That Sanking Feeling: Sanctum Impressions

The silverfish infestation at Alec's house was starting to get serious.

First personly shooter / tower defense hybrid Sanctum comes out this Friday. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “FPS and Tower Defense at the same time? What? How?! No!!” Or maybe you’re some cocky cock, and you think you know exactly how it’d work. In which case allow me to tell you that you’re probably wrong!

Okay, so you’re probably right. Sanctum operates exactly how you’d expect.

It drops you into a level with an ominous enemy spawn point at one end and an important-looking bit of glowing tech at the other, which your enemies will try and fling themselves into. That’s bad! Running around from a first-personly perspective, you run up to empty patches of ground and can spawn first an eight-foot high cube, and then one of three different weapons to go on top of it.

Once you’re finished spending your resources on these defenses a conga line of enemies comes pouring out of the spawn point and tries to take the fastest route to your important core thingum. Except rather than simply letting your turrets do the hard work, you have access to a machine gun, a sniper rifle and a freeze gun so that you can have a pop at enemies yourself, and each of these guns can be upgraded using the same funds you use to build and upgrade towers.

Your enemies can’t actually hurt you, but while getting close enough to smell their rich, alien scent maximises your chance of hitting them, coming into contact with them sends you reeling backwards for a split second, leaving you unable to shoot or move.

Within five seconds of loading up a map Sanctum revealed itself as an altogether more polished product than I was expecting. Maneuvering around a level using fixed teleporter blocks and a generous bunny-hopping mechanic feels great. Using those teleporters to get on top of one of your defense blocks to pour firepower down onto passing enemies is really satisfying. The physics of dead enemies slumping uselessly to the ground is entertaining, and the sense of actually building your deadly, cuboid labyrinth in a Minecraft style is pleasing.

The way the game is designed also does away with that grim experience that practically defines tower defense, wherein an enemy has emerged alive from your defenses and is free to sashay on to his target unhindered. Now, you can go and gun him down yourself. Sure, similar direct fire mechanics have appeared before in tower defense games, and the type of enemy and the strength of your guns might mean you’re every bit as impotent as before, but there’s something marvellously tactile about getting the chance to take the shot from down there on the floor. You’re left with a sense of “At least I tried,” rather than the sad suspicion than your design is awful.

And hey! Sanctum also has multiplayer, which I think would be great. You and a friend or two manning the battlements of the gauntlet you built together, fingers nervously hovering over triggers as an ungodly stream of creatures comes pouring out? Yeah, that would work.

My only disappointment is that Sanctum doesn’t have any campaign to speak of, but perhaps that’s a personal thing. The only two tower defense games I’ve ever played for any serious length of time are Plants Vs. Zombies and Defense Grid: The Awakening, and in both cases that was because they had a serious amount of content and rationed it out over a campaign. More than that, both are a good deal cheaper than Sanctum will be at launch. £9 is, I fear, quite a lot to ask for three maps, three tower types and three weapons. That said, I’ve just watched this trailer:

And there are a ton of towers in there that I don’t recognise. The in-game encyclopedia also talks of a shotgun that I can’t figure out how to access, so perhaps… there’s… no, I’m not sure. DLC, perhaps? Ah, we’ll have to wait and see. Here‘s that link to Sanctum’s steam page again.

EDIT: OK, I’ve just noticed that my “review code” has “SANCTUM: BETA” splashed over the main menu, so there’s a chance I’m playing a cut-down version of the game. I’ve gotten in touch with Coffee Stain Studios to see what’s up.


  1. Justoffscreen says:

    I just glanced over this when I saw it in the steam store a week ago, but I think I will give it a try now.

    I really like the creature design, it looks as though they put a lot of work into it.

  2. Hoaxfish says:

    Visually it looks really nice, all round, smooth, and bright colours.

    • Wulf says:

      Visually it’s Phantasy Star Online. Exactly. >_>

    • Davey Jones says:

      I was just thinking, wow, this reminds me of PSO or PN03. I miss me some PN03.

    • Italia says:

      I always wanted them to make a PSO FPS. Maybe this is my dream come true..kind of.

      Character design?!?

  3. Rii says:

    Clean and colourful, a rarity indeed for a modern FPS. Kudos.

  4. Javier-de-Ass says:

    iron grip warlord was fps tower defense

    • Chris D says:

      As is Monday Night Combat for that matter

    • PleasingFungus says:

      I thought Monday Night Combat was First Person DOTA?

    • Hallgrim says:


      I see less smack talk in MNC than I do in BFBC2, so it can’t possibly be any version of DotA.

    • DrGonzo says:

      It’s actually third person dota, and another mode which is third person co op tower defence.

    • beatbox32 says:

      Iron Grip: Warlord was a gem for me. I bought it during a Steam sale and had many hours of co-op fun. The developers seem intent on working on other products though, instead of fleshing that one out. I hope this game will pick up where IG:W left off.

  5. DrazharLn says:

    Hmm, I played the demo of this when it first came out after that UDK competition or whatever. It’ll be interesting to see how it has changed.

    This video is even newer and shows lots of stuff I don’t recognize. I think comparisons with Monday Night Combat are inevitable and will not favour Sanctum.

  6. Napalm Sushi says:

    It’s a grossly different aesthetic, but Orcs Must Die looks like it’s going to do this better.

    • RianXD says:

      Orcs must die looks epic.. thanks for showing em it i hadn’t seen it before. However it doe looks like Dungeon defenders which i cant wait for also Sanctum looks great.. definitely getting it for em and a few friends.

    • Outsider says:

      That looks cool. Is it co-op?

    • Napalm Sushi says:

      Alas, no, as I’ve just noticed from further digging, so I guess Sanctum has a window there.

    • beatbox32 says:

      Damn. That would be an insta-buy for me and several friends if it had co-op.

    • Outsider says:

      Yeah, same. :(

      Still looks fun though. Sanctum has my interest as well.

  7. Daniel Rivas says:

    I am conflicted on the subject of silverfish. I’m mildly concerned by their infesting my bathroom, but the way they move is so brilliant that I don’t much feel inclined to do anything about it.

    And isn’t this just Monday Night Combat?

    • stahlwerk says:

      As long as you don’t store any valuable / rare books or starch containing food in your bathroom, there’s no harm in just leaving them in peace to do their silverfishy business. If it gets out of hand, I wouldn’t recommend chemical agents, rather keep your bathroom well vented and vacuum at least once a week. Check for moisture and dust gathering spots, behind washing machines or bathroom cupboards, and clean these out periodically. Increasing your bathroom spider population is also a good way of keeping them in check.

    • Daniel Rivas says:

      Thanks! I think I’ll leave them be, there’s not that many of them.

  8. Tei says:

    Is strange, is hard to make a FPS that is not fun playing it with beers and friends.
    Is hard to make a turret defense game that is not fun at some level (maybe for 1 min).
    But I don’t think any turret-fps hybrid as fun. I think game designers see something here that don’t exist.

    • Urthman says:

      Dude. Go back and play Giants. The base building parts of that game were basically FPS Tower Defense, and don’t you dare tell me that game’s not fun.

    • Berzee says:

      I actually enjoyed Iron Grip Warlord quite a bit for the brief time I played it, and it was only because the multiplayer seemed so scattered and the setting was sad, that I didn’t buy the full version.

  9. Spleen says:

    After playing the beta for a few hours I must say I found it rather fun, especially the decision of either upgrading a turret or your weapon. I can definitely see myself playing this together with some mates and having a blast.

    And I do not belive you can safely say it won’t have a campaign mode just because it was not included in the beta. Mr. Smith might of course have information that I am not privy to.

  10. theimpossibleman says:

    I’ve played around 25 hours or so of this game and I love it. As of right now, it only appears to have 2 player cooperative, but the devs mentioned trying to add more player slots in the future.

    The multiplayer is frustratingly hard, much harder than the single player, but is still a lot of fun. We can’t seem to get past wave 23.

  11. JohnnyMaverik says:

    Sounds interesting, co-op is certainly a massive boost for a game of this type.

  12. danimalkingdom says:

    FPS tower defence? I’m still playing Iron Grip: Warlord, which badly needs a sequel. So it’s kind of a shame the devs have started a turn-based strategy game….

  13. SilverSilence says:

    I got a beta code from their facebook page and played a few matches, i enjoyed it but still think Iron Grip is better.

  14. Wulf says:

    So yeah. I had fun with this. What I loved the most though was the visuals, I haven’t seen an aesthetic so strongly inspired since Phantasy Star Online since, uh… well, Phantasy Star Universe/Portable maybe? :p It’s definitely got that feeling to it, and if I didn’t know better, I’d swear I was playing a game set in that Universe. The characters even have big hair! Considering this, the only disappointment is that I can’t play as a squat pink robot wot carries a giant gun.

    I’d actually love to see them create a co-op RPG with these assets, I really would.

  15. Recidivist says:

    You must be missing content from your version, Smith, as I have the game on Steam and it already has more than 3 tower types.

  16. Conor says:

    You’ll pay for your crimes against humanity!

  17. Drommen says:

    Sanctum is an awesome game. Thumbs up!
    I Love the clear and colorful design that doesnt get you depressed (like IG-W).
    I have only played the betaversion and sure it is not overwhelmingly deep in content (though it for sure has more than 3 towers in the beta) but the potential is huge. The devs are very actively participating in the discussion with the betaplayers have announced on the steam forums that they will include 4-player co-op as soon as possible after release. Also they say they will continue to include more content – maps, guns, towers, enemies, player modes. I guess they are working on a final release patch with final tweaking balancing and polishing of current content.
    Beta access is incuded with the pre-purchase. If youre lucky you can grab a free beta-key on their facebook page they throw out a bunch for every 50 likes they get.
    And orcs must die, while it looks like fun, I would rather say is a third person trap’n’slash defense while sanctum definetively fits the definition of a first person tower defense game.

  18. Vinsanity says:

    As far as fps tower defense games go I think Sanctum is a solid play but I still prefer Iron Grip Warlord’s design and gameplay.

  19. TheBrainninja says:

    On the subject of Tower Defense, those not averse to Consoleland would do well to look up Pixeljunk Monsters on PS3. It’s cute and fun, and I mostly mention it because (other than Plants vs. Zombies) it’s the only TD game I’ve played much of.

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  21. mollemannen says:

    are you stupid? the games release is on friday!

  22. Araxiel says:

    I’ve got it the first minute it came out, playe it a lot and talked with the dev-team.

    A) There are already more than 3 types of turrets, and there will be more in the future/once it has been released.
    B) There is coop, you can already play it. I did with one of the devs and it was fun.
    C) There will be more levels later and maybe even a campaign with a small story.
    D) This is a BETA

    I really, really like this game. Actually it reminds me quite a lot of Defense Grid with an added FPS element. I even added the idea of having stackable blocks and they liked it. So who knows how this game might look in half a year time.
    Btw. there might be a diffrence between the some sort of “free beta” you’re playing and the beta you get acces to once you bought the game.