Sanctum 2 is a hybrid of First Person Shooter and tower defense games. Players control one of four elite stereotypes across three gameplay modes (campaign, survival, and online), and fight off waves of creatures attempting to destroy energy cores while placing gun towers or similar items across the battlefield. This may sound simple, but the reality involves a bit of strategy.
The types of towers, weapons, and perks players have access to depend on what rank they’ve attained. Increasing in rank open ups more options. While you have a fixed primary weapon, secondary weapons can be everything from a regular submachine gun to a powerful shock gun. Towers encompass different types of damage to affect different types of enemies. While both the weapons and towers provided have some diversity, it’s the available perks which really open up strategic fun. Perks can affect towers, the cores, or add attributes and attacks to players. Most increase damage or movement speed, but then there’s perks like Plumber Shoes, which deals 4000 damage every time the player jumps on an enemy. Because really, why not?
Battlefields are grid-based, though the places available for players to place towers change along with the map. Maps range from simple to labyrinthine. Most of the time walls may be placed on the map in addition to towers to reroute enemies, though at least one path must always be open for the enemies to walk through, and there are a few maps where walls cannot be placed. Tactically, the game is sound. Several of the Perks combine well with field effects, for instance, Resilient Core heals the core for 12.5% of its health every round. Combine that with Unstable Core, which deals 1000 damage to any enemy that hits the core and your core is now a part of your attack strategy against weaker foes and allows players to focus their towers and gunplay to take out the larger enemies. Each character has a different weapon type, hit point value, speed, and jumping abilities. Combining Perks like Plumber Shows with Rymdskor, which allows double jump, turns every player into a potential airborne menace. And the list goes on. The amount of equipped Perks also increases with rank, leaving a sufficiently leveled player plenty of options to find out their best play style.
Towers are handled superbly. Instead of parameters increasing only upon leveling up a tower, every point a player puts toward increasing tower level increases tower parameters as well. This blew my mind a little upon the realization every point counts. Towers can also be overcharged to increase damage further.
Campaign and multiplayer are the same thing. One mode just has more players. Survival also features the same maps, but there is no cap on waves and enemies receive parameter increases every handful of waves. It’s really just a preference of what map to play on when it comes to survival.
The game is hard. And the game may come off as an uphill battle until players reach a few ranks and open up the ability to have more than one turret and Perk. By Rank 8, the game opens up considerably in terms of strategy and choices, but by this time players who did not grind early on are halfway through the game. While Sanctum 2‘s campaign can take 8 – 10 hours and has 16 stages, the pacing is awkward and makes for a slow start since rank rewards are given at the end of each stage. A lot of the game’s great strategy is just not available as soon as it could be.
Though Sanctum 2 is not long, the potential replay value is just short of tremendous. Did you wuss out like me and play a lot of the game on easy? Go through again on normal. Still not enough challenge for you? The game has up to five Feats of Strength which can be applied to almost every stage. These Feats make battle harder by increasing enemy parameters or limiting player respawn. Feats also increase gained experience by 20% for each Feat equipped. Moreover, Feats change tactics considerably since the enemy AI may change when a Feat is enabled. Feat use is also integral to four of the game’s twelve trophies.
Graphics are very bright and everything is easy to see. Character design is odd, and features a quartet of anorexic comic book characters heavily influenced by anime and manga and equipped with Warhammer 40K power gloves on the left hand. In-game design also excels with lots of neat little touches, such as a fully playable version of Snake hidden in the second level, or the Perk Exposure Rounds, with its picture showing an arrow hitting a knee. The design does make the game stand out. Each level is broken up by a comic splash page or two introducing a sparse bit of plot while the rest of the game contains great 3D graphics. The sound is also very well done and the music is appropriate for the setting.
There are several graphical glitches and hiccups; few of which impact gameplay so much as presentation. Unfortunately, the ones which do impact gameplay were too large to ignore. At one point I was blasted back by an enemy and randomly stuck in the ground to the point where a restart was necessary. Another time an enemy went into a wall – which then shielded the enemy from my bullets but allowed the brute to keep attacking myself and another player. It should be noted unless every enemy is killed, the wave does not end. Also, some of the information appears off the screen on the minimap. The comic pages also extend beyond the TV’s borders. There is no in-game fix for these problems. This is odd because the developers took the time to correct many of the PC version problems but still not these graphical glitches. There was three months extra development time for the PS3 version, but unfortunately this stuff was skipped.
Another negative is the story. Campaign mode will take players through a generic plot of following a trail. The moment the story shows some promise, the story is cut off and the game ends. Literally three or four plot points emerge and the game ends within three levels with the player looking across the lands outside the city and wondering with confusion what the Hell is currently going on. Players fight the longest wave in the game and then the game is over, the credits roll while Gojira is attacking and then nothing. It’s like the game was set up to be sequel or DLC bait from the very beginning. This is one of those times developers should have paid attention to the mantra “Self Contain Yourself” and strive to give players either a proper resolution or some bits to speculate upon for the ending. Perhaps these bits showed up off screen.
This last part is not a negative. Rather, the multiplayer deserves its own section. Sanctum 2 is best suited to be a multiplayer game. I would even say the point of this game is its multiplayer – the basic difficulty level is best suited for multiple players.
The multiplayer is done very well. The game appears to increase difficulty with every player that joins. Resources are given to each player equally before each wave and can be shared with the simple press of the R1 or R2 button. Players can increase the parameters of any tower on the field or resources can be pooled to allow one player total freedom.
More players on the field increases the resilience of the enemies. Sanctum 2‘s focus does switch more to FPS combat with the towers aiding players. This is in direct opposition to playing alone, where the FPS elements support the towers. This is not a bad thing, but does downplay the tower defense aspect of the game.
If there is a gripe with the multiplayer, it is the lack of people playing online. In every online game encountered only one other person was playing or jumped into my match. This does not bode well for the future of the game, which otherwise could be a major contender for a strong online MP indie. While the replay value is good within the game by itself, the tactical options or chaotic gunplay multiplayer can unleash is its own experience.
There is a good game here. Sanctum 2 will provide plenty of replay for players seeking an FPS and tower defense hybrid. However, the slow start, apparent sequel/DLC-based development, and graphical problems which should have been ironed-out between PC and PS3 release do hamper an otherwise good game. The amount of online players does not seem to be very robust either, which is a definite shame since MP is fun and Sanctum 2 is geared toward MP. These factors keep Sanctum 2 from becoming a great game, and instead place the game at just above average.