Review: Sanctum 2 (PC)

Review: Sanctum 2 (PC)

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Yes, you are looking at a tower defense game.

Sanctum 2 is a  hybrid first-person shooter and tower defense game for the PC. The first game (Sanctum) was released back in April 2011 which had generally mixed reviews. Personally, I liked the game a lot. I actually scored a copy of it during one of those Steam sales (because this game was under my radar like almost all non-triple A games) and recently pre-ordered Sanctum 2 (which was released on May 15, 2013) without doing much research on the contents of the sequel. Little did I know that they practically revamped the entire game which made the game feel different and took me some time to digest the changes. But don’t get me wrong, it’s not an entirely new game, the core mechanics are intact but Sanctum 2’s development seems to have certain inclinations towards FPS mechanics and multiplayer.

The game features sixteen (16) maps of increasing difficulty where you battle to protect your core or base if you will against waves of creep that grow bigger every turn. You can choose between four (4) characters, seven (7) distinct side arms, eleven (11) tower types, and eleven (11) character perks to form an iron clad defense  that will blow anything that tries to cross it to smithereens.

Good points:

Improved upgrading system. The the first game, you could upgrade towers or your own weapons and it came off as a tower vs FPS player where you could see specific stats of how much DPS towers made compared to your avatar as well as how many kills they made respectively but I always felt that it kind of crippled the game’s core mechanics which is using both towers and your own skill to beat the game. Sanctum 2 made pretty big changes here spreading out all available main weapons across four (4) characters. This means you can’t pair up two imbalanced weapons and max them out then own almost everything in sight. As a matter of fact, character weapons cannot be upgraded in this game, meaning there is only so much you can do with your character alone and all your resources really go into making the perfect tower defense. Weapons are also balanced out in a way that each character have distinguished styles of FPS game play.

Where you equip the gear.
There is a lot more going down when setting up in Sanctum 2

While each character has their own inert abilities such as increased damage to weak spots (on creep) every time you hit them to setting creep on fire when they get hit by your weapons, you can equip additional perks that will assist you or your towers in dealing with the different waves of creep in various stages. You might find yourself tinkering with these a lot when you’re going against higher difficulty settings. You will also notice that each character is suited to different paying styles in some way. My favorite is SiMo, the sniper touting robot.

Towers can be upgraded two (2) times instead of five (5) times in the previous game. It makes a lot more sense granted that both games gave you limited resources and the fact that max level upgrades in the original game were tricked out so much that those positions basically turn into your choke points by default (due to how much money they costed).

Additional tower type slots and perk slots can be unlocked when you advance in levels (gaining XP), you also unlock additional sidearms along the way. Sidearms are actually quite important in this game more than they were in the first Sanctum game. They important for many situations, damage over time on heavily armored creep, crowd control, and even in situations where creep needs to take a lot of hits for their defense to loosen up (in case your primary weapon has a low rate of fire… like a sniper).

Screenshot 5
Creeps and bosses will go after you when you get their attention.

Improved AI and game mechanics. While creep in the original Sanctum just ignored your character and literally shove you away when you get close, these mobs aren’t as mindless in Sanctum 2. As a matter of fact, they go after your character when you are in proximity because your avatar plays a bigger roles in the defenses now. You can actually get fragged by creep and you lose 10 seconds of damage dealing time in the process so there is a lot more going on when you play this game. Also, the mere fact that creep target your character brings into play a new paradigm of strategy. You can bait and delay enemies to set up choke points where all your tower defenses are focused on to deal maximum damage.

One of the core mechanics of Sanctum is crafting out your own maze to funnel creep to their death and to make them take the longest possible route to your core or main base(s) if you will. The previous game requires you to spend money to make create the blocks to direct traffic which inevitably becomes a pain when you’re distributing that with new towers and upgrading them so they decided to give you a fixed amount of blocks to start and replenish per wave. You don’t have to worry about buying blocks so you can dedicate all your funds to towers and their upgrades which makes a lot more sense to me.

Varying degree of difficulty. Outside the typical survival mode of endless waves, you can actually set handicaps up to five (5) handicaps in any stage. You can make them stronger, faster, tougher, regenerate health, or even set a one death handicap per death (meaning once you die during a wave, you respawn only during the next wave assuming your defenses hold up. The mere addition of these “feats of strength” as they call it, just extended the game’s replay value. It also helps that accomplishing each feat of strength gives you a bonus of 20% XP so in a stage where you accomplish all five (5) gives you 100% more XP, allowing you to unlock items faster. There is also an easy mode for people who find the default game mode a little too difficult so that kind of lowers the barriers to enjoy the game.

Bad points:

These comics pretty much sums up how they tell the story of the game.

Loss of creep database. In the original sanctum, you could preview what kind of creep (or mobs if you will) will appear in the next wave. This basically gives you enough information on how to arrange your tower defenses and how you will fight the waves in FPS mode. Also it also helped in the previous game that they not only named the mobs, and had a picture of them, they also described what they could do, now I’m stuck with images in Sanctum 2 so I frequently get caught off guard with the emergence of a boss because I wasn’t able to recognize the blasted creep icon. This makes me do a lot of needless trial and error (not to mention losing, some people might not mind losing a problem but I sure as hell do /rage).

Half-assed story. I’ve always been a believer of making the most out of any feature you put into a product so I have to call this one out. Granted that Sanctum never had a story to begin with, you may see the addition to some plot negligible in Sanctum 2. But for me, the mere fact that the studio decided to put in some semblance of a story, they could have at least touched the game up with even just some game rendered animations to tell the story or have voice over interaction between characters in the middle of creep waves. I’m not asking for a sci-fi novel put into Sanctum 2, but a little more immersion would really have brought up the game’s value in my book.

10 seconds lost is a lot.

Getting stuck in objects. I’ve experienced it a few times in this game and that is a big problem in Sanctum 2. In the original Sanctum, getting stuck is remedied by the teleporters (you can construct fixtures you can automatically teleport to in the map) providing instant travel or escape. The teleporter does not exist in Sanctum 2 and dying (there is a suicide option) is the only way to resolve getting stuck. Dying in Sanctum 2 means losing 10 seconds of damage dealing and that’s a big deal. It kind of sucks that they couldn’t fix these glitches and opted to grant you a suicide option to get out of situations made by their inability to resolve these issues. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen that often.

Things that can swing either way:

Normal campaign games can be multiplayer. This is really something that swings both ways. On one hand, you can have anybody jump in and help you out on a stage that you are having trouble with but on the other hand, it seems like the game is really making you dependent on playing with other people to advance in a seemingly good pace without having to grind up your character to unlock new tower or perk slots, new weapons, or even new towers. I seriously don’t doubt that each stage is impossible to finish alone but just by how I see the game designed your limited resources make it really harder to play alone unlike the first game. Some games are much more fun if you can play them at your own pace. You can play with up to three (3) other people online and random strangers can join you when you set your game to public.

You’ve got to get down and dirty.

The game is first and foremost a first person shooter. Creep have weak spots you MUST abuse or you will fail miserably so a guy with great aptitude for tower defense games might find him/herself overwhelmed by this requirement. Granted that your accuracy isn’t put to the test as much as the original Sanctum did (with those damned bobble heads) you actually need to be quick on your foot and get down and dirty engaging creep in close quarters even when you are a sniper (at least in my case). Again, this is a big plus for me but not everyone will be able to appreciate it.

One addition to the game are boss monsters who pretty much walk over your tower defenses, setting you into a full FPS mode frenzy. You gotta waste the boss and all the creep that floods through the holes of your carefully constructed maze of death before they reach your base and break it. There are some minor planning in your tower defenses that can stall the boss but they are primarily beaten with twitch skills and field awareness over intricate tower defense positioning.

The visuals have been improved significantly, but they aren’t exactly breathtaking nor did I take too much notice to them at all. While visibly superior to its predecessor, I barely noticed it between aiming at weak spots and dodging aggro creep coming my way. This game isn’t really about top-notch graphics, so if you expect some sort of mind-blowing HD whatever, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

In Conclusion:

Sanctum 2 delivers a very engaging FPS/tower defense experience by improving on a lot of core mechanics. However, the push for more multiplayer interaction seems a little forced and was not exactly what I would call a feature I enjoyed with the original Sanctum. Then again, this game is an FPS game at its core so purist tower defense fans might not exactly like this game. However, it provides a great deal of entertainment mixing action and strategy with varying levels of difficulty. You will be  replaying each stage over and over again without feeling any grind and at the price of $14.99 and the replay value you get from this game, you can’t go wrong. You can get it on Steam right now.

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Recommended System Requirements:

  • CPU: Quad Core 2.00 Ghz +
  • Memory: 2 GB DDR 2
  • Video Card: Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS or better
  • HDD Space: 4 GB
  • Operating System: Windows 7 or 8