Sanctum 2 (Xbox 360/XBLA) Review

The original Sanctum caught many people off guard with its unique combination of mechanics. It took the strategy based aspects of tower defense games and fused it together with the excitement of first-person shooter action to create an unforgettable experience. Sanctum 2 retains what made the original fun to play and builds on it.

Immediately Sanctum 2 introduces an actual plot, something that was absent from the original. Comic book like scenes gives an idea of what’s going on, describing four main characters and how they relate to a recent alien outbreak. Plot segments links each of the four lead characters to the plot, and although the story as whole isn’t fantastic it does bring more depth to Sanctum and its world.

As mentioned, Sanctum 2 blends first-person shooting with tower-defense building; however, unlike the original game it focuses more on the shooting then the building. Missions function through waves, with the amount of waves depending on what map you are playing. The objective of each map is to defend the Core from aliens by killing them before they get there. Waves vary in how many aliens spawn and how much of a challenge they put up.

When taking matters into your own hands the shooting controls feel fairly standard.  Unlimited sprinting is a new option, though it feels right at home with Sanctum 2’s fast paced gameplay. Also new is the ability to aim down your sights, though it is hardly ever useful due to the frantic nature of the game. In a fairly typical fashion aliens have bright red weak points begging to be shot at, and generally it doesn’t require you to aim down your sights to make a solid shot on one of these highlighted areas.

The four playable characters possess their own unique movement styles and weapons. They all play differently reaching out to different styles depending on how you like to game. A perk system combined with the option to choose and customize a secondary weapon ensures that characters can be further personalized to your liking. The higher level you are, the more perks you are able to have active at the same time. Naturally, higher level players will be more efficient at dispatching aliens when compared to a beginner, but the perks weigh in on this fact.

Resources drop in between waves of aliens in two forms: tower bases and actual towers. Tower bases are used to create a labyrinth in which the aliens must traverse through to reach your base’s core. Tower bases also serve as a host to the towers themselves; a tower can only be placed on top of a tower base. Resources are always dropped near the core, forcing players to run back and pick them up. When playing in multiplayer this adds another dynamic to the gameplay as players can pick up another player’s resources. This can be done cooperatively where one player focuses on having the greater amount of resources to do the most construction work. Tower-building phases are timed adding tension to matches, and it also forces players to think on their feet.

Bosses are added into the mix as they are typically thrown into the last wave of a round. These bosses usually have unique traits, generally involving the destruction of your base. Boss fights in Sanctum 2 are appropriately challenging and add a nice climax to an already intense match.

Choosing what type of towers to bring into a match can be tough, especially when you are beginning to play Sanctum 2. The number of towers you are able to bring into a match increases as you level up, so when first getting into the game there is some trial and error involved. That being said, the game is based around cooperative play, and it certainly helps to hang out with some higher-level players when initially starting out.

During my time with Sanctum 2 I did run into a couple things that troubled me. Towers can be upgraded up to level three using resources; however, the amount of resources needed to upgrade a tower is not displayed. This is really frustrating as it causes gameplay to sometimes fall into a silly cycle of dumping resources into a tower and waiting to see if it will upgrade or not. Displaying the level number would alleviate this issue immediately. I also found that it was strangely difficult to see the range of an individual tower. The game forces you to look directly at a tower to observe its range, however it almost defeats the purpose of even trying to find that information out when you can’t move to far from the tower before its radius disappears from your HUD. The third thing I noted was that the lack of information provided to players about their own gear was frustrating. Even your own health is only displayed by a slight gray tinge to the screen when taking damage, even though when you look at another player you are provided their full information complete with a health bar. I found it puzzling that the developers chose to keep so much information from players regarding basic features of their own character, let alone the information regarding towers and resources in a game of this type.

Sanctum 2 does look impressive. Environments are varied which is a welcome change from the first game and its repetitive laboratory theme. Lush green environments look great and serve as a nice back drop to the exciting fights. A lot of the enemies are carried over from the first game and look pretty much the same which is a little disappointing. The audio department is excellent; with great weapon sounds and music that sets the stage for the futuristic theme.

Sanctum 2 is a unique title offering a entertaining experience that can’t be found elsewhere, but it isn’t without its flaws. Most notably it hides way too much information from the player making it awkward to form strategies, which is odd considering the nature of the game. That being said Sanctum 2 combines two genres fairly well as a whole, and blasting aliens while building an intricate base is always exciting. If you’re a fan of tower defence or FPS games, and you are looking for something new, Sanctum 2 deserves a close look for sure.

The Good


The Bad