Sanctum 2 is an addicting and amazingly fun romp through an imaginative science fiction landscape.
I’ve only been a fan of real time strategy and tower defense games for the last few years; they were never something I played when I was younger. I have totally been missing out! Those who know me are aware that I am terrible at first person shooters, but enjoy playing them if there’s enough fantasy involved. Sanctum 2 does a beautiful job of bringing these two genres together.
Sanctum 2 is a First Person Shooter with a Real Time Strategy/Tower Defense twist. It was developed by Coffee Stain Studios and published by Reverb Publishing on May 15th, 2013 for Steam, Xbox Live, and the PlayStation Network.
Sanctum 2 follows a group of four protagonists. You have Skye Autumn, the leader of the group that uses a standard gun, Sweet Autumn, a young girl with a giant hand that uses a kind of rocket launcher, SiMo, a robot with a Sniper Rifle and the best accuracy, and Haigen Hawkens, who uses the strongest weapon, a shotgun, has the biggest health bar, and is the only male character in the game.
After the introduction stage, you can choose one of these four to use when you enter battle. The narrative is told through still, comic-like images where the characters speak through bubbles and text. There’s no spoken dialogue, and every sequence happens before each mission. They’re short, and tie everything in Sanctum 2 together.
You start the game playing as Skye. You don’t have a choice, at this point. From the very beginning, Sanctum 2 doesn’t hold your hand, and thrusts you straight into the fray without any warning. You don’t get a tutorial, or even an explanation of what to do. You enter the Facility, you get a gun, and the game runs, full steam ahead! The Facility begins to crumble, things are exploding, a door opens and you have to gun down this faceless alien with only the command prompt “Press LMB (Left Mouse Button) to Fire”.
You have a standard FPS control scheme at your disposal. Anyone familiar with the mouse and keyboard will feel right at home in Sanctum 2. You can run, jump, aim, reload, fire, use secondary fire, and of course can’t see yourself or your feet. Movement is allocated to the WASD keys. Controlling your character is fluid, and very responsive. I never felt myself fighting against the controls, the character’s movement, or worrying if my gun would fire correctly. Some weapons have recoil, so the reticle jerks, or the screen shakes to give you the feeling of powerful bursts, so you can’t just aim the mouse and let the LMB do the shooting. Sanctum 2 forces you to continually stay on your toes, to be alert, and in control of your on screen soldier at all times.
After a brief run through the Facility, you are tossed into the first map. Suddenly, a giant, alien Walker bursts through a doorway, and along with some random troopers, you experience your first battle. You gun the beast down, and the RTS aspect begins. The area where you can build is surrounded by a blue, glowing energy field, while the area where the creatures spawn is denoted by a red energy glow. I found myself trying to walk into red zone, only to be met with a flashing red screen and blood splatters, hailing my imminent death. Okay, noted -can’t walk into the red area. The stage itself was a very sci-fi looking facility, with metal panels and flooring, some metal barrels, glowing edges, with space marines standing guard. It’s all very industrial. A giant orb of pulsating blue light, with iron rings slowly moving around it, is off to the top right corner. Sanctum 2 is a bit disorienting in the beginning, at least it was for me, simply because I had no idea what to do.
The user interface is confusing at first. There were numbers and symbols that meant nothing to me. I wandered around, seeing the ghost of a metal barrel showing up everywhere I walked. I was also surrounded by a lot of other sci-fi barrels, with no idea what they were for. A few button prompts would flash on the screen, but it just didn’t make sense. So, I pushed on, pressed everything, and prematurely started the first Wave. You see, each stage has a specific progression.
A Wave is a group of monsters that spawn from the red zone and will attempt to kill you, with the primary goal of obliterating your big-pulsating-orb-thing, called a Core. First, you have the building phase of the battle, where you get to set your walls, turrets, and basically build up your defense against the horde of bloodthirsty aliens. In the beginning, you have a limited supply of resources that you can use to build Towers. Mainly, the metal barrels, which act as walls, and gun turrets, that aim and shoot at any creature that comes within range, are your Towers, which are used to defend your Core.
Instead of being able to create walls and guns at will, you’re given a finite amount of Resources. The amount of Resources that you have can be seen on the bottom of the screen’s UI. To start with, there are images of your Wall and Gun Towers, and above these two icons are simple images of what look like a stack of poker chips, a squashed cylinder, and a camera. The poker chips tell you how much you can spend on weapon Towers, like guns or other offensive, death dealing Towers. The squashed cylinder tells you how many Wall Towers you can set up, and the camera is the limit on how many guns you can have on the playing field. Weapons can only be built upon walls.
The strategy aspect comes into play as you decide the best area to place your walls and turrets, to maximize your Core’s defense. If the Core, which has a health bar, is attacked and destroyed, it’s game over. When in doubt, you can always jump into the fray, and blast the baddies away. It’s really intense!
Once the building phase is over with, you can start the Wave. When the Wave is initiated, enemies spawn from a fixed point in the stage, and slowly make their way toward your Core. Enemies, unless they fly, cannot penetrate or move past your Walls. You can die during combat, but the only consequence is that you need to wait a few seconds before respawning. You don’t have lives, which is a good thing. The downside is that while you’re waiting to come back to life, the enemy is bashing the Core.
When all the spawned critters of the Wave have been dispatched by you or your Towers, the Wave ends, and it’s back to the building phase. This is the basic flow of the game, and each level has a set number of Waves. The introductory level has 4 Waves. Whether you are defeated, or hopefully manage victory over the horde, you gain experience points. When you gain enough XP, you level up. Leveling up unlocks new Towers, ability slots, abilities, weapons, and Perks. Every character, no matter which one you choose, has ability slots to hold weapons, Towers, and Perks. You can have one main weapon, which cannot be replaced, and one secondary weapon that you can switch between, at any point in combat. You begin with only two Tower slots, and you can unlock up to four as you gain higher levels. You start with one Perk slot – these are simply buffs for your character, like extra damage, double jumping, or the ability to land on an opponent’s head, dealing 5,000 damage! Seriously, the jumping on the head perk is the only way I’ve been able to off some of the bigger, armored enemies.
Speaking of enemies, they’re varied and interesting. Although all of them run head on toward your Core, with no thought except to kill you if you’re in their way, they all have varying abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. You have the standard Walkers and Walker pups, that mostly swat at you and make up the bulk of the enemy ranks. Then there are the Walker Warriors, which have more health, are harder to kill, and usually have glowing red stripes. There are also armored creatures, like this giant roach/beetle, that takes a ton of time, and a lot of ammo, to kill. I’ve only been able to destroy these armored annoyances with the stomp-on-the-head Perk, and you don’t get that till you level up a few times. Each stage introduces a new, more powerful enemy, and it keeps you on your toes. The game doesn’t allow you to ever get comfortable, and when you think you have a fool proof strategy, they toss in enemies that can fly over your walls, and you need to rethink everything to protect your Core. Oh, and the Bobbers, I hate them. They look like iron brontosauruses with red eyes, and you can only hit them in the glowing area on their skull. Did I mention they swing their head side to side? Yeah, and your Towers don’t do anything to them, so it’s up to you and your gun skills to destroy them. One Bobber is easy but annoying. Then they throw four or five at you, all at the same time, on top of Walkers and other alien creatures. Deal with it.
Sanctum 2 is an addicting and amazingly fun romp through an imaginative science fiction landscape. However, playing solo makes the game really difficult. Sanctum 2 has some pretty steep challenges that force you to level up, especially to get a better arsenal. It also forces you to play with other people. It isn’t required, but the extra fire power does help. You can have up to four real players following you into battle. I, being the loner that I am, never played with anyone else, and found progression difficult, even in the earlier stages. Levels and other players can spell victory or defeat. Needless to say, I’ve been defeated many times.
Sanctum 2 is definitely worth the price ($14.99 on Steam), and it’s also available on Xbox Live and the PSN. If you enjoy strategy, first person shooters, and intense action, Sanctum 2 is a game you need to pick up and experience.