Tower Defense is among the most heavily-refined genres in gaming. The concept ain’t broke, don’t need no fixin’ and players have fun with these games even though there has been little evolution since Tower Defense began as a Starcraft mod years ago. But still, developers are always on the lookout for new ways to modify the formula. Coffee Stain Studios decided to blend Tower Defense with the first person shooter in their game Sanctum in 2011. The result was a simple indie game that made good on its promise of combining the two styles of play, but was a bit on the short side and a little repetitive too. The sequel is due out this summer and we got our hands on a preview build to see what improvements it holds for the series.
The original Sanctum merged strategic thinking with action shooting by putting players on a battlefield where an army of space bugs was out to destroy the core of a base. As is the case with Tower Defense, players can build various gun turrets and walls and position around the battlefield. The turrets are AI-controlled and the enemy creeps plod along content to be slowly riddled with bullets until they drop dead. The same mechanics are still present in Sanctum 2.
However the turrets are never quite enough to defend the core by themselves. No, in the Sanctum games, the Player has to take things into their own hands and blast away and the enemies that almost are guaranteed to make it past the defenses.
Following the tropes of shooter games, players will pick a loadout of guns and can run around the battlefield using their reflexes to compensate for weak points in their strategy. The waves of enemies are varied, and players have a limited selection of turrets and guns during any particular mission. This forces them to use a genuinely balanced approach to gameplay, rather than trying to succeed with just guns or brains alone.
Enemies have weak points that can be targeted for extra damage, but a few enemy types are completely invulnerable unless shot from the back. The turrets aren’t terribly bright, so players will need to keep a lookout for these special enemies and employ the right tactics. Even though the game mostly works on a 2D field, there are some flying enemies that can zoom right over walls. Players will also need to be on the lookout for them as well.
New features in Sanctum 2 include four playable characters. Each of these has his or her own favorite primary weapon and special abilities. All of them are viable for each mission, providing that the Player balances out the rest of their loadout to compensate for the weaknesses of their chosen character. For example, one character uses a sniper rifle and gets bonus damage to enemy weak spots, while another character uses a shotgun and is better suited to close-up fighting. Players can choose any character they like for any mission, and can replay levels with each character to add in a dose of variety.
There is a new Perk system too, and a series of unlockable weapons and turrets too. These are unlocked by gaining Experience Points during missions so, even when players fail a mission, they can still make progress and acquire new abilities to tackle levels that proved to be too difficult the first time. Building up a customized character will also help out in multiplayer as groups of four can each bring their own specialization to the bug-stompin’ party.
Multiplayer makes it easier to take on tough battles, but it also means that players need to compromise on how to set up their defenses. Sanctum 2 seems like it could end up having trouble with griefers popping in to ruin other people’s game, but the co-op is definitely a highlight of the experience as four players join forces with a balanced party to save humanity.
Based on this preview code, Sanctum 2 isn’t going to be big on story-telling. Each mission is preceded by a short set of manga-style comic panels that explain that the evil space bugs have invaded yet another location. Players who developed an affinity for the main character of the first game, Skye Autumn, will find her returning along with some new faces. The same goofy sense of humor is back as well, and it’s clear that Coffee Stain Studios isn’t going to take themselves too seriously.
Sanctum 2 is scheduled to release this summer on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Players interested in the franchise can take a look at the first game which is available on PC and Mac.