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That Sanking Feeling: Sanctum Impressions

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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.

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Quintin Smith

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