Having never played Sanctum before, but having read its description as a tower defense/ first person shooter, I wasn't really all that sure what to expect. Towers and guns combined? Really, I had no clue. Still, the idea of cool strategy combined with incendiary action sounded appealing, prompting me to download this most tantalizing of enigmas....
After being taken to the main menu and starting a new game (online multi-player is not available, sadly), the game takes you into a brief but still cool still-motion comic book cinema sequence. The artwork, maybe best described as a cross between the look of Jet Set Radio and the Penny Arcade comic strips, was truly impressive and well worth studying for minutes. Too bad then that the art didn't fully fit within my TV's TV's foot wide and fifteen inch tall screen, taking up more room than the screen could afford. Perhaps Sanctum 2 was designed with a plasma screen in mind?
After this cinema sequence, the demo drops you off at some sort of high-tech facility in first person shooter mode. At first, everything seems to be in due order: employees stand around chatting, and guns are put on display as if they’re bygone relics from some primitive past. However, as you progress through the building, things begin to quickly deteriorate. Eventually, it becomes apparent that the building is under attack, and you gain access to your first
two weapons (in this case an assault rifle and a voltaic hand cannon), eventually forced to kill a sole alien enemy. The graphics for this demo and the rest of the game are adequate; the graphics seem akin to an older Playstation 2
game but thankfully this doesn’t detract significantly from the game-play experience. However, as the Playstation Network charges only $14.99 for the whole game, the sufficient graphics feel like a fair deal. You also find out during the middle of your excursion that sprinting, by both holding down and pressing forward the left toggle stick, tends to be a pain in the ass. Thankfully, the rest of the default control settings feels like your standard FPS and presents no significant problems.
The battle starts only seconds after you move out of the building and into a wide area surrounded by many blocks and several towers packed on top. It is after you terminate another alien monster that enters the area
from a large cave-like dwelling that the game-play really starts to cook up. The goal of these primitive screwheads is to destroy the level's core, basically a large energy-producing orb. What's to stop them from accomplishing this, aside from your fire-power? Well, it turns out that all those blocks around the perimeter are in fact obstacles for the enemy, and it's your job to move them however you please in order to slow the advance of the attackers. Like where they are? Leave them be. Want to completely redesign your parameters? Go nuts. Thankfully, you get to add blocks to your already existent supply, so I spent my time preparing for the next invasion by placing several blocks near the cave's entrance to restrict the abominations' movements. You also get towers already set-up (in the demo you are restricted to cannon, gatling, and lightning) and points that you can use to build more towers or to upgrade the ones you already have. Like the blocks, the towers too can be moved and prove to be solid impediments to the march of the freaks, each tower having its own levels of speed and damage. If you place the right tower in the right place, the tower will probably end up blasting a solid number of your prey for you. Ultimately though, the strategy comes down to you. And you'll usually have plenty of time to build yourself the greatest battlefield that you can muster. Here's the pattern. First, you wipe out the sole alien. Then you get time to make whatever changes to the area that you want. After you press select, the enemies once again begin to barrel their way towards you. A useful feature is that in looking at the abyss from which the opponents will materialize from, you can see how many will attack and how many of which kind. This gives you a better sense of the fight you're about to get into and thus helps you plan more accordingly.
You also get allies in your fight against the extraterrestrial filth: they're mostly useful, but on both levels there's at least one inoperative "ally" who lies down and sobs (OK...). Unfortunately, you can't drop blocks on these worthless excuses for protoplasm, but strangely you can drop blocks on any other soldier standing in the way of your genius architecture, uh, "expiring" them in the process. (And for the curious, yes, you can drop a block on yourself, much to the chagrin of your health meter.) The enemies of this stage weren't too difficult to defeat: the two main enemies are a small and fast "screamer" that can eject some sort of poisonous miasma, and a large and brawny "walker" who will try to brawl and walk over you. If you want even more of a challenge, however, you can select different handicaps (or “feats of strength") off the options menu to give the enemy an edge but yourself the ability to gain even more experience points. Very cool.
After your first fight, you'll tally up the exp points you've picked up in the fight and more likely than not level up. This feature struck me as more akin to an role playing game, but still works wonders for the preview. I don't think it that audacious a guess that the leveling up will ratchet up the game's "addictability", especially since if you have the means to eviscerate your enemy if you spend enough time improving yourself, you really have no excuse not to play for another, say, eight hours.
In any event , after the exp point portion is done, you'll be taken to the character select screen. Here you’re given four different characters to select from, each with his/her/its own strengths. Skye Autumn, the squad leader that you used in the first duration of the demo, uses an assault rifle and is able to double jump. With an even supply of speed, power, and defense, Skye is your most well-rounded character. She’s also able to deal more damage for each hit on the alien. Then there’s Sweet Autumn, the younger sister and the grenade thrower. I suspect that her small size contributed to a lack of defense (she died and re-spawned more than any character I used), but this short-coming is tempered by her great air support and ability to target lock enemies with her REX missile launcher. Simo the robot (bearing a remarkable resemblance to GERTY from the film Moon) is the marksman of the group. Though Simo is the slowest fighter, his sniper rifle provide exemplary accuracy as well as an useful zooming capability. He is also able to do more damage for every weak spot of the enemy he attacks. The last soldier of the group is Haigen Hawkins, arguably the best character of the list. Though he’s not the fastest, the point-man of the team has great health, decent defense, and is able to deal out copious amounts of damage with his shotgun the closer he is to the enemy.
A problem presents itself while you try to choose your character, however. Or at least it did for me. The problem is that, much like the over-sized comic book pages, some of the details of the weapons are written in a tiny, blurred font
and are hard to make out. Still, you'll pretty much get an idea of what your weapon is once you use it to blast away at the barbaric hordes coming your way. Fortunately, the name of the weapons is also listed near the bottom of the screen in a bigger and more intelligible font.
The second level, a park, didn't feel radically different from the first although eventually it will prove to be more challenging. One hint as to this is that straight off the bat, a missing block in a line of them guarding off most access to the cave will easily allow your antagonists to clomp on over to your precious core. A quick insertion of a block in the gap solved that problem quite nicely, and I then focused most of my time producing the best buffers that I could (to spice things up, sometimes you're only given about thirty seconds to set up your war grounds). My favorite stratagem was to line up blocks to create pathways my foes were forced to move down, allowing me to control their direction and thus better determine their location even when my eyes weren’t on them. The number and variety of enemies was decent for the first level, but in the second the quality and quantity improved. This time you get a new monster, my favorite of the demo, a squid like monster called the "soaker": this was basically a walking Lovecraftian monstrosity
with a large, red, oblong head. True, it was convenient that it never attacks you, but it takes a good while to kill and is maddeningly relentless in its endeavor to destroy your core. Eliminate this sucker as fast as you can or expect dire consequences.
After the second level ends, you again get to rake in your hard-earned exp points and will also probably level up once more. After that, the demo ends, giving you a chance to buy the whole kit and kaboodle. Considering that this is a addictive combination of both the thinking man’s strategy game as well as the frantic action of the FPS along with a modest price, there aren’t too many reasons not to give Sanctum 2 a whirl, if not a purchase.