Sanctum is the first game in my series of tower defense reviews and it is also the self-proclaimed first tower defense/FPS hybrid. This is the first game from Coffee Stain Studios, launched in 2011, (an indie game studio called Coffee Stain Studios? Already this is sounding hipster), with the Sanctum series being it’s flagship and only series (other games being Super Sanctum TD and Sanctum 2). And speaking of hipsters, you play a retro, earphone-wearing one called Skye, an elite solider defending her home town of Elysion One from mysterious aliens who conveniently come in waves and have weak spots (they really didn’t think their invasion through).
This is tower defense which means that you are presented with a grid-based landscape where you construct towers that defend against enemies that move along a set path towards an end point. If too many reach the endpoint, you lose. It’s a simple style of game, but one that I love and will happily play again and again in all different incantations. In this case, the enemies are aliens, the grid-based landscape is your home town and the end point are spherical ‘cores’, presumably the power source for the town.
This game is distinguished by the FPS element integrated throughout the game. After playing at least 5 hours worth of the game (there are individual levels but no over-arching storyline), I came to the conclusion that the FPS integration has its perks and its drawbacks. At the start of each level you choose your load-out of certain weapons in addition to certain towers. While you can upgrade each individual tower, you can also upgrade your chosen weapons. Generally most standard tower defense games allow you upgrade, build, delete and modify towers while playing but Sanctum doesn’t. While this might seem like a drawback, it’s a good solution to FPS integration. There’s a spending (where you build/upgrade/delete towers or upgrade weapons) phase and then a defense phase where you watch your best laid plans come to fruition while you blast away the enemies. And then this repeated for 20 or so waves of enemies. While this does allow an easy and efficient use of FPS in a tower defense game, it does take away the frantic feeling that lot of other games have.
One of the drawbacks was the placing of towers. Your set-up phase is done entirely in first-person which means that you have to run about and place the towers wherever they need be. This can be time-consuming and frustrating from your restricted point of view, despite teleporter blocks being made available (for a decent cost). But this is a small price to pay for the added fun of FPS. It is very satisfying to kill a dozen tiny little bastards as you shoot a grenade at them. But more importantly, it allows some interesting aspects to the classic tower defense game. There are monsters who wobble as they move, making it harder for you and your towers to hit them. There are flyers which require special towers and certain guns to hit. It also allows for on-line co-op game play, something which would only be frustrating otherwise.
One of the finer features of Sanctum Daft Punk-esque soundtrack (great soundtracks being a common theme in indie games it would seem) beating out in the background as you kill aliens on a futuristic world with futuristic weapons and a futuristic defense system, which is odd because some of the aliens looks a lot like Daft Punk.
The lack of a main campaign or storyline does make the game a bit lacking, despite levels that seem a little too long at times. Because there isn’t a campaign, there’s no real sense of achievement or progression, asides from unlocking about 4 levels. Despite all this, Sanctum is definitely worth the play, especially if you could round-up some friends. I would probably wait until there is a special on Steam or one of the other vendors as the game is reasonably limited in potential, but this has got me geared up to play the sequel.