Sanctum 2

The Basics
Game Name – Sanctum 2
ESRB Rating – N/A
Genre – SciFi First Person Shooter/ Tower Defense
Educational Values – Teamwork, Planning, Strategy and Tactics
Platforms – Windows
Where to buy – Steam, Gamersgate, Greenman Gaming, From their Site.
When should you buy it? –  You can’t decide between playing a tower defense game, or a first person shooter. Or you want an awesome co-op experience.

About the Game

Sanctum 2 is a slightly more ‘adult’ game than we normally review on this site. While there is no blood or sex, but there is some mild language that will not make it appropriate for every gamer or setting.

The original Sanctum introduced a new combination style of gameplay blending the standard “First Person Shooter” mechanics with “Tower Defense” mechanics. And it did it surprisingly well. You are tasked with defending your base against waves of alien attackers, and given resources that you can use to build towers to help fend off the attacks. In most Tower Defense games, you have 2 phases. The Build phase, where you build a maze or path for the attackers. And an Assault phase where the attackers go through your maze trying to reach your base.

Sanctum 2 has the standard two phases, with the tweak being that you are not playing a standard “top down” view, rather you are playing with a first-person view throughout the course of the game, running around on the ground with your character. You build the maze and the towers in the Build phase, but when the Assault phase comes up, you can jump up onto your towers and help shoot the incoming aliens.

As a gamer who is a fan of both genres, I was instantly drawn to Sanctum when I heard about the concept, and I want not disappointed. I was thrilled when I saw the announcement for the sequel, and again, I was not disappointed.  The first Sanctum was fun and well built, but unpolished. The sequel shows a development team that took what was good about the first game and improved on it. The sequel introduces new gameplay mechanics, new towers, and new weapons.

That’s quite a maze, but can you defend it?

What the Game Teaches Us

Tower Defense games are all about planning. To be successful, you must think tactically about the current Assault round, and also strategically about all of the following Assaults as well. This can mean struggling through a few rounds while you save up for the cash to upgrade a heavy tower. Or building heavier defenses on one side of the map and relying on your own attacks to fend off the other side. You are constantly being asked to make decisions and weigh the competing forces of short and long term goals.

Fortunately, the game gives you several ways to measure yourself and the towers you build throughout. The most obvious is the health of your “cores” which power your base. If they reach 0%, you lose. Beyond that, you can see how much damage each of your towers is doing overall, and how much they did the previous round. This allows a gamer to prioritize their upgrades as well as de-construct towers that are not pulling their weight. During the Planning Phase, the gamers are also shown which of the dozens of types of enemies that will attack them in the upcoming Assault wave. Seeing the enemies just one round in advance heightens the tension between the short term goal of surviving the upcoming round, and the long term goal of surviving all of the rounds to the end.

Whether you are determining which towers to use, or where to use them, or in what order to upgrade them, every decision must be made with limited information and limited resources. This scarcity is a driving force in the game, but it still falls behind the gameplay. The mechanics are intuitive enough that, after a few short rounds, you don’t even notice how complex it is and just enjoy blasting the aliens.

While you are blasting those aliens, it always helps to have a little help from your friends. Sanctum 2 allows for up to 4 player co-op play which adds to the complexity tremendously. The game forces you to communicate with your allies by not distributing resources throughout the team evenly, but allowing you to share resources quickly. It also scales the difficulty by making the attacking aliens stronger for each person you add to your group. So, while your team grows more powerful, so do your opponents.

Keep backing up and reload!

General Feelings on the Game

Sanctum 2 is an interesting take on the First Person Shooter and the Tower Defense genres. By blending the strengths from both of them, it creates a game style that is unique and one I hope other developers will explore further. It is fun enough to keep you and your friends playing through the levels and mods again and again, and complex that there is no ‘right’ answer. That diversity of opponents and gameplay make you think through each round.

I love any game that does co-op well, and Sanctum 2 does a great job of it. Whether it is making it easy to drop into a game with friends, or scaling the difficulty as your team size increases, or offering discounts on purchasing a “4-pack” of the game, it is obvious that Sanctum 2 was built from the ground up as a game to play with your friends.

Though it isn’t appropriate for all ages of gamers, Sanctum 2 is a great one to pick up, and it will teach you a lot. Even if you don’t notice it.

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