The original Sanctum quickly became one of my favorite PC titles of all time. It had a ton of charm, but most of all, it was difficult. On some maps you had to juggle scores of towers, make elaborate mazes, and blast your way to victory without a second to waste. Sanctum had a level of strategy practically unparalleled in other tower defense games, if only due to the mere fact that twitch skills and strategic thinking were required.
Sanctum 2 on the other hand, is more twitch based. In fact, it’s practically all twitch based, as a lot of the strategy elements were thrown out the window. Whether that’s a good thing or not is completely dependent on how much you value the FPS genre.
Right out of the gate, Sanctum 2 will be a lot easier to pick up than its predecessor. As in, players who I initially demonstrated the original Sanctum to and found themselves completely lost, picked up Sanctum 2 in minutes. After a very brief, very thorough interactive tutorial mission, you’re off to the races, ready to take on the world. The setup is mostly the same, but a bit more marginalized — facilitated through wave based gameplay, you’ll blast foes with weaponry and place down “towers” to help automatically shoot enemies are certain intervals. How you place each tower and what tower you decide to use can change the course of each stage, and if the enemies get all the way to the end of the map, they’ll bash the core (the object you have to protect) until it runs out of health, causing you to lose the map.
This time around, a plotline is introduced by way of comic book scenes to help facilitate the game’s story. They’re not award winning segments for sure, but it’s a nice, stylized effort to attempt to give the game a bit more of a pronounced theme, and it mostly works due to the new and improved character designs. Speaking of which, each of the game’s four playable characters feel pretty unique, and a Call of Duty style perk system help facilitate replay value and further distinction between them.
The FPS elements are pretty paint-by-numbers, but they work, and manage to keep you engaged throughout. Hitting enemies in certain spots will yield more damage output, and given the sheer amount of health many enemies have, you always have to be shooting something. It’s a high-octane experience that’s only made better with friends, and despite the lack of weapon variety, Sanctum 2 manages to keep you mostly entertained throughout the experience. There’s also an “iron sights” function, as well as unlimited sprint distance, limited time to build in-between rounds (to increase the pacing), and more mechanics that help morph the game into more of an action-oriented experience, which I had mixed feelings on.
See, as time went on, I started to realize how much of a step back many elements of the game were. For starters, there’s a limit of 15 towers per map (10 before a patch), not counting barriers (which you can still snake and create mazes with), which is a bit of a disappointment to say the least. The original Sanctum was incredible in that you could have these elaborate setups with tons of different towers — but here, you’re stuck with a mere few options, and only a limited space to put them in. It really takes a lot of the strategy out of the game entirely, and effectively homogenizes Sanctum 2 into an already over-saturated genre.
But thankfully, if you can deal with the emphasis on action, Sanctum 2 has a pretty lengthy campaign in addition to a full four player multiplayer component to help keep you busy for quite a while. Feats of Strength, which are like an in-game achievement system that limits the player to increase their experience, also help increase replay value if you’re bored playing the same old maps over and over. On the opposite side the spectrum, there’s an Easy Mode for players who don’t want to dive too deep and want to learn the ropes.
Sanctum 2 puts a bit too much emphasis on the FPS aspect of the game. I understand that moving from a predominately tower defense flavored game into FPS territory will garner more sales, but I can’t help but feel like some of the magic was lost from the original. There are plenty of FPS games out there, but not nearly as many unique tower defense titles, and practically no hybrids of the two genres. Even still, Sanctum 2 is a very serviceable shooter in its own right, and very much a worthwhile experience for fans of the genre — even if fans of the original may want to wait for a sale or a few patches.
This review is based on a digital copy of the Xbox 360 game Sanctum 2.