Sanctum, from Coffee Stain Studios, comes off as a sort of tower defense/first-person shooter mash-up. The gameplay is firmly tower defense, so it’s not really a genre-bender. However, the player interacts with this familiar venue from the first-person perspective, which makes things feel slightly less artificial than your average tower defense game. It’s a little like having a “hero” character that you can control directly.
The player takes the role of Skye, a generic sci-fi hot chick tasked with defending her home town. This is more of a premise than a plot, but really if you’re looking for plot you’re already in the wrong category! As Skye, you can aim directly at highlighted build squares in the various maps and build tower structures to help defend “the core”. All towers start life as a simple block, which merely guides the path of the oncoming alien waves, and must be upgraded to a specific type to be able to shoot. Each successfully defended wave awards resources that can be spent on upgrades or more towers. The arsenal of towers is fairly limited and generic, with varying combinations of speed and damage, a dedicated anti-air tower, and a slowing pad that is placed directly in the aliens’ path.
Of course, the FPS side of things serves to spice things up a bit. You don’t just run around building towers, you also have guns with which to contribute to defense once the build-phase is over. The selection includes an assault rifle with an alternate grenade launcher, a sniper rifle with zoom, and a sort of freeze/chill gun to manipulate the waves a bit. You may elect to spend resources on upgrading your weapons, which is often required in order for them to be effective against the later waves of a map.
Unfortunately, there is a downside to this FPS element. It turns out that it’s not very fun to shoot enemies that move slowly along a predictable path. There is one alien type that seems to require the direct approach (it bobs it’s head around, somehow foiling your towers), and picking off the flyers can be fun, but for the most part the towers do a much better job. In fact, I often found myself wishing for a fast-forward option. An element of danger to the player character would have been a welcome addition as well. As it is you can only get bumped and have your shooting interrupted for a second or two.
While the above concerns might be written off as a matter of taste, there is one quantitative shortcoming that cannot be denied: Sanctum is short. Coffee Stain released an update about a month after the initial release that included a new map, bringing the grand total to… four. I’ve logged five hours in the game and have completed all of them (albeit on easy). Granted, they are large, colorful, nicely detailed maps. All four of them. But the overall package seems a little anemic for fifteen dollars. Once you’ve hit that five hour mark, you’re left with replaying at higher difficulties, going for achievements, and playing two-player co-op (on the same maps).
Sanctum thus ends up being one of those games that I really want to like, but ultimately am not satisfied with. If you are a hardcore tower defense junkie, then it is definitely worth a look. The higher difficulty levels and achievements will likely keep you busy for a while, and if you love tower defense then you’re probably fine with some repetition. All others: wait for the inevitable Steam sale, which I predict is not far off.