Developer: Coffee Stain Studios
Publisher: Reverb Communications
Category: FPS Tower Defense
Sanctum 2 is the hotly anticipated sequel to the 2011 indie smash FPS/Tower Defense hybrid Sanctum by Coffee Stain Studios, and let me tell you: be prepared to put this one high on your radar for 2013, because you’re going to be hearing a lot about this one for some time to come. Den of Geek recently had a chance to check out an early beta build of Sanctum 2 before its full commercial release this summer, and experience the game’s perfect blend of FPS elements and classic Tower Defense gameplay. So how does Sanctum 2 hold up to its predecessor and other titles in the FPS/TD genre?
The goal of each level in the Sanctum 2 campaign is to protect a giant energy core from waves of ugly alien creatures who seem pretty intent on destroying it. In addition to planting turrets and upgrading their defenses, you can also stack turret-less blocks in the middle of your enemy’s path, which will actually redirect their footsteps and give you some much-needed breathing room. Of course, the game won’t let you section off the enemy’s path completely so that all the creatures are enclosed in a nice protective space away from your energy core, which doesn’t make the most sense for the characters in the game logically, but I guess if they were able to do that then we wouldn’t really have a game here. The turret types in the game include everything from the rapid-fire machinegun turret, to the slow and deadly lightning turret, and new turrets are unlocked at steady intervals as you progress throughout the game.
But don’t get the wrong idea here: Sanctum 2 is still very much a first-person shooter. Completing missions and gaining experience will reward your character with new weapons, new turret types, and additional turret slots, so you can experiment with different deadly combinations to find what packs the most devastating punch. You’ll also be able to apply a number of bonus perks to your fighter the more you level up, like the “Hollowpoint Rounds” perk, which makes one in every three shots deal 100% of bonus weapon damage to your foes. Players are allowed to carry any two weapons on their character at once, and each one comes with a viciously awesome alternate firing attack. A cool exploit in the game though is that when one weapon runs out of ammo, you can switch to your second weapon, and then upon switching back to the first, it will now have been magically reloaded, which theoretically gives you a never-ending rate of fire. Of course, don’t think this method will let you off the hook for too long: Sanctum 2 has a very brisk difficulty, and even though you’re allowed to die and respawn without losing the mission, don’t be surprised if you find yourself starting over more than you expected.
Powered by the Unreal Engine, the graphics in the game are incredibly rich, and everything from the creepy enemy designs, right down to the way the energy core changes colors to reflect the amount of damage it has taken, are brilliantly thought out, and work wonders towards adding to the simple and clean design of the title. Sanctum 2 features a number of diverse and futuristic environments that are carefully laid out on a simple world map, but they never feel restricted to a grid type of structure as I’ve seen in many other Tower Defense games before. Each map has a completely unique layout, where twisting corners, crowded on-ramps, and multiple enemy spawn points quickly ramp up the difficulty and throw some healthy gameplay twists into the mix that force you to think on your feet. This is especially true considering the game cannot be paused in the middle of a wave, and the frightening legions of enemies move scarily fast given their size. But if you’re ever feeling overwhelmed in the game, you can always hop onto the Sanctum 2 multiplayer servers, and breeze through the campaign with up to three buddies.
Sanctum 2 throws you right into the middle of the high-octane FPS action from the second you hit “Play,” and it rarely slows down at any point after to let you catch your bearings before the next wave hits. One of the best features of Sanctum 2 is that in between waves, you never leave the first-person perspective, and will do all of your turret planting and strategic planning right from the same HUD screen. The only somewhat disappointing thing I found about the entire experience has to do with the game’s story, or perhaps I should say the lack thereof. Before every mission, players will be greeted by a flat and oddly placed cartoon illustration, similar to those of a comic book, which don’t exactly tell you what the hell is going on with these relentless alien attacks, or really add to any sort of narrative structure in the game. Granted, I still loved blasting those ugly aliens into big meaty chunks that covered the floor, but it still would have been nice to know the bigger picture of what was really at stake here.
Maybe it was the way that damage points flew off my grotesque alien adversaries in spews of vibrant colors, but there is a lot in this game that reminded me of Gearbox’s fantastic Borderlands series: and I mean that as a compliment in the best possible way. Before every round, players have the option of choosing between one of four characters from varying classes: there’s Skye Autumn, the squad leader and assault rifle gal; her younger sister and grenadier, Sweet Autumn; SiMo the marksman and sniper extraordinaire; and my personal favorite, Haigen Hawkins the shotgun-wielding point man. Each character has their own unique attributes as well, like added health or better accuracy, and your experience points are all cumulative throughout the campaign, so you can freely interchange between them at any point in the game without having to worry about starting over from scratch.
The single-player campaign seems pretty lengthy from the handful of hours I played, but besides a multiplayer survival-type game mode, I’m not sure how much replay value can be had here after players reach the end of the story. I would have at least liked to see some bonus objectives for each map, or scoring requirements that challenged you to earn three stars on every mission. But even so: I had to remind myself on several occasions that I was actually playing a beta version here, because Sanctum 2 is so well put together that it could have easily fooled me for a polished retail release. The final build of the game is set to launch sometime in summer 2013, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Sanctum 2 will be the next big thing to hit the world of PC gaming once it finally does.