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Sanctum 2

“Sanctum” was one-of-a-kind back in its day.  It not only helped to define a genre, but opened my eyes in regards to what tower defense games were capable of doing.  I probably would have passed up “Dungeon Defenders” (one of my favorite games) had I not taken the plunge and participated in “Sanctum’s” Beta.  Needless to say, I was excited to see “Sanctum 2”, the long-awaited sequel, hit the virtual shelves.  The main menu allows the player to participate in single or multiplayer games, view leaderboards & achievements, check out the in-game gallery, and adjust game options.  The options touch on all of your common settings like screen resolution, audio volumes, fullscreen toggle, keybinds, and etc.  The game is broken up into a campaign of about fifteen levels that feature multiplayer capability.

Sanctum 2

Sanctum 2 (Windows, XBox 360, PS3)

For those of you who have never played “Sanctum”, here are the hi-lights: it’s a tower defense game with first-person shooter mechanics mixed in.  You can play solo or online with others, pick a map, choose what weapons and towers you’ll bring with you, and have at it.  Waves are broken up into two phases: the build phase and the combat phase.  The player can build walls and defenses in the former phase and take an active role in defeating the onslaught of enemies that are trying to reach the core in the latter phase.  Both of these phases occur in first person mode, which was pretty unique back when the game was first being developed.  “Dungeon Defenders” is very similar in this regard and those who have played it will feel right at home with “Sanctum”.

So, what new features are present in the sequel?  For starters, there’s a character selection option.  In “Sanctum”, players were set apart based on their loadout only.  Here, players will have access to four unique characters that have their own set of strengths and weaknesses.  “Sky” is the soldiers class who uses an assault rifle, “Sweet” is a demolitions expert who uses a missile launcher, “Hagan” is a tank class who uses a shotgun, and “SiMo” is a robot that uses a sniper rifle.  Not to worry, you won’t be limited to just one weapon.  Though, I appreciate the fact that levels are designed to accommodate all four classes.  For example, some levels feature platforms that make for some really great sniping spots.  While the game is fine as a single player experience, multiplayer is honestly where the game truly shines.

Sanctum 2

SiMo’s sniper rifle is a deadly beast.

Also new to the series is an unlock system, which grants players with new weapons and towers as they level up their characters.  In “Sanctum”, players had access to all of the in-game weapons and towers from the get go, save for any purchasable DLC.  While it might seem like a step back to force players to unlock items, it gave me a sense of progression that I was missing in “Sanctum.” Players can earn XP for their profile by completing levels and beating challenges (no matter what character they use).  On top of unlocking weapons and towers, players will be able to equip perks that give them special modifiers.  You’re also limited as to how many tower slots you have available at first, but you can unlock more slots as you progress.  This adds quite a bit of replayability, as you can replay levels with the equipment you’ve unlocked to see if you can improve upon your performance.

We’ll see some familiar faces in terms of baddies, but they’ve been beefed up to look a bit more intimidating.  The hoverer, for example, still blocks all damage received from the front forcing players to get behind them.  Walkers, who come in large numbers but have no special abilities to speak of, make an appearance.  “Sanctum” vets will have a decisive advantage in knowing how to treat enemy waves as they appear.  New to the series is an agro system that lets you attract enemies and kite them, a feature that was missing from “Sanctum”.  Towers are a bit the same way in terms of familiarity.  I knew what a lightning tower and a gatling tower did without having to look at their description, for example.  What I didn’t expect however was that walls and turrets have a separate resource pool…that is, you could build a set number of walls per round while using credits to build or upgrade towers.

Sanctum 2

Some maps also feature pre-built towers and troopers who fight nearby aliens.

As I explained above, each character has their own prefered set of weapons, some of which we’ve already seen in “Sanctum”.  Also familiar is the reload system, which allows players to unleash a weapon’s ammo with brutal disregard and then switch off to another weapon while the prior one reloads.  What I did notice however was how different these weapons fired.  They’ve certainly been upgraded to feel a lot more lifelike, that is, firing an assault rifle or a rocket launcher was much more satisfying.  Weapons can’t be upgraded in between rounds, something I’ve come to miss.  The environment was also noticeably different.  Gone was the “grid-like” setting featured in the first game and instead, environments felt more alive and natural.

With all of the above said, there a couple of major gripes I feel the need to share.  Firstly, there’s a tower limit of fifteen.  No, not fifteen per player…fifteen per map.  While I appreciate that the developer upped the tower limit to fifteen (from ten) after many voiced their concern, I still think fifteen is limiting things a bit, especially when compared to the freedom you had in the original “Sanctum”.  There’s much more emphasis on the first-person shooting as opposed to tower defense, which is a real shame considering I’m more of a tactician at heart.  As a result of the tower limit, maps are smaller in general, though I can see why it is necessary.  What I also found odd was that resources spawned physically in between waves, rather than credits automatically being added to your account.  Running back to the core to pick up credits when they could easily be credited to your account gets old fast.  Finally, players are limited to two weapons instead of three, and they can’t be upgraded in between rounds like in “Sanctum”.  Some won’t mind these new features, but others might.

Sanctum 2

Oh, did I mention that bosses can destroy walls?

In the end, “Sanctum 2” is definitely prettier than its predecessor, but loses sight as to what made “Sanctum” popular in the first place.  It takes some steps forward, but unfortunately takes just as many backward.  I applaud Coffee Stain Studios for trying to do things differently, but some “Sanctum” fans might be turned off by some of its limitations.  It has the right blend of old and new content, which will serve to attract newcomers while pleasing fans of the original.  I had a great time with it and enjoyed my experience, despite the emphases on first-person shooting.  It would be great if the developers could add some sort of “tower defense mode”, which could hypothetically buff towers and reduce FPS damage, reward more resources in between waves, and etc.  This would give players a choice in regards to what kind of game they’d like to play.  I found the sales price of $14.99 (as of 5/22/13) to be a fair one, all things considered.  Just keep in mind that this is not a “Sanctum” remake, even though some of the mechanics are similar.  Those going in expecting the look and feel of the original may be slightly disappointed.  If you treat it as a separate game and base it off of its own merits, you’ll find it to be a fun and thrilling experience.

Final Verdict: 7/10

You can learn more about and purchase “Sanctum 2” by visiting the following websites:

http://www.coffeestainstudios.com/games/sanctum-2

http://store.steampowered.com/app/210770/

You can view video play sessions here:

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