By Jim Rossignol on May 21st, 2013 at 9:00 pm.
Sanctum was something of a rocket out of left field. There’s nothing unusual about tower defence, of course, and the “action” tower defence genre is now setting itself up as a thing, but Sanctum’s tight sci-fi world and solid feel set it apart from either tower defence games or FPS titles. That meant popularity, and a lot of players. Sanctum 2, meanwhile, attempts to place a fresh turret on top of previous successes, and use a flamethrower on the opposition. I spent some time with it. Here’s Wot I Think.
Sanctum 2, then.
Sanctum mixes tower-defence with FPS combat. This means that you playing through a series of arenas into which waves of enemies conveniently arrive through paths you are able to define and line with weaponry. The creeps attack you and attempt to get to the “core” – the thing at the heart of your defences. To survive, you and the core need to build up a grid to fight them off. It’s all wrapped in a lovely shiny futurist sci-fi wrapper, and it feels solid and pacey. It plays fast and requires some focus to get the best of, and is an enormously satisfying process.
Contrary to some reports, it’s entirely possible to play Sanctum 2 alone. You can get through as one person against the creeping hordes, but I can’t really recommend playing for one. This is a game of multiplayer, moreso even than the original. While the original Sanctum supported co-op and single-player, the focus in the new game seems very much to be on the group experience: it’s where the most action is, and it’s the most rewarding way to play. Advocates of playing with friends will think of this as inevitable, but I think Sanctum 2’s design goes some way to supporting co-op over soloing.
For example: the type of character you choose will dictate some of how you can play, thanks to the equipment they have available. This means that when playing alone your tactics will be defined by that character choice, whereas playing as a group will enable you to choose character types that support each other somewhat with their varied weapon selections. It’s not as pronounced as the character selection criteria in many other multiplayer games, but it does feel very different to the previous game. The creeps too, are tough, and are generally best tackled with chums. In fact they seem to be designed to be tackled by a group, rather than alone.
There is, however, the peculiar issue of resource collection – which Coffee Stain say they are looking at – and its problematic implementation. Currently the game drops resource into the arena after each wave, allowing anyone to collect it as it arrives. If someone hogs it at the expense of others, well, that can precipitate multiplayer sadface times.
Resources seem very tight overall, too, and it’s relatively unforgiving as a game. You don’t have a lot of capacity to wing it with the defences, and falling even a small distance from an optimal strategy won’t give you a great deal of time to deal with the creeps.
Sanctum 2’s success won’t be a surprise this time, but I can see some people being surprised at the directions the design teams have pushed this sequel. That said, Sanctum was rapidly iterated upon a great deal since its inception so I think we can expect the same dedication towards iterating on player feedback this time around. Coffee Stain are certainly dedicated to their craft.
Sanctum 2 is probably best played with friends, and I think it’s going to have a wide of audience of friends enjoying it. It does feel like a bit of an awkward sort of sequel, though. It has changed significantly, but doesn’t really feel like a giant leap in any particular direction. Rather, the design has taken a stroll from the original template, making the scope wider without really uncovering any new terrain. That’s not to say you won’t enjoy it – it’s a decent game – but rather to say that this feels like a holding pattern for the developer, rather than an ambitious step up. I’ll be keen to see what they do next.
Sanctum 2 is out now.