Sanctum 2
Developer: Coffee Stain Studios
Publisher: Coffee Stain Studios
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 1-4, Online Co-op, Leaderboards
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Sanctum 2 is a strange beast - an alliance of tower defence and first person shooter, with the entire game played from the first person perspective. The tower defence part is played out with time between attack waves to run around and place walls and turrets, bought using a pre-set per-wave points allowance. In multiplayer, players take turns to place turrets within the total time limit - with later players able to move or delete already-placed defences, leading to numerous and obvious trolling opportunities from both sides...

The on-foot placement is fine in the early stages, but not so good on later levels when the layouts get so over-complicated that they become difficult to navigate. There's no option to repair turrets during attack waves, as only 'Boss' enemies (huge, extremely durable versions of regular enemies), even notice them. Points can also be spent on upgrading turrets, increasing their (initially puny) damage and range, but unfortunately with little or no visual difference to the in-game models. Turrets seem to be deliberately weak to ensure there's something left for you to actually shoot in the FPS sections—it's not unusual for you to have to kill several times as many enemies as the turrets, making the turret laying tower defence part of the game occasionally a little meaningless. This becomes more apparent later on when many enemies have only a single vulnerable spot which the turrets totally ignore, instead shooting at their armoured parts and doing literally no damage whatsoever.

The shooter sections have a vague ‘Borderlands’ feel to them, with sci-fi looking weaponry and hit point values flying out of the enemies as you shoot them. Albeit Borderlands minus the loot, characters, story, graphics, humour or individual skill trees, and with enemies no more intelligent than a scag. The weapons however feel quite ineffective (with almost every enemy in the game being an incredible bullet sponge) and have ridiculously long reload times. This is annoying when you need to literally shoot continuously to take down your enemies in time. Instead of reloading, you're better off switching weapons when your gun runs out as the one you're not using reloads automatically, providing you've completely emptied it. Honestly, there might as well not be a reload button! I'm not unfamiliar with marathon gaming sessions, but I've never played another game that had my trigger finger cramping as soon or as badly as this.

...the sound effects predictably get extremely repetitive with the endless waves of Lumes making various bleating sounds as they're very slowly gunned down by continuous gunfire.

Since this is a tower defence game, enemies have little more than a passing inclination to attack you, some of them ignoring you completely, preferring instead to attack the 'Core'. The Core of what, or why, or where you are or what the enemies are is never explained. Are they aliens? Apparently they're called 'Lumes', but that's about it for background - maybe it's all explained in the first game, which I never played, and now don’t want to either. The story, such as it is, is told in graphic novel pages between levels, which look quite dynamic, but give the odd impression of having been translated from another language and generally amount to nothing more than 'There's been an attack over at xxx'; 'I guess we should head over there then'. Although you can lure some enemies away from the core to help expose their weak spots in MP sessions, many of the stronger enemies ignore you completely so everyone just has to pour bullets into them as they lumber past before they eventually collapse.

While it's not a great looking game by modern standards, there is a decent variety in enemy design (even if the colour palette is a little dull, with enemies all browns and greys with only their pink soft spots providing any real visual interest). There are also frequent dropped frames and firing your weapon when the fire effect is on screen causes serious stuttering in the audio. While we're on the subject of audio, the sound effects predictably get extremely repetitive with the endless waves of Lumes making various bleating sounds as they're very slowly gunned down by continuous gunfire. The overall effect makes it seem like you're trying to slaughter a planet full of sheep with an Airsoft gun.

There are four different characters to choose from; a woman with an assault rifle, a younger woman (possibly her sister) with a rocket launcher that apparently sets enemies on fire (but not in any particularly noticeable way), a large robot with a sniper rifle and a guy with a foreign accent and a shotgun (and, for no reason whatsoever, an enormous robotic hand). Every character can carry secondary weapons and equip special abilities called 'Perks'—once you've unlocked them by levelling up. Perks are shared between all characters, so there isn't the same level of individuality between characters as in Borderlands for example. Combined with the threadbare story, this makes them seem more like loadout choices than actual characters. New weapons, turrets and the ability to use more types of turret at once are also unlocked by levelling up.

Unfortunately the levelling up/unlock system seems designed to slow down your progression and encourage level grinding to progress - after racing through the first few levels, there comes a point where your existing weapons and turret options just won't cut it, purely because they don't do enough damage to kill enemies before they stroll on past you and destroy your Core (which, incidentally, has less health than all but the very weakest Lume) and some serious levelling up is needed to progress. You can always drop the difficulty, but the gulf between 'Normal' and 'Easy Mode' is so huge that there's little point even playing on Easy.

As far as I can tell, the target audience is people who watched Aliens and, rather than wishing they had a Pulse Rifle or wondering why Ripley's pants were so small, came away wanting to be an automated turret.

Frustration is also caused by the sudden introduction of new enemy types with no prior warning, often on the later waves of a level. Early waves are unskippable, and levels can have more than 10 waves, leading to many hours of frustrating repetition as you grind towards getting weapons to deal with them. Also rather annoying is the lack of a pause button—starting a game always sets you up as the host for an online session (despite the separate section for Online Games if you actually want to join a session-weird), but even playing a private game on your own it's assumed you're playing online, hence no pause. When you're on the final wave and the phone goes, not being able to pause the game can get very irritating very quickly, especially with respawns having a 10 second cooldown—enough for even a weak Lume to irreparably damage your Core. That being said, actually playing with others does alleviate some of the issues and make the game substantially more fun, introducing (a small amount of) actual tactics to the gameplay, allowing for a wider range of weaponry to be carried, (reducing the chances of suddenly realising on a late wave that your current guns are useless against the final Lumes) and making the weakness of the turrets less of an issue.

As far as I can tell, the target audience is people who watched Aliens and, rather than wishing they had a Pulse Rifle or wondering why Ripley's pants were so small, came away wanting to be an automated turret. It's either a tower defence game for people who don't like tower defence games, since 98% of your game time is spent in the shooter sections, or it's an FPS for people who like constantly shooting waves of dumb enemies which aren't really trying to kill you.

The problem is the two genres, as presented here, just don't mesh well together. The best strategy for Tower defence is generally to herd your enemies down a narrow corridor lined with turrets, leaving only a single entrance to your base. This leaves you in the shooter sections basically playing the role of the automated turret standing at the end of the corridor. Except here you never run out of ammo, removing almost all tension from the experience. It's a bit like playing CoD: Zombies but with all the zombies coming through the same window and most of them having no interest in trying to eat you.

So, Sanctum 2 is an average tower defence game combined with a dull and uninspiring FPS, with 98% of your time spent in the FPS part. Time that could be spent learning a new hobby, watching some decent films, reading a good book, hanging out with friends, or just playing a much better game, of which there are many.

Best Bits

- Online co-op mode.
- There's a demo, so you can try before you buy.
- It's cheap to buy.
Worst Bits

- You get what you pay for.
- Lack of immediate threat to player character.
- FPS gameplay is very repetitive.

by: Smurfzursky

Copyright © Gamecell 2013