. Resources are scarce and the available real estate in many of the levels feels relatively small. Therefore the ability to greatly influence the environment by generating arduous gauntlets of destruction is not at the same level as other tower defence games such as Geodefence Swarm. The paltry number of resources available also means that only a few turrets can be built on each level. As a result the equilibrium between tower placement strategy and first person firepower is heavily skewed towards the shooter portion of the game. On the plus side, sporadic goodies such as landmines provide an additional layer of thought when constructing the defences.
There is a bevy of content in Sanctum 2 that held my interest. Levels can be played alone or in multiplayer which delivers a whole new experience replete with the joy of utilizing proper teamwork and the frustration of playing the game with a resource hog. There is ample replay value from tackling a map as a sniper delivering death from a distance or a shotgun wielding hero who needs to get close to the action to be successful. The replay is further amplified by the numerous un-lockable weapons for the FPS experience and turrets for the strategically inclined. My only real area of frustration occurred when I failed a mission after toiling through a large number of enemy waves. A map can represent a significant time investment and having to restart at the beginning if my energy core was compromised during the final wave felt defeating and at times I was reluctant to go through it all again. A save point at the half-way mark of the alien waves would have gone a long way towards diminishing this frustration.
Visually, Sanctum 2 is a good looking game with an overall colour palette and feel that would fit comfortably in the Mass Effect universe. The enemies move fluidly and, oddly enough, appear both alien and familiar at the same time. The story, told in comic strip sequences complete with speech bubbles, has a unique graphical acuity. While I normally find that hand-drawn characters with exaggerated proportions look too child-like to be taken seriously, the characters in the Sanctum universe are slick and gritty.
Not since someone got chocolate in my peanut butter have two distinct items tasted so good together as the FPS and tower defence action of Sanctum 2. With great enemies, plenty of un-lockables and customization, the game delivers enjoyable action at a frantic pace while not neglecting the cerebral pursuits of gamers. Tower defence fans may find that the game is too heavily weighted towards the FPS side of the coin but there is no denying that both elements together make for a great time.
+ Excellent repertoire of aliens
+ Un-lockables create plenty of replay value
+ Strong FPS mechanics
+ Tension filled levels
- Some levels are quite small
- No saves mid-level
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Release date : 2013-05-15
Publisher : D3 PUBLISHING
Developer : Coffee Stain Studios
Gameplay : Tower Defense-FPS
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