Sanctum Review

One of the things I’ve always hated about tower defense games is the helplessness. You set up your defenses, planning for the monsters coming your way and what you’ll need to defeat them, and when you’re finished or you run out of resources, you’re left hoping you covered all the angles and thought of everything you’ll need.

When your defenses are lacking, there’s little or nothing you can do. Monsters hobble through and destroy the thing you’re defending, deal damage to your castle, or in one TDF game I played, abduct your sheep for their alien experiments. It’s a bummer to just watch failure mark inexorably toward your defenseless sheep.


Sanctum (PC [Reviewed])
Developer: Coffee Stain Studios
Publisher: Coffee Stain Studios
Release Date: April 15, 2011
MSRP: $14.99

In Sanctum, you’re not powerless. In fact, you’re powerful, and you’re not only the builder of the maze and the commander of the defense grid that stops enemies from attacking your important energy core, you’re also a soldier on the ground carrying three powerful weapons with which to affect the fate of your defense. Sanctum gives you tower-defense gameplay from a first-person perspective — you can run around the game field as you set up your defenses, then whip out your sniper rifle or assault rifle and join the fight yourself.

Each Unreal Engine 3-built level pits the player against hordes of various kinds of alien enemies, and each of those has a weak point where it’s vulnerable to gun fire. Dealing with the various brands of enemies requires various brands of towers and tactics, as with other games in the genre. You’ll use gatling gun turrets against fast enemies, lightning turrets against heavily armored ones, anti-aircraft turrets to destroy flying monsters. Each of the turrets can be upgraded with resources you earn as you complete each wave, and the guns you carry can be upgraded as well. Along with the assault and sniper rifles, you also get a freeze gun that can slow or stop enemies as they move past your defenses.

Sanctum includes five different maps, each with about 30 waves of enemies to battle through. Each is mostly a blank slate when it starts up; you determine where blocks go to create a maze that enemies have to march through to reach the goal, and then build towers up on those blocks. Thankfully, Sanctum throws in a teleportation system to help you get around so you don’t have to try to run around the map, and even if you get caught in the trenches with the enemy, you can’t die — you can only get tossed around some, which seriously messes up your aim.

It’s in these five maps where the big criticism of Sanctum lies — it’s too damn short. While each map features lots of waves, having only a few levels means you’ll only stretch a few hours out of the game when you play it alone. This is especially frustrating because Sanctum is a great deal of fun and playing a tower defense game with FPS elements is an awesome idea. It takes a genre that’s kind of overwrought and hasn’t seen a lot of innovation lately, and takes it on from an entirely fresh point of view (no pun intended). It’s hard not to wish there was more of it to go around.

The developer behind Sanctum, Coffee Stain Studios, has added a lot to the offer of late, however. Sanctum now contains four-player cooperative play, along with new Endless and Turbo game modes, and that opens the game up quite a bit. There’s always a big strategy component to Sanctum, but throw three other players into the mix, and the game takes on a squad strategy component as well, requiring players to work together to defeat the enemies. It also means players are even more capable of intervening in what’s happening on the fly using FPS tactics; Sanctum is at its best when you can play it with one or more teammates and have to think about how you’ll deal with each of the game’s challenges on multiple levels.

Overall, the question of Sanctum’s value as a purchase comes down to its price. With just the five maps, even with the big multiplayer component, there’s just not a lot of game here, and that’s a bit of a letdown. Right now, Sanctum is available for $14.99 on Steam — and not too bad a rate, though without some friends to play with it feels a touch high. Coffee Stain Games promises more updates and DLC, which will be great. If you can catch Sanctum on sale, though (it was highly discounted during Steam’s Summer sale recently), the game instantly becomes worth the price of admission.

Pros:

  • Great melding of tower defense and FPS genres
  • Lots of diverse challenges in dealing with enemies
  • Good deal of challenge
  • Cooperative mode is a lot of fun
  • Four-player co-op
  • Nice Unreal Engine graphics

Cons:

  • Lacks some urgency because player character can’t be hurt
  • Only five maps — not a lot of content
  • Priced a little high for its length

Final Score: 80/100

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4 Comments on Sanctum Review

Mercury

On July 13, 2011 at 9:19 am

I’m not sure where you get the three level thing. There’s five different levels: Mine, Bridge, Arc Glade and Facility, with each one more difficult than the last.

I do agree with you on the price though, $15 through Steam is a bit pricy for this game and I would be more content if it was around $10. Luckily, it was on sale during the Steam Summer event, and those who happened to pick it up for it for $3.75.

Phil Hornshaw

On July 13, 2011 at 9:55 am

@Mercury

Derp, you’re right. Old note I made early in the play process that accidentally made it into the review. Fixed.

Drommen

On July 15, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Nice review. Some nitpickin though…

The developer company is named Coffee Stain Studios.
You still have the “Only three maps” in the “Cons” section.
Also, you can play singleplayer on all maps. There is no Multiplayer exclusive map (since the 7/7 patch).

Phil Hornshaw

On July 15, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Fixed.