When one thinks of the phrase “tower defense game”, a few thoughts immediately come to mind. A drab colored, top down flash game filled with mediocre artwork and no sense of flash is one of those thoughts On the flip side, when I think of the genre “FPS”, sights of armor clad superheros clashing fist first in a blaze of plasma fury, dance in my head. What I wouldn’t have thought to do is to combine the two. However, Coffee Stain Studios thought of it and started working on an Unreal Mod to accomplish it.
It eventually became more than a mod, after Coffee Stain Studios became a main contestant in the ‘Make Something Unreal’ by Epic Games in 2009. Sanctum scored 4th place in both ‘Best FPS Game Mod’ and also in the ‘Education’ category. The Swedish team has come along way since then, as they have put out Sanctum as a full fledged game on Steam.
The digging question is obvious, What exactly is FPS Tower Defense game really like? I can imagine people thinking that it is nothing but fast past, a rain of enemies and bullets. They would be partially right. If you don’t take your time in the building stage planing your moves, they the defense stage will be certain hell. So to start, Skye (your character) is in charge of setting up blocks and building towers upon them in order to defend the home town Elysion One’s core against the upcoming surges of alien infestation. I like the fact that there is no time limit in the building stage, unlike most tower defense games currently produced. This gives me enough time to plan a strategy or to just dick around a look at all the cool stuff.
Skye starts out each level with a few credits her in pocket and an arm cannon with a giant red button to designate the location to build. Besides upgrading the turrets to higher levels, you are also able to upgrade the weapons Skye has on her persona. The weapons are three totally different styled guns as the machine gun has a high rate of fire, the sniper rifle is slow but strong and the freeze ray slows down enemies hit. Each has a secondary fire useful in its own right such as the exploding round on the machine gun, the freeze blast on the freeze ray and of course the sniper rifle has ZOOM. Ok, so zoom seems to be a bit of a cop out, but believe me it would suck if it wasn’t there.
Marking your status as ready with the designated key press turns your maze system to active mode. If you hadn’t looked in the creepy crawly encyclopedia to see what alien the next wave contains, you could be in for a surprise. Besides the main spawn point for the bugs roaming across the ground, there are separate spots for airborne creatures to fly in towards your base. Or perhaps you’ll get one of the armored types that only takes damages to the rear. Of course, if you had looked at that information and upgraded your maze accordingly you could be ready. This is where the main FPS feel comes in handy as you jump around your blocks to get a good vantage point on incoming creeps. My favorite tactic is to fire the sniper rifle as many times as I can before the bugs are close enough for my towers to take action. Then I switch to the machine gun, making sure to deploy the grenade before it overheats and I have to wait for it to cool down.
At one point playing multi-player with fellow Geek Republic contributor Dan, he made the joke about ‘crunching the numbers’ and if you really wanted to take the time, you could sit and ponder the multiple combinations of blocks, towers and credits. Oh, that’s right, I didn’t mention this but you have probably caught it by now. The game is also has co-op over steam. It takes teamwork to strategically place the towers and both of you might have different ideas on how a maze should be built. The game seems to ramp up it’s difficulty level at this point, even casual seems a little harder than easy did during the campaign. I was surprised to see enemy types that I had not yet encountered, but this seemed to because Dan had a few more unlocks than I did. Same goes for a few tower types such as the mortar and also the ability to setup a slow field in the open path were new to me at this point. One thing is for sure, I was not ready for the walking, wobbling penis head aliens to appear. Seriously, that is what they looked like. As with all the creatures, the red spot is their weak point and it just happens to be a bulbous tip. Still, disregarding my own advice I failed to watch the encyclopedia to see what was coming next as Dan and I succumbed to a barrage of flying creatures.
Though perhaps I was distracted by the art and graphics. By utilizing the Unreal engine, it seems that Coffee Stain Studios could focus on creating their world and platforms. The aliens are all different and though they share a color scheme, all are very unique. The engine also lends a hand for gameplay as I fell into ease immediately with the control scheme and fighting style. The progression may feel slightly off, but switch to easy mode and you will be rest assured of victory. Normal carries its own difficulties and I would just hate to see how hard the hard setting would get. However this means that there is quite the challenge built into the game and I just know there are gamers out there who excel at this type of planning. Though I doubt you’ll need to make the ‘crunching the numbers’ joke that Dan did and then scream out ‘Leeeeerrooooooooy Jenkins!’ It’s really not that kind of game.
After looking over the game completely, I feel that the mesh between the genres correlates to a quite enjoyable playing experience. No one thing takes priority over each other and if you excel at the game you might not have to use your own guns at all. By also being a first person shooter, Sanctum has become, what I would like to coin, an immersive tower defense game. Even if this had just been a mod, I would think that it would still be quite sellable as a complete game. After all I hear people have to pay money for Gary’s Mod for Half Life and if you steal it he makes it glitch on you. I also appreciate the added time Coffee Stain is going to be putting in to support the game. Currently in order to play a multiplayer game, the host had to open ports to allow it to run. They are working with Epic Games for a solution. Also the 360 controller (for windows) can be used, but it is not as seamless as it could be. A fix should be coming fairly soon as their forums stated yesterday that the were already working on that as well. All in all, am armload of gaming fun for a small price. It’s out as of today, so feel free to get onto steam and add snorkle256 to your list of friends to play Sanctum with. Also coming soon is Dan’s take on the game as well.